RECIPE: Take One -
Clams, lobsters, oysters, salmon, shad, sole — even the words are good enough to eat. This Maritimer takes you to a traditional shore dinner that’s cooked between seaweed, then tells you how to duplicate the dishes in your own kitchen
FIVE hundred delegates to a Trades and Labor Congress convention loosened their belts and stretched out on the white sand. A gentle breeze sang through the tall pine trees behind them, and New Brunswick’s St. John River meandered along in front. Scores of them dropped off into contented slumber—even though the sun was still high.
They were stuffed, happy, at peace with the world, for they had just had a feast prepared by Frank Tilley Belyea.
They had consumed, among other things, six barrels of clams, three barrels of lobsters, 10 large salmon, 100 pounds of finnan haddie, two hindquarters of mildly pickled baby beef, 50 chickens, 100 dozen eggs, one barrel of corn on the cob, one barrel of cabbage, one barrel of cauliflower, one barrel of potatoes, half a barrel of turnips, half a barrel of carrots, oranges, ban-
anas, 1,000 pints of ale, 36 bottles of Scotch (for medicinal purposes) and 150 pounds of dulse (seaweed).
Belyea, a chunky white-haired man, adjusted the small brown tarn he always wears and beamed with triumph as his blue eyes surveyed the debris and the sleepers. There wasn’t enough food left to attract a stray cat —and once again he had maintained his reputation as maestro of the shore dinner.
His magic touch brings clams and lobsters and salmon to succulent perfection—but his
recipes, unfortunately, are a bit unwieldy for the average household. Each begins: “Take one steamboat. Scour boiler very clean . . .” Belyea, now retired, was formerly chief engineer of the Saint John (N.B.) General Hospital. His hobby is cooking for crowds, and he has achieved his greatest successes by combining culinary art and engineering know-
He selects a beach beside a wharf where a steamboat can be tied up. From the boiler of the vessel (scoured very clean) he pipes live steam ashore into an arrangement of large casks in which the ingredients of the meal have been packed in fresh spa weed.
Lacking a steamboat, Belyea can still produce a gourmet’s dream, but his other method is also too cumbersome for the ordinary family. He digs a pit four feet deep, five feet wide, and 10 feet long, and lines it with stones.
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on the bottom and on this he piles salmon, lobsters, clams, potatoes, corn and eggs. Another layer of seaweed goes on top and is covered by a canvas tarpaulin. After that you sit around for an hour with your tongue hanging out, sniff the fragrant steam, watch the tarpaulin billow, and get hungrier than you ever did before. Finally, you gorge yourself.
There are those who claim they can obtain the same results as Frank Belyea with less effort. One of them is breezy amiable Tony Didier, chef de cuisine of the Canadian Pacific’s swank summer hotel, the Algonquin, at St. Andrews, N.B. Tony says a steamboat isn’t necessary and neither is a pit. Here’s his recipe for an Atlantic shore dinner for 100 persons:
“One-hundred live baby lobsters; one barrel of clams; 15 dozen corn on the cob; one bag of washed potatoes. The fire must be started in the afternoon (for a mid-evening feed) with hardwood and driftwood. When it has burned to embers and there is no flame put flat stones on and let them heat for half an hour. On these you place first the lobsters, then the clams, then the com on the cob. Cover with seaweed, then cover with canvas and burlap. In half an hour all will be ready. The baked potatoes are cooked in the ashes, separately. You will need lots of bread and butter and paper napkins.”
Indians Invented It
It will be noted that Didier puts the lobsters right on the hot stones, skipping the underlayer of seaweed. This speeds up the cooking, but causes Frank Belyea to snort with indignation.
“Imagine treating seafood that way!”
But Tony Didier’s clientele includes many of North America’s most pampered palates—and they think he’s wonderful.
While Belyea and Didier disagree on major points there are others on which they are in complete agreement:
First, if you plan to serve lobsters it is far better to buy them live and cook them yourself, and no more difficult than boiling eggs.
Second, when you select lobsters, whether live or already boiled, be sure their shells are hard. (The harder the shell, the meatier the lobster.)
Third, clams can be persuaded to disgorge sand if you soak them in fresh water, but they should then be soaked in salt water before being cooked.
The credit for inventing the shore dinner seems to belong to the Indians. Hot stones, to them, were what the electric range is to the modem housewife and seaweed was their equivalent of the pressure cooker.
