Fourth of July supper: New England poached salmon
Fourth of July marks the day the Declaration of Independence was read out over the streets of Boston. Many New Englanders mark Fourth of July with a meal of poached salmon
When most people hear the words “New England dinner” their first thoughts usually run toward a lobster dinner, a clambake, or an oyster shuck. But there is another kind of seafood that has a long association with the Fourth of July, and that is poached salmon with egg sauce.Skip to next paragraph
Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.
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The legend has it that Abigail Adams served Atlantic salmon, fresh garden peas, and new potatoes to John Adams on the first Fourth of July in 1776. And while many New Englanders admit to eating salmon on the Fourth of July, finding strong ties to Abigail Adams remains, well, fishy.
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The first clue that this may be more of a treasured tradition promoted by a well-intentioned chef rather than fact: Mr. & Mrs. Adams were actually in separate cities on the first Fourth of July. Another clue suggests that John Adams thought July 2 should be celebrated as Independence Day. A third clue comes in the modern form of marketing, the kind of confidence that has declared that we have a National Chocolate Cake Day, and that April is Grilled Cheese Month. Also, doughnuts are free on the second Friday in June.
These declarations about food are eagerly adopted because it gives us an excuse to indulge in the foods we already like.
It seems the New York World’s Fair in 1964 had something to do with connecting poached salmon and egg sauce to the famous founding couple. An enterprising restaurant specializing in American cookery published the menu in question, sourcing it to the American Heritage Cookbook. You can read more about it from this culinary history blogger.
However, I happen to own a copy of the American Heritage Cookbook published in 1964 and I don’t see a reference to Abigail Adams at all. In my edition it simply says:
“From the earliest days it has been a tradition all through New England to serve Poached Salmon with Egg Sauce, along with the first new potatoes and early peas, on the Fourth of July. The eastern salmon began to ‘run’ about this time, and the new vegetables were just coming in.”
Atlantic salmon used to run in the rivers from Canada all the way down to the Long Island sound. Today, as a consequence of industrial and agricultural development, Atlantic salmon is now mostly found in Maine. Sometimes I can find wild Atlantic salmon in the market, but unfortunately I had to resort to farmed salmon when testing this recipe.