New England cookery: plain, simple, and good

By , Food editor of The Christian Science Monitor

The unique thing about Boston restaurants is that they serve the local foods in the local manner, while in many other cities, such as New York, the finest eating places try for the prestige of French cooking. Good gastronomic traditions are invariably built around foods locally available, and in Boston the emphasis is on seafood because fish is so plentiful in New England waters.

Bostonians are fussy about the freshness of their fish, and the visitor will find it is usually cooked in simple ways that don't overwhelm its delicate taste.

Spices are used sparingly, and strong flavorings such as garlic and tomato are not part of the native tradition. So don't expect many elaborate sauces or fish combination dishes.

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Both at home and in restaurants, New Englanders like their fish plain and unadorned, usually, cooked very little, and with only a small amount of garnishing or saucing.

Anyone interested in making a gastronomic seafood tour of the city will have no trouble eating at a different seafood spot every night for weeks, with a variety of menu that will fit any pocketbook.

Boston scrod should be first on the list of every visitor. Be sure to try it but also take your choice from menus listing New England lobster, cherrystone and littleneck clams, Wellfleet or Cotuit oysters, mussels, bay or cape scallops , swordfish, haddock, cod and cod's tongues and cheeks, bluefish, pollock, striped bass, tinker mackerel, sole, halibut, flounder, perch, hake, eel, squid, shad and shad roe.

Several fish restaurants offer a list of fish that can be cooked to your order either broiled or fried and served with a choice of garlic-butter or parsley butter, or lemon.

Be sure to try Finnan Haddie (smoked haddock), if you want a change from broiled or fried fish. It is most often served in a casserole, creamed or baked , with a crumb or cheese topping.

The Locke-Ober Cafe, a famous restaurant located in an alley, serves a slightly different variation, Finnan Haddie Delmonico, with the fish in a creamed sauce with hard-boiled eggs and a wreath of mashed potatoes around it.

Broiled Scrod is the most popular fish. Served in most Boston restaurants whether they specialize in seafood or not, it is young codfish. Invariably very fresh, it is cooked perfectly and one of the best and most inexpensive Boston foods.

It is always filleted and although often topped with a thin layer of fine bread crumbs it is seldom served with any variations.

While scrod is the most popular Boston fish, lobster would probably rate just as many sales if the price didn't get higher each year. Broiled swordfish is high on the favorite list along with scallops and shellfish.

Seafood platters are popular with people who like fried fish, but one restaurant, Thompson's Chowder House, has an extensive and excellent fish menu but serves no fried food.

Be sure to try both clam and fish chowder, for most restaurants are proud of their own particular recipe. You will get to be a connoisseur in no time. Lobster bisque and oyster stew are also excellent.

The New England chowders are another plain, lightly seasoned way of cooking fish. They are made of tiny cubes of salt pork, onions, potatoes, fish, and milk, and never any tomatoes.

Most cooks add a little thickening, but proper fish chowder is thin and should be served in a soup plate and eaten with a spoon. To be really authentic it will be serve with common crackers which are round hard hollow crackers that split in two easily. Most restaurants today serve oyster crackers.

Another typical New England dish to look for is New England Broiled Dinner, a large plate of corned beef or brisket served with potatoes, cabbages, beefs, carrots, and turnips which have been cooked with the meat and take on some of its flavor.

The hotel probably best known outside its own area is the Parker House where Parker House Rolls were created. They are as much a tradition in the United States as any bread and they have been copied by every cookbook author and every baker in the country.

Stop by at one of the restaurants in this hotel sample the rolls and try a seafood dish at the same time. There are serveral typical Boston dishes on the menu. If you are in Boston in the spring, you might find a restaurant serving fiddlehead greens or dandelion greens, although the season is short.

Another good native food is sweet corn, but it also is only good when completely fresh and in peak season.

Don't forget to try Boston Baked Beans if you're really interested in all the local dishes. But don't expect to find them all over the town simply because of the city's reputation.

Baked beans and brown bread were and still are traditionally served on Saturday, and although Howard Johnson's has them on the menu every day, most restaurants limit bean day to Saturday. Many restaurants serve them with frankfurters and some with brown bread, which should be the steamed brown bread to be authentic.

When it come to desert, Boston has the usual all-American pies and cakes, but one that is particularly traditional is Indian Pudding, a spicy, dark-brown, old-fashioned dessert made with molasses and corn meal and served warm with ice cream or hard sauce as topping.

Another dessert, Boston Cream Pie, is not a pie, but a layer cake. Made with a custard filling, the top is dusted with powdered sugar. It is a great favorite all over the country and is available at many Boston restaurants.

While Most Boston restaurants emphasize seafood with a scattering of other traditional dishes, the visitor can find complete old-Boston meals in restaurants outside the city. Some of the familiar ones are the Wayside Inn, Boston Post Road, Sudbury; the Colonial Inn of Concord, the General Glover Inn, Swampscott, and Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge.

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