A recent article on Ipswich clams in The New York Times prompted me to take a culinary trip to New England. What comes to mind when we think of our northern states? Maine lobsters and blueberries, Vermont maple syrup, turkeys and Cheddar cheese, the famous chowders, Boston brown bread and boiled dinners of Massachusetts.
Fish and shellfish have been staples of the New England diet ever since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Native Americans showed the newcomers how to hunt quail and wild turkeys. All sorts of game were found in the New World.
The Portuguese fishermen and ship-builders who settled in Massachusetts found plenty of cod — the oldest fish in the sea — and recipes for this prehistoric fish were soon developed by good home cooks.
The New England boiled dinner is the culinary cousin of the French pot-au-feu, the Spanish olla podrida and the Italian bollito misto. This complete meal in a pot contains beef and hearty root vegetables. Some recipes call for chicken as well. I like to keep it classic and prepare the dinner with corned-beef brisket.
My mother always made fishcakes from steak cod. We ate them with stewed tomatoes, creamed spinach and Hanscom’s snowflake rolls with lots of butter. Hanscom’s chain of bakeries is gone now but some supermarkets such as Super Fresh and Pathmark sell snowflake rolls. Cod adapts to any number of recipes because it is a meaty, tasty fish.
Ipswich clams are called steamers in our neck of the woods. We are fortunate they are now farm-raised so we can buy them year-round. New Englanders coat them in batter and fry them. They are so delicious, the Howard Johnson chain served them as platters or stuffed into lightly toasted buttered rolls. I steam these soft-shell beauties and serve them with the reserved broth, to remove any mud or sand, and lots of melted butter.
Boston brown bread was a staple for the Pilgrims. They often ate it with baked beans during Sabbath dinners. It is a quick bread because it does not contain yeast. But unlike most quick breads, this unusual treat is steamed over simmering water on top of the stove. It was traditionally baked in round cylinder-like pans. Today, the batter is poured into a 1-pound coffee can.
Here are recipes from New England.
New England Boiled Dinner
Adapted from Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier
4 to 5 pounds corned beef brisket
1 pound salt pork
2 bay leaves
6 large carrots, peeled and cut in thirds
6 medium onions, peeled
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut in quarters
1 medium head cabbage, cut in quarters
Place the corned beef in a large pot. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse the beef. Repeat this process.
Cover the brisket with boiling water. Add the salt pork, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover and simmer over low heat for three to four hours.
Cool slightly. Skim excess fat and add the carrots, onions, potatoes and turnips. Cook for about 20 minutes. Add the cabbage. Cook for 10 minutes more.
Serve the beef on a platter garnished with the vegetables. Serve with horseradish and dill pickles.
No-Holds-Barred Cod Chowder
From Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking by Mark Bittman
1/8 pound bacon, diced
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 medium-sized potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cups fish stock, chicken stock, or 2 bottles clam juice and 2 cups water
1to 2 pounds boneless cod, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a 3- or 4-quart pot, saut� the bacon over medium heat until nice and crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Cook the onion and potatoes over medium heat in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the potato lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock separately.
When the stock is warm, add it to the potatoes and onions. Simmer over medium-low heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add the cod chunks and corn and cook until the fish is tender but not quite flaky, eight minutes or so.
Over low heat, add the cream and taste for salt. It shouldn’t need much. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Heat through and garnish with reserved bacon.
Boston Brown Bread
From USA Cookbook by Sheila Lukins
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
6 tablespoons rye flour
2 tablespoons coarse wheat bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup molasses
2 tablespoons honey
2 small carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
Soak the raisins in the 1/2 cup apple cider for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flours, wheat bran, baking soda and salt.
Combine the buttermilk, molasses, honey and remaining 2 tablespoons apple cider in a small bowl. Stir well. Add this to the dry ingredients and stir well.
Stir in the raisins with their soaking liquid. Add the grated carrots.
Generously grease a clean 1-pound coffee can. Pour the batter into the can and cover it tightly with a double thickness of aluminum foil. Place the can in a deep saucepan (you can use 2 saucepans, using one as the cover). Add boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the can. Cover and steam over medium-low heat (the water should be a gentle simmer) until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 90 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if necessary. It should stay about halfway up the can.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Unmold and slice into rounds. The bread will keep, cooled and sealed in a plastic bag, up to about one week in the refrigerator.
Makes one loaf.