I’m all about the home cooking, and nothing says home cooking to me like the dishes of my family’s culture. Those tuckamores there? They’ve got their roots in the same place I do, Canada’s newest, oldest, easternmost province–Newfoundland. Although I grew up in Ontario, my Newfoundland heritage is at the base of who I am.
Surrounded by the ocean as they are, Newfoundlanders have always relied on the resources of the sea. It’s no surprise that fish is an important part of Newfoundland home cooking. My favourite is cod, fresh from the sea, dusted in a bit of flour, salt, and pepper and fried. Just thinking about it makes me want to book the ferry.
Ocean fresh cod is not so easily available where I am, but I can always get it frozen. And cod au gratin, my first dish for the month, tastes just fine using frozen fish. As you might guess, this is a baked dish. I thought that it was always made with cheese, but learned recently that the original topping was breadcrumbs. The addition of cheese was a happy accident that came about when the kitchen of a St. John’s hotel ran out of breadcrumbs and needed a substitute. Versions of the dish now always include cod and a béchamel sauce topped with grated Cheddar. Some recipes include onion and many include a bread or cracker crumb topping over the cheese.
For this recipe quest, I will start with the version from Traditional Recipes of Atlantic Canada, a series of books published by Ultramar a number of years ago. The cod au gratin recipe is in Book One: Newfoundland and includes a brief description of the dish’s history. I have come across this recipe posted online in a number of places, unfortunately without proper credit given. You can find it here or here. It includes both onion and breadcrumbs.
Rock Recipes, a cooking blog by Barry Parsons of St. John’s, includes a slightly modernized version. He has included savoury (common in Newfoundland), dijon, and parmesan, and mixes olive oil into the cracker crumbs.
The final version is the one I have always used. It is from The Canadian Living Cookbook, published in 1987. The method for this recipe is slightly different than any other I’ve seen. Before making the béchamel sauce, the cod is poached in the milk. This infuses the sauce with the cod flavour. The sauce to fish ratio is greater in this recipe than in any of the others, as is the cheese to fish ratio. The secret ingredient for this recipe is dry mustard. Here is the ingredient list* for this recipe:
Cod au Gratin
from The Canadian Living Cookbook
- 1 lb cod fillets, fresh or frozen and thawed
- 1 1/2 cups scalded milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Pinch each of white pepper and dry mustard
- 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
I can’t wait to dive into my cooking quest with one of the dishes of my home-cooking heritage. How about you? Does cod au gratin sound like something you’d want to try? What are some of the dishes of your home-cooking heritage?