Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Scrode or Young Cod, Roasted--from A Practical Cook Book by Mrs. Bliss (1850)

September 22, 2011

Tags: scrod, haddock, cod, roasting, Mrs. Bliss

Fresh haddock, planked and roasting

Scrod is most often broiled, so Mrs. Bliss's recipe for roasting it intrigued us. What would be the difference in taste between a nice piece of broiled scrod, as we've had any number of times at home and in restaurants, and roasted scrod? We were eager to find out.

But there was a prior question in need of an answer: What, exactly, is scrod? In our commentary on this recipe in Northern Hospitality, we discuss the word's etymology--few people have any idea what fish they're eating when they eat scrod, despite its enormous popularity in New England.

Is it a young or small cod? The tail of a haddock?


Or any pieces of fish or small fish suitable for broiling? It turns out that there's no exact definition for scrod—it can mean any of the above.

For our fish roasting experiment, we used the type of fish mentioned in the second paragraph of Mrs. Bliss's recipe—a luscious, fat haddock. Mrs. Bliss says to "procure a fat scrode, and require the fishmonger to open and dress it." We purchased a fish weighing 3 lbs. (sans its head), which had been cleaned and gutted. This regal poisson came right to our door by special order in an overnight delivery from Legal Seafoods in Boston.


It arrived expertly wedged among ice packs and looking as firm, fresh, and beautiful as it undoubtedly had the moment it emerged from the sea.

But it didn't arrive opened, as Mrs. Bliss recommends. It was in need of butterflying—that is, breaking its quite substantial ribcage so that it would lie flat. This took some doing by the stronger of the two of us, with our largest knife. It was finally accomplished


and the opened fish was ready for its minimal dressing with "a little salt and pepper."


Because we don't have a fireplace and hearth, we decided to roast our fish outside on our small Weber grill, covering the grill with two cedar planks obtained from our local Whole Foods Market and using natural wood charcoal for grilling.


The planks were used in place of the "board" to which Mrs. Bliss directs her readers to fasten their flattened fish. They (the planks, not Mrs. Bliss's readers) required soaking for an hour in cold water before they were to be used (to retard their burning on the grill). To ease the process of removing the fish when cooked, we brushed one side of the planks lightly with olive oil. We couldn't "stand the board up before a brisk fire," as Mrs. Bliss instructs. But we could place them above a brisk fire, so that's what we did.


Then for the backyard fish roast, an instant invitation to neighborhood cats and dogs to join the fun. We can't bring you sounds on our blog, but trust us that we roasted our fish to the honeyed crooning of the Lab who lives next door.


We spent a long time discussing how we were going to flip our haddock once it was roasted on one side. We planned to insert a pizza tin underneath the planks, lift out the pizza tin, planks, and fish together (wearing asbestos mitts), and with a cookie sheet held over the fish, flip it over. Then we planned to use spatulas to transfer the fish back directly onto the grill, with the side that was previously face up now face down over the coals.

On a larger grill, or with a firmer fish, this well might have worked. But as our lovely fish grilled, we soon realized its delicate flesh would fall apart under any such maneuver. Mrs. Bliss understood our dilemma, thus her instructions to "be careful not to break the fish in transferring it from the board to the gridiron." In that we had neither board, per se, nor gridiron, per se, but a modern, very hot Weber grill and an expensive haddock nicely planked, we decided to let the fish roast away, just as it was.


The butterflying had rendered the fish thin enough so that the hot coals were cooking it thoroughly without turning it directly onto the grill. The scents of the steaming cedar planks and the roasting fish were now provoking yowls of anticipation from the neighborhood pet population.

There were some differences between Mrs. Bliss's beginning the cooking process by attaching the fish to a board standing "before a brisk fire," and our procedure of cooking the fish on boards directly above a brisk fire. Obviously, we unfortunately had none of those appealing gridiron marks on the fish. However, this was compensated for by the nicely crisp skin and tail of the roasted haddock. It also took less time to cook the fish using our method. In the end, we grilled our planked haddock for just about 30 minutes, then removed it to a serving platter using two spatulas.


As Mrs. Bliss advises, we poured melted butter over the fish, and served it hot, along with fresh boiled corn, fresh tomatoes provided by a friend, and baked potatoes.


The fish was utterly delicious! A revelation really.


Thanks to Mrs. Bliss, haddock roasted on cedar boards has found a permanent place in our summertime grilling repertoire.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 173.

Mrs. Gardiner's "An Ham Pie," ca. 1770

September 6, 2011

Tags: Mrs. Gardiner, ham, chicken, gravy, puff paste, pie

1770 Ham Pie with Kale and Butternut Squash for Dinner!

In Northern Hospitality, we point out that Mrs. Gardiner's "An Ham Pie" is moved toward the mixed-pie category by its liberal inclusion of chicken. She instructs the cook to "lay whole chickens" all around the ham, which has been made "handsome" by cutting it to "rather of a roundish Form." The ham and chicken are seasoned with mace, pepper, and a few pounded cloves. To further enhance the chickens, she advises "putting into the Bellies of each a little piece of butter." Gardiner's quaint turns of phrase remind us that whether or not you cook them, historic recipes are fun to read.

