Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

Amelia (1796) Strikes Again: “To Dress a Bass”

June 27, 2012

Tags: Amelia Simmons, bass, cod, stuffing, gill

Amelia Simmons’s stuffed striped bass, accompanied by Elizabeth Raffald’s stewed oysters

Good Every Way
Along the New England coast, it’s the peak time of year for catching striped bass. Or if like us you’re not that much into fishing, it’s the season when you can be sure to find this delicious species at your local market. Back at the very beginnings of the English settlement of New England, in 1634, William Wood, in his book New Englands Prospect, wrote that “though men are soon wearied with other fish, yet they are never with Basse.” Over two hundred years later, our good friend Catharine Beecher heartily agreed. “Bass are good every way,” she said. Nowadays, one of the ways of cooking bass that people particularly like is grilling it on a cedar plank, as is also popular with salmon, and as we did, using a recipe from Mrs. Bliss, with haddock (see our blog post, “Scrod or Young Cod, Roasted”).

Amelia Simmons offers another superb option for bass—filling it with a lovely bread stuffing and baking it. Unfortunately, last summer we didn’t decide to give Amelia’s recipe a go until a bit late in the season, when bass aren’t as plentiful. Our fish market could only provide us with one small fillet—not enough for four servings. But not to worry. Amelia explains at the end of her recipe that “the same method may be observed with fresh Shad, Codfish, Blackfish and Salmon.” Our market always has lots of codfish, so we brought a couple of cod fillets home along with our bass fillet.

The Ingredients
Serves 4

2 slices salt pork
½ teaspoon savory
½ teaspoon marjoram
1½ teaspoons dry, or 1 tablespoon fresh, parsley
¼ teaspoon salt
10 twists of a pepper mill
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 slices white whole grain bread
1 egg
1 gill (½ cup) white wine
3 bass or cod fillets (about 1 lb.)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

How We Made It
We preheated the oven to 375°F. We took one of the slices of salt pork and chopped it into small pieces.

The other slice of salt pork we cut into strips, and we cubed the bread.

By the way, we used white whole grain bread because, of the breads readily available in today’s supermarkets, this type most closely approximates the basic wheat bread of Simmons’s time. We mixed together the first (chopped) slice of salt pork, the bread, the egg, the gill of white wine,


and the seasoning. The stuffing for our bass and cod fillets was ready.

We rolled our bass fillet around the stuffing,

whereas with our two cod fillets, we spread stuffing the length of one of them and placed the second on top, mimicking to some extent a whole stuffed fish.

It looks like the preheated oven would be the next destination.

But not so fast. You may be wondering about that second slice of salt pork, cut in strips. Simmons says to lay the salt pork strips on the fish “as it goes into the oven.”

This helps to keep it from getting too dry during baking.

We baked our bass and cod for an hour at 375°F, discarded the salt pork strips, and poured the melted butter over all.

Simmons says to serve your bass or cod with stewed oysters, boiled onions or potatoes, and cranberries. We made all but the boiled onions, using for the oysters an eighteenth-century recipe by Elizabeth Raffald that’s included in Northern Hospitality, p. 155.

The bass lived up to its reputation. And Simmons is correct--the “method” worked equally well with the cod.

It all made for a memorable New England baked fish feed!

Amelia Simmons’s original recipe, with commentary, can be found in Northern Hospitality, p. 149.