Samuel de Champlain probably ate shore dinners with the Micmacs when he explored Canada’s Atlantic coast in 1604, but his narratives do not mention it. Nicholas Denys, of the Company of New France, on the other hand, had a true appreciation of seafood. In 1634 gales forced him to run his ship into the mouth of a stream which empties into Northumberland Strait on the New Brunswick side. He later wrote:
“I have named this river the River Cocagne because I found there so much with which to make good cheer during the eight days bad weather obliged me to remain.” He added that all his party, even the dogs, had been so satiated with “salmon, trout, mackerel, smelts, oysters, and other kinds of good fish that they could wish no
“Cocagne” may be roughly translated as “abundance.” Today a village of that name, beside the river, is still
famous for clam, oyster and lobster dinners.
Elaborate shore dinners like those of Frank Belyea and Tony Didier are a tradition, a ritual and a delight in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. But they are reserved for special occasions. A shore dinner consisting of a single course can be just as satisfying.
On a chilly autumn day I went in an open boat to an island in the Bay of Fundy to meet Allan Moses, a naturalist. I arrived half-frozen and halfstarved.
In jigtime he dug a mess of clams from a sandbar. He steamed them briefly in a bucket until the shells parted to release the meat and juice. He browned diced salt pork in a saucepan and mixed in clam meat and juice, cubed potatoes, chopped onions. When this had boiled 15 minutes he poured in cold milk and waited for it to get piping hot.
It was sheer poetry, that clam chowder. It warmed you down to the toes and all the tang of the sea was in its
If you want to try it use a piece of salt pork the size of a cigarette package, three potatoes, one big onion and one pint of clams to one quart of milk. You can substitute butter for the salt pork and toss in a cup of chopped celery. Season with salt and pepper and, if you like, with celery salt and paprika. Canned clams will do if the fresh article isn’t available. In the New England states north of Boston, and Canada’s Atlantic provinces, clam chowder is concocted pretty much according to this recipe.
The seashore is the right setting for steamed clams, but they’re delicious anywhere. And they don’t have to be cooked with hot stones and seaweed. Put quarter of an inch of water in a
Targe pot, fill the pot with carefully washed clams, cover, and pop it on the stove. When all the shells are open the clams are ready for the table. Strain the liquor in the pot through a cloth and serve it in soup bowls. Also serve dishes of melted butter. Each clam, as it is forked from its shell, should be rinsed in the broth, then dunked in the butter. Most folks wind up the meal by drinking the broth. Allow two or three dozen clams per person.
Shelled clams are being distributed fairly widely in Canada these days. They are shipped inland from the coast in iced containers and are firstrate for frying. Just dip them in evaporated milk, roll in corn meal, sizzle in deep fat for three or four minutes, and drain on brown paper.
$40 a Day For Families
Clams are raked from sandbars exposed at low tide. When the season is in swing, clam-rakers build picturesque shantytowns on the beaches by the clam grounds. With prices as they are now an expert raker earns $10 or $15 a day, and sometimes a family earns $30 or $40 a day. Yet clams are so plentiful they remain cheap.
But let’s switch to the lobster, king of crustaceans and joy of trenchermen. In its own habitat the lobster is an ugly stupid creature. Its shell is mottled bluish-green and its claws are strong enough to snap a lead pencil. It crawls backward, always traveling tailfirst. It grows by shedding its shell, which explains the lobster with the hardest shell is the meatiest. When the shell is soft it’s new and the animal inside doesn’t fill it. When the shell is hard the lobster has been wearing it for quite a while, is crowded for space, and is about to cast it off and acquire roomier quarters.
Lobsters are caught in traps constructed of slats and twine. They are lured into a funnel-shaped mouth by salt-herring Taait and can’t find their way out. As fishermen empty the traps they drive wooden pegs into the claws of the lobsters so they won’t be able to
The easiest method of cooking lobsters is to boil them. Thrust them headfirst into well-salted water that is boiling hard and pull them out when they turn bright scarlet. Ten minutes in the pot is enough for a one-pound lobster. Avoid overcooking or the flesh will be tough.
Boiled lobsters should be chilled before served. As in the case of steamed clams provide individual helpings of melted butter for dunking. Frenchfried potatoes and a tossed salad go with boiled lobsters the way cabbage goes with corned beef.
