Monday 5 February 2024

Haddock: The Fish the Devil Touched

Would you eat a fish that had been marked by the Prince of Darkness himself? You may have, without knowing it. 

Haddock is one of the most valuable food fishes of Europe, both fresh and smoked.  The fish has long been popular due to its delicate flake and tender texture. Early cookbooks mention “rizzared” or sun dried haddock, as a popular fare on breakfast tables. After the Industrial Revolution, English fishing vessels travelled far and wide for haddock in order to satisfy a booming demand for fish and chips.

One of the identifying features of the haddock is its large blackish spot above each pectoral fin. Because of this mark, the haddock has the unfortunate reputation as being the fish the Devil touched, a belief brought to Newfoundland with English settlers. This spot is known in Newfoundland as the devil's thumb-print, which the Dictionary of Newfoundland English describes as being “black marks on haddock's back - from a belief that the devil once grabbed the fish, which then got away.” 

One version of the legend says the mark was created when St. Peter and the Devil were fishing.  The Devil caught a haddock, but St. Peter freed the fish.  As it swam away, the Devil tried to grab it. The black mark represents the Devil's fingerprint, and the dark lateral line along the side of the fish represents the scratch marks from his devilish nails as the fish slipped out of Satan’s grasp.

More righteous souls claim that the marks were left by the finger and thumb of St Peter when he opened the fish’s mouth to take out a coin. It is another good story, but the humble haddock is a salt water fish, and could not survive in the fresh water of the Sea of Galilee. 

So was the mark on the haddock burned there by infernal powers? 

Only the haddock, and possibly the Devil, know for certain.

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