fresh cod fish

Cooking Codfish Heads, Sounds, and Tongues

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I’ve seen a whole fish for sale in grocery stores, but never just the fish’s head. I never heard of a fish sound, and didn’t even know they had tongues.

The things I learn from reading old cookbooks!

The Sound is the swim bladder of many of the bony fishes.  Fish that have a skeleton made of cartilage instead of bone don’t have bladders.

Fish Tongues are almost always attached to the bottom of the mouth, so they don’t protrude.  Tongues have a jelly-like texture.


A cod’s head and shoulders, when in season and properly boiled, is a very genteel and handsome dish. The head and shoulders will eat much finer by having a little salt rubbed down the bone and along the thick part, even if eaten the same day. Tie it up, put it on the fire in cold water sufficient to cover it, and throw a handful of salt into it. Great care must be taken to serve it up without the smallest speck of black, or scum.

When cut, it should be done with a fish trowel, and the parts about the backbone on the shoulders are the firmest and the best. Take off a piece quite down to the bone. With each slice of fish give a piece of the sound, which lies underneath the backbone and lines it, the meat of which is thin, and a little darker colored than the body of the fish itself. This may be got by passing a knife or spoon underneath. About the head are many delicate parts, and a great deal of the jelly kind. The jelly part lies about the jaw, bones, and the firm parts within the head. Some are fond of the palate, and others the tongue, which likewise may be got by putting a spoon into the mouth.

Garnish with plenty of double parsley, lemon, horseradish, and fried smelts, if approved. If with smelts, no water must be suffered to hang about the fish, or the beauty and flavor of the smelts will be lost. Serve with plenty of oyster or shrimp sauce, anchovy and butter.

Soak the tongues overnight, change the water, and boil for ten minutes. Serve with Drawn-Butter Sauce.

Wash the tongues, dip in cold milk and roll in seasoned flour. Fry in butter, and serve with tomato sauce.

Soak them in warm water half an hour, then scrape and clean them. If to be dressed white, boil them in milk and water. When tender, serve them up in a napkin, with egg sauce.

Scald them in hot water, rub well with salt, pull off the dirty skin, and simmer them till tender. Then take them out, flour, and broil them. While this is doing, season a little brown gravy with pepper, salt, a tea-spoonful of soy, and a little mustard. Give it a boil with a little flour and butter, and pour it over the sounds.

Having scalded, cleaned, and rubbed them well with salt, stew them in white gravy seasoned. Before they are served, add a little cream, butter and flour, gently boiling up. A bit of lemon peel, nutmeg, and the least pounded mace, will give it a good flavor.

Boil them as directed above until they are nearly done, then lift them out, lay them on to a drainer, and let them remain till they are cold; cut them across in strips of an inch deep, curl them round, dip them into a good French or English batter, fry them of a fine pale brown, drain and dry them well, dish them on a hot napkin, and garnish them with crisped parsley.

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What is Your Favorite Way to Eat Fish?

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  1. We had codfish tongues in Newfoundland where they still eat them but I only ate one because they weren’t cooked the way the expert we talked with at the fish processing place we went to said they should be. We had them at a restaurant and they were overly breaded. I think the tongues need to be cooked separately because of their size.

    • You’re brave to try them. Thanks for the explanation – maybe some day you’ll find some that are properly cooked.

  2. Ok, technically this kind of stuff is fish but you won’t catch me eating anything like this anytime soon! I much prefer a nice fillet of cod done in breadcrumbs but it’s interesting to see what bygone generations of housewives cooked and served to their families. Different times, I suppose.

    • It seems odd to specifically cook the sounds and tongues separately from the rest of the fish. Maybe the texture affects the cooking time. And I’d hate to be given a fish head on a plate and see the eye. All these fish parts that aren’t the flesh make me squeamish.

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