Nova Scotians seem to prefer their lobsters broiled. This is more complicated. Split the body lengthwise with a cleaver, remove the sac behind the eye, dab with butter and season with salt and pepper. Crack the claws. Cook in moderate oven. A one-pound lobster takes half an hour.
Prince Edward Islanders swear by lobster stew. Chop up one pound of boiled lobster meat, fry in lots of butter, add one quart of milk, and bring to scalding point. Season with salt, pepper, paprika.
If you want to be fancy there’s lobster thermidor, the crowning achievement of kitchen magicians. Here’s Tony Didier’s own recipe:
“Four fresh-boiled lobsters about two pounds each; four tablespoons butter; one-quarter pound mushrooms diced; one teaspoon dry mustard; one small glass sherry wine; one cup cream; one cup thick cream sauce; three egg yolks; one teaspoon paprika; grated Parmesan cheese; salt. Split lobsters and take meat out of claws and body shells, keeping body shells after washing them. Sauté mushrooms in butter five minutes. Add lobster meat cut into cubes. Sprinkle with mustard, salt, paprika. Add sherry and let simmer until sherry is almost evaporated. Add cream and cream sauce. Boil two minutes. Take away from fire and add egg yolks, stirring. Pour into body shells, spread with Parmesan cheese and glaze under broiler flame. Serves
Oysters In Cages
If any sea delicacy is better than a lobster it’s an oyster. Oysters aren’t included in the traditional shore dinner —as cooked with hot stones and seaweed—but they’re shore fare just the
Connoisseurs claim they should be eaten raw and some men boast that they can tell, blindfolded, from the taste of an oyster, whether it is a Bluepoint, a Buctouche, a Shippegan, a Malpeque or any one of 50 other types, from as many different beds. Sam Andrews, of Montreal and Upper Shippegan, N.B., is inclined to doubt this and he’s Canada’s leading authority on the subject.
Years ago when Sam was on the catering staff of the Algonquin Hotel (where Tony Didier now holds forth) he spent his leisure hours hanging around the fisheries biological station at St. Andrews, asking scientists questions about oysters.
His curiosity has since proved profitable, because he is now this country’s biggest oyster farmer. He reached his eminence as an aquatic agriculturist by a circuitous route. To begin with he quit his job and opened a seafood restaurant in Montreal. When the venture was firmly on its feet he acquired a
second Montreal seafood restaurant —historic Chez Pauze. These establishments didn’t just use barrels of oysters, they used carloads. Andrews figured he could capitalize on the knowledge he had picked up at St. Andrews and grow them himself.
At Upper Shippegan he located a shallow inlet of Chaleur which was very salt because there was no river or stream to dilute it. (The saltier the water, the choicer the oyster.) He leased 25 underwater acres, dragged the bottom to clean out debris and parasites, and collected larvae for planting.
Andrews raises young oysters on trays which are suspended in the water in wire cages. When they are the size of a 50-cent piece (one year old) he transplants them from the trays to the beds. A three-year-old oyster is ready to be eaten.
Andrews now has three restaurants in Montreal and sells his whole crop at his own tables. He’s proud of Chez Pauze because it’s the oldest fish house in Canada. It was founded in 1862 by Vitalien Pauze, who made a fortune offering oysters on the half shell at 10 cents a dozen. Sir John A. Macdonald ate there and so did Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Prime Minister St. Laurent now drops in occasionally and Montreal’s Mayor Houde often turns up to gobble two c three dozen.
The majority of Chez Pauze’ patrons favor oysters on the half shell. For those who don’t Andrews can cook them 15 ways. He’s one of the few who can fry oysters in deep fat without making them tasteless and leathery. The secret is that after dipping an oyster in batter he quick-freezes it. It goes into the fat frozen solid. When the batter is golden brown the oyster inside is nicely thawed out and warmed up, not cooked to death.
Personally, I like oysters fried in butter on a skillet. To do this dip them in beaten egg, roll them in cracker crumbs and don’t have your pan too hot. Brown the oysters on one side lightly, flip them over and do likewise on the other side. They shouldn’t be in the pan more than two minutes.
For oyster stew, heat milk to scalding point. Drop in eight or 10 oysters and a piece of butter the size of a walnut for each serving. Let stew simmer four or five minutes, but don’t boil.
