“Scrode or Young Cod, Roasted”
Procure a fat scrode, and require the fishmonger to open and dress it; sprinkle a little salt and pepper upon it; spread it out flat and fasten it to a board, stand the board up before a brisk fire, that the fish may roast; when browned on one side, unfasten it from the board, and by means of a tin sheet, turn it on to a gridiron, that the other side may be browned. Be careful not to break the fish in transferring it from the board to the gridiron. Dish it, pour a spoonful of melted butter over it, and serve hot.
Haddock may be cooked in the same way, and is considered more delicate than cod.
1 haddock or cod, gutted, cleaned, and head removed, about 3 lbs.
Salt and pepper to taste
Cedar or other hardwood planks
1 tablespoon olive oil
Melted butter, about ¼ cup
How We Made It
We used the type of fish mentioned in the second paragraph of Mrs. Bliss's recipe—a haddock weighing 3 lbs. (sans its head), which had been cleaned and gutted. These days, you have to place a special order to obtain a firm, fresh, all-but-whole beauty like this from your “fishmonger,” and it’s probably best to place the order well ahead of time. Since we hadn’t planned ahead, we had to have our Headless Haddock sent by overnight delivery from Legal Seafoods in Boston.
The fish 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, but it was finally accomplished, and the opened fish was ready for its minimal dressing with "a little salt and pepper."
Now for the fun part. Mrs. Bliss’s instructions to “fasten it to a board,” and “stand the board up before a brisk fire, that the fish may roast” are written for someone living in a house designed and equipped for open-hearth cookery. That’s not our house, and it probably isn’t yours either. As with many of the historic New England recipes that we’ve made, we had to figure out an adaptation that looked like it would have the best chance of producing a result approximating the historical original as closely as possible. It seemed to us that a simple charcoal grill (our modern version of Mrs. Bliss’s “gridiron”) and cedar planks of the type most often used nowadays with salmon would do the trick. The only complication was how to turn our haddock over after it was done on the first or skin side. We developed a plan involving a pizza tin, a cookie sheet, and a pair of spatulas.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Our planks required soaking for an hour in cold water before they could 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.
Now we were ready for our Headless Haddock roast. As grilling proceeded, we soon abandoned our scheme for a Rube-Goldberg fish flip. The delicate flesh was obviously going to fall apart under any such maneuver. Mrs. Bliss understood our dilemma, warning to "be careful not to break the fish in transferring it from the board to the gridiron." Fortunately, a splayed-out three-pound haddock is 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 soon began inducing yowls of anticipation not only from our little Pomeranian, Jenny, but even from the massive Lab who lives next door.
Our haddock was done after about 30 minutes. We 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. It was a true summertime feast! It was also a revelation to learn that planked haddock (or scrod, or even plain old cod) is fully the equal of planked salmon. And yes, Jenny (but not the Lab) got her share.
Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald
Authors of Northern Hospitality: Cooking by the Book in New England (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011)
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