Our Smaller Version of Mrs. Gardiner's Ham Pie
Serves 6

We decided that a whole leg of ham, together with several whole chickens, would make a larger pie than we wanted to have on hand—and a larger pie than our oven could handle! So we reduced the recipe by using a small, boneless ham and one chicken, cut up.

The Ham and Seasoning


We found an excellent quality, locally produced boneless smoked ham with a weight of just under 3 lbs. We chose a ham that was already rather round, so there was no need for the trimming that Gardiner recommends. We did, however, heat our ham in a 300º F oven until warm, for about 10 minutes, before seasoning it with the following:

½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves

After seasoning it, we cut our ham in half to fit our baking dish (left whole, it would have protruded too far above the sides of the dish to be covered nicely with a crust). Then we placed the two halves toward the center of the dish.

The Chicken
In order to preserve Gardiner's idea of using whole (that is, bone-in) chicken, while opting for less chicken meat overall, we cut up one chicken (4 ½ lbs.), seasoned it with some of the same mixture used on the ham (¼ teaspoon each of ground mace, ground black pepper, and ground cloves), then tucked bits of butter under the chicken pieces before arranging them around the ham in our pie dish.


The Crust and the Gravy
Gardiner leaves vague several elements of the recipe, namely how to make "good Crust" and how to make "good Gravy." As hers is a manuscript cookbook, she undoubtedly knew what crust and gravy she intended to use. But not being privy to her thoughts, we had to wing it!

For the crust, we used a combination of two 1846 paste recipes from Catharine Beecher (see the previous post on how to make this scrumptious "Puff Paste"). If you're not up to making puff paste, ready-made puff paste, which can be found in the frozen foods section of most supermarkets, works well. Or use your own favorite pie crust. Just be sure it's sufficiently large to cover your baking dish.

On to the gravy. We found that two meaty pork shanks, a little water, an onion, a little seasoning, some flour, and a bit of butter were all we needed to make a rich gravy that complemented the ham and chicken.




What follows is how we made our pork gravy.

The gravy ingredients:
1½ lbs. meaty pork shanks (we used 2 shanks)
10 cups of cold water
1 onion, peeled
scant ½ teaspoon dried sage
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni (dried leaves of thyme, marjoram, and rosemary, about ½ teaspoon each, wrapped in a bit of cheesecloth and tied with string)
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Everything went into a stock pot and simmered for 2 ½ hours, until the liquid was reduced to approximately 4 cups. We removed the pork shanks, saving them to eat separately. We removed and discarded the onion, the bay leaves, and the bouquet garni. Then we skimmed the remaining stock and set aside about 3 tablespoons of the skimmed pork fat. We put the pork fat in a saucepan, adding 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of flour, and stirring the mixture together until it thickened and turned light brown. To this roux, we added the warm stock, a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition over medium heat. We stopped stirrring only when the gravy bubbled nicely and had become creamy and slightly thickened.


Because our pie was smaller than Gardiner's, we poured only about half of this "good Gravy" directly into the pie, reserving the rest to spoon warm over individual servings or to reheat for use with any leftovers.

Now for the application of the crust. We carefully unfolded the Beecher puff paste we had made previously, placed it over the pie, pinched the sides of the paste to the pie dish, and decorated the top of the pie with bits of paste in the shape of leaves. Pretty!


Baking
We baked our ham pie at 425º F for 1 hour and 35 minutes. Ours is rather a slow oven. If yours isn't, you may want to start out at 400º F, or even 375º F, and turn up the heat if you think it necessary after an hour or so. The oven needs to be hot enough to cook the chicken pieces, obviously, but not so hot as to burn the crust before the chicken is cooked.

We then removed the pie from the oven, placed it on a cooling rack, and brushed the crust with an egg yolk beaten in about ¼ cup of cold water. We returned the pie to the oven and baked it until the crust was golden brown, about 10 minutes longer at 425º F.

Serving


We allowed the baked pie to cool on a rack for about 10 minutes before serving it directly from its baking dish. Mrs. Gardiner's Ham Pie, in the quantities we used, makes a delightful main course for six. For accompaniment, we baked (during the last 50 minutes the pie was in the oven) a mixed dish of chunks of butternut squash and chopped kale. Just before serving, we garnished the vegetable dish simply with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. With Mrs. Gardiner's spectacular pie as our centerpiece, we dined in elegant, eighteenth-century style.

Note: Use an attractive—and sufficiently large—baking or pie dish for this recipe, so that you can bring the finished pie to the table to wow your guests. Then cut the pie open at the table to reveal the surprises of ham, chicken, and gravy inside! We used a 3.75 quart oval stoneware baking dish, dark blue exterior and beige interior, made by Le Creuset. It made a beautiful presentation, if we may say so.

The original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 270.