For New Brunswick broiled oysters, open oysters and leave on half shell. Sprinkle with dry breadcrumbs and finely chopped onions and mushrooms. (Not too much onion.) Season with pepper and a drop of Worcestershire sauce, top with grated cheddar cheese and a blob of butter, cook five minutes under broiler.
Or maybe you’d like oyster scallop. Cook this in custard cups. Put a layer of cracker crumbs on the bottom of each and a teaspoon of butter. Add five oysters. Cover with cream sauce. Top with more cracker crumbs, butter and grated cheese. Place in moderate oven until cheese is melted and cracker crumbs are browned.
Which Fish is Finest?
Like clams, oysters are reasonably cheap if you buy them by the barrel or half-barrel. Stored in a spot where the temperature is nearly, but not quite, down to freezing they’ll keep for weeks. And don’t let anybody tell you to feed them oatmeal. That’s plain nonsense.
The trouble with oysters is opening them. You really work for your supper —when you’re learning to manipulate an oyster knife. It’s hard on the fingers, too, so have bandages and adhesive tape at hand. But practice makes perfect.
Docithe Duguay, of Shippegan, can shuck 60 dozen oysters an hour and once shucked a whole carload in a fortnight.
While we’re talking about shellfish let’s not forget scallops, the main source of which is the Bay of Fundy shore of Nova Scotia. The scallop is a large fanshaped shellfish which lives in deep water and is caught by a contraption that is hauled along the bottom behind a fishing vessel. Only the white muscle meat of the scallop is used. Scallops, like oysters, may be fried in deep fat or on a skillet in butter. Don’t fry them too fast and be sure they’re well done.
For creamed scallops, boil them in milk until they are so tender they are almost falling apart. Thicken with cornstarch, season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce, and serve in a ring of whipped potatoes garnished with parsley.
If you want to start an argument on the Atlantic coast just assert that one particular fish is the finest that swims in the sea. If you should name the salmon you’ll be challenged by a haddock lover; if you name haddock a cod fancier will pin your ears back. Mackerel, shad, pollock, sole and herring all have their ardent champions. So do eels. Italians, Danes and Micmac Indians like eels best. I grant that they’re good, particularly when smoked and served cold on Danish rye bread, but unless you’re accustomed to eating them you associate them mentally with snakes and have to overcome a sort of revulsion.
The Atlantic silver salmon is an aristocrat, streamlined, clean, beautiful and strong, with firm red flesh. Moving in from the sea to fresh-water spawning grounds it breasts white rapids and hurdles waterfalls. Sportsmen call it “the Leaper,” and will pay more for the privilege of catching it with rod and fly than they will for catching any other game fish, not excluding tuna.
The salmon you find in fish shops is caught in nets and shipped to the market either chilled or fast-frozen. In the old days frozen salmon would hardly prompt applause but there has been a vast improvement in processing since then. A frozen salmon is now comparable to a fresh salmon provided it hasn’t been in cold storage too long.
When boiling salmon allow at least 15 minutes a pound. This is somewhat more than most cookbooks advise but it adds to the taste and texture. For baked salmon allow 15 to 20 minutes a pound in a hot oven. Both boiled and baked salmon should be served with egg and caper sauce. To make this add chopped hard-boiled eggs and capers to a thick white sauce.
Fried salmon steaks are delectable, and even more so if you fry chopped blanched almonds with them. Serve with a sauce made of butter, lemon juice, and chopped parsley or chives.
What’s Left Is Chowder
The drawback to salmon is that it’s rich. You don’t want too much of it and you don’t want it too often. In early times when the rivers of the Atlantic seaboard teemed with salmon and it was consequently dirt cheap many an indentured servant was fed little else by his master. As a steady diet it was sickening and later on some papers of indenture contained a clause specifying that the servant should not have to eat salmon more than twice a
Haddock, in contrast with salmon, is light and easily digested. There are fishing communities where the inhabitants have haddock for dinner nearly every day—and still enjoy it. You can boil it like salmon and serve with egg sauce (omitting the capers). Or you
can use the recipe with which a Saint John woman, Mrs. Doris Hawkhurst, took first prize in a cooking contest in Boston, the city that gave its name to a cookbook. Here it is:
“One three-pound haddock; six strips of bacon; one-half of an onion, sliced. Cover haddock with strips of bacon and onion rings and bake in medium oven 40 minutes.”
