Mary Pratt’s 50-year retrospective opened recently at The Rooms. Reporters asked her why she chose kitchen scenes as subjects and she said because they reflected her emotions.
That’s so true for all of us of a certain age. We spent our lives in kitchens playing 120s or waiting for the bread to come out of the oven or watching clothes blow on the line outside. These are the common memories that make up our history.
Few of us could even dream of having the talent to create something as wonderful as Ms. Pratt’s jelly jars or buns cooling on the counter or fish ready to fry, but we can still contribute to the next generation’s kitchen memories.
Fried cods’ heads
Of course you can stew them if you like, but nothing can beat the crispy bits of a cod’s head fried in fat pork.
You can hardly get them anymore with the tongue still in, but if you’re lucky the cheeks will be intact, and they’re just about the tastiest morsels on the carcass.
How many you can eat depends on the size of the cod and how much time and energy you have to pick the bones. We always said when my mother was done with a cod’s head it could be reassembled for display in a museum — no further boiling necessary. It’s another kitchen art we’re going to lose soon, I’m afraid, so if you’re shopping at one of the few places left that will sell you the heads, give them a try.
I’ve seen old recipes say to remove the lips, but I like the gelatinous texture and rich flavor reminiscent of tongues — up to you.
4 cods’ heads
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. salt pork, finely diced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
If the heads are whole take a sharp knife and split them at the forehead, then break them into two halves lengthwise, so each half has a jaw and a cheek. Dry well with paper towels. Whisk together flour, salt and pepper and dredge the heads thoroughly.
Add salt pork and vegetable oil to a large heavy frying pan and heat together until the pork is sizzling. Fry until the cubes are brown and crisp; remove and drain scruncheons on paper towels.
Carefully lay the cods’ head halves in the fat and fry on one side until golden. For medium to large heads you’ll only get a couple of halves in the pan at a time. Don’t crowd them and don’t bobble them around — let the cooking fat do its work. When brown on one side, flip and cook on the other. Place on a wire rack sitting on a cookie sheet and keep hot in the oven at 325 F while you cook the rest. Serve with scruncheons sprinkled on top.
Mastering the art of eating cods’ heads is about patience and stick-to-itiveness. Just about everyone starts with the cheeks, which are the choicest bits, but I save them for the end. Be careful of the swoop of sharp bone along the jaw, although don’t be afraid to give them a good suck to get out all the meat.
Old-fashioned dinner rolls
Another lesson in patience, homemade rolls fresh out of the oven, are art and then some. Not many bother anymore — there are plenty of good ones for sale in bakeries these days — but there’s not nearly the same satisfaction.
This recipe makes 24 rolls. Serve them with fresh creamery butter alongside those cods’ heads.
1 cup milk
3 tbsp. white sugar
1/2 cup shortening or lard
1 cup cold water
1 envelope active dry yeast
5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Warm the milk in the microwave until it bubbles around the edges but does not boil — watch it carefully. Add shortening and stir until it melts. Stir in sugar until it dissolves. Add cold water and allow to cool to lukewarm — about 100 F.
Whisk in egg, yeast and 3 cups of the flour. Cover with plastic and allow to sit in a warm place for 30 minutes. Sift or whisk one cup of the remaining flour together with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Work into dough using the hook attachments of an electric mixer on low speed or by hand. Work in remaining flour, (There should be 1 1/2 cups left.), a bit at a time, adding just enough so that the dough pulls away from the bowl. Remove from mixing bowl and knead on a floured surface about eight minutes, until the texture is smooth and the surface stretches over fine bubbles.
Place in a large oiled bowl and roll over a couple of times to coat the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Gently knead the dough to break the largest bubbles but now isn’t the time to be aggressive. Divide into 24 equal pieces and roll into balls, pulling the scraggly bits to the middle underneath the smooth round surface. Place, ugly sides down, on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until golden brown and hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s.
Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram,
P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.