If there is anything left on the bones when the family is through you can have chowder the next day. Boil cubed potatoes and chopped onions and celery together, add fish with bones removed, then add cold milk and bring to scalding point. Last, but not least, put in a generous chunk of butter and season with salt and pepper.
More brave men have lost their lives fishing cod than fishing all other species combined. In cod ports like Gloucester, Mass., Lunenburg, N.S., and Caraquet, N.B., a year seldom passes without casualties. There áre annual memorial services for the dead, annual ceremonies in which the fleets are blessed. Even on modern trawlers which crisscross the banks with huge sock-shaped nets and are equipped with radio telephones and depth-finders, cod fishing isn’t fun. On schooners and draggers (pint-sized trawlers) it’s much tougher.
Yet the cod is a singularly undramatic fish. Its head looks too big for its body, its color is a drab grey, and it’s a weak lazy creature that feeds on the bottom. Its virtues are that it reproduces prolifically, that its flesh can be processed in such a variety of ways, and that it’s one of the world’s cheapest and most nourishing foods. For tens of millions it’s a staple item of diet. It tastes good, too, if it’s properly cooked, whether it’s salted, fresh or frozen. Here’s a Lunenburg recipe for an Atlantic salt cod dinner:
“One pound boned salt cod; two pounds boiled potatoes; one pound boiled beets; one pound boiled onions; quarter-pound salt pork. Cut codfish into pieces, wash 15 minutes in running water, put in saucepan and cover with cold water. Heat slowly to boiling point and pour off water. Repeat this until fish is freshened. Make gravy by frying salt pork cut into little cubes, adding water and enough flour to thicken. Drain cod, place on platter, and cover with gravy, garnishing with crisp pork cubes. Arrange vegetables around fish. Serves six.”
Fishcakes are an old standby. Shred boned salt cod, wash thoroughly and let it soak half an hour. Boil one pound of cod with two pounds of potatoes 20 minutes, then drain and mash together. Add butter and a beaten egg, season with pepper, roll into cakes and fry.
Either fresh or salt cod makes excellent chowder when combined with onions, potatoes, celery, milk and butter. Fried fresh cod steaks and fried
fresh or frozen fillets are an appetizing main course.
But most Newfoundlanders say the tongue is the best part. They dip cod tongues in beaten egg, roll them in flour, and fry them with diced salt pork, sometimes adding sliced onions.
Mackerel, just in from the sea, shimmer like jewels. They’re a brilliant turquoise-blue and they taste even better than they look. Fry them or broil them, whichever you choose. Serve with parsley and lemon butter. Frozen mackerel are tasty enough and wholesome enough but you’d never mistake them for mackerel that has just been out of the water an hour or two.
Shad, like salmon, leave the ocean and swim up the rivers to spawn. A bush which grows by these rivers is called shadberry. When it bursts into white blossoms in the spring shad fishermen get out their nets. Stuffed with poultry dressing and baked a shad is delicious—but the bones will drive you crazy. It has big bones, little bones, all kinds of bones—more of them, I think, than any other fish.
Sole has been highly prized by gourmets for centuries. Parisian chefs dress it up with miraculous sauces, but all you need to do is brush sole fillets with flour and fry them in butter. Garnish with parsley and a slice of lemon.
There’s a story told down by the Atlantic about a rather dull fellow from Ontario who was visiting Nova Scotia. He asked a Bluenose acquaintance how the Maritimes, with their small population, managed to produce such an unduly large proportion of Canada’s bank presidents, university presidents and political leaders.
“It’s because we eat fish,” said the Bluenose. “Fish is brain food. It makes us clever.”
“And if I ate fish, would it smarten me up?”
“Why not try?” suggested the Bluenose. “I could send you a 10-pound cod every week for only $1 a pound.”
The man from Ontario stuffed himself with cod for six weeks, then wrote the Nova Scotian a letter which stated: “I find that you have been victimizing me and that $1 a pound is a fantastic price to pay for cod.”
“Congratulations,” the Bluenose wired back. “The brain food is beginning to work.”
Seriously, thought all Canadians would benefit by eating more fish. It contains proteins for building muscles and body tissues, calcium and phosphorus to build strong bones and teeth, iron to enrich the blood. It also contains health-giving vitamins, iodine and lecithin. It has a definite place in any well-balanced diet.
Fish will also help to cut down your food expenditures, specially now when beef, pork and lamb prices are up in the clouds. ★