How to find -- and prepare -- ye olde Boston cuisine
Boston — Philadelphia has its Liberty Bell. New York has the Statue of Liberty. But only Boston has a five-foot, carved, white-pine codfish hanging in its State House. And not without good reason.
So abundant was this fish in the late 1600s that the skinny arm of land that juts into the Atlantic out of Massachusetts was named Cape Cod after it. Later, many a grand home was built with bounty from the cod trade that triangled from Boston to the West Indies to England.
In appreciation, the Massachusetts legislature voted in 1784 to hang the ``sacred cod'' in the State House as a reminder of the wealth, livelihood, and nourishment it brought to this sea-hammered state. And unlike vanishing Boston baked beans, Indian pudding, and Boston cream pie, cod still appears -- in a more palatable form -- on menus here and around the country.
Young cod fillets, called ``scrod'' or ``schrod,'' are most often served in seafood restaurants, simply dressed with crumbs, seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika, and broiled with butter.
Recently a delightful West Indian couple stopped by. ``Where can we get Boston cream pie?'' they moaned.
In fact, it's easier today to find a salad nioise, or pasta with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes than it is to find many of the dishes for which Boston is famous. You can get them if you hunt -- but usually only at the restaurants where they originated or were made popular.
Here are some recipes for these local favorites, and the names of the restaurants at which they are still served.
In the stately dining room at the Parker House Hotel, on the corner of Tremont and School streets, fine old and original recipes continue to be served. They include tripe with mustard sauce -- soon to go off the menu, they tell me -- Boston cream pie, and, of course, their own much-duplicated rolls.
The kitchen at the Parker turns out 1,500 of these warm, soft, fluffy rolls a day. Parker House rolls 1/2 cup scalded milk 1/2 cup boiling water 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 5 tablespoons melted butter (approximately) 1/2 cake yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup lukewarm water 3 cups bread flour (approximately)
For one dozen rolls: Place milk, water, salt, sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter in a large bowl and mix well. Set aside until lukewarm. Add yeast mixture and mix in enough flour to make a thickish dough that can be easily kneaded. Knead well and leave dough to rise until doubled in size -- about one hour.
Shape dough into one-inch balls and place on buttered baking sheet. Cover with cloth until doubled in size. Press center of each roll with floured handle of a wooden spoon. Brush one-half of each roll with melted butter and fold other half over to form a small pocketbook.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Let rolls rise again for 15 to 20 minutes, or until doubled again in size, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. When done, remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter. Serve warm.
Boston cream pie, for which the Parker House Hotel is also famous, will be a disappointment -- only if you're expecting pie. It's really a cake, filled with a thick, vanilla pastry cream, and topped with thin chocolate icing. Delicious! Boston cream pie For the vanilla-cream filling: 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 1 egg 1 cup milk 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1 tablespoon butter
In a small, heavy saucepan, mix together sugar, cornstarch, and flour.
Beat egg and milk together and whisk them into sugar mixture. Set pan over medium heat and, while stirring, cook until thickened and large thick bubbles begin to surface. Custard cream is done when it generously coats a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter. Set aside to cool in refrigerator. For the cake: Butter and flour for preparing two 8-inch round cake pans 2 eggs, separated 6 tablespoons butter 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 cups cake flour 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter cake pans and dust lightly with flour. Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
In a separate bowl beat butter and sugar together, with electric mixer, until smooth. Add egg yolks and vanilla and beat until thoroughly blended.
Sift together flour and baking powder. With mixer on slow speed, add flour mix to butter/egg-yolk mixture, alternating with milk. When smooth, remove bowl from mixer and gently fold in egg whites.
Pour batter equally into both prepared pans and bake in center of oven for 30 minutes or until tops of cakes are springy to touch. Remove from oven. Set aside for 5 minutes and invert on cake racks to remove cakes from pans and let cool. For the icing: 3 ounces semisweet chocolate 2 tablespoons water 2 egg yolks 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Combine chocolate and water in top of double boiler and set over hot, not boiling, water until melted. Pour into small bowl. With electric mixer, blend in egg yolks, vanilla, and butter -- cut in pieces. Beat until smooth and set aside.
To assemble, simply spread cooled filling on one cake, top with second cake, and spread with chocolate icing. You may lightly brush any remaining cream filling on sides of cake and press on slivered almonds, as they now do at the Parker House.
Remember the meals your great, great, great, grandmother used to make? You'll still find them at America's oldest restaurant, the Union Oyster House on 41 Union Street. If you've forgotten, at least try their toothpicks -- they introduced them to this country.
So much has been written about Durgin-Park, there's nothing left to say that sounds original. Two restaurants now exist in Boston: a glossy, antiseptic copy at the new Copley Place complex; and the old run-down, seedy, noisy, crowded, original at Faneuil Hall Market Place. Brave the lines and go to the latter -- there's no comparison.
The portions at Durgin-Park are Arnold Schwartzeneggerian! You won't believe the size of a rib of beef.
Here is Durgin-Park's recipe for Boston baked beans -- direct from the chef. Durgin-Park's Boston baked beans 2 pounds dried California pea or York State beans 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 pound salt pork, cut in pieces 1 medium-size onion 8 tablespoons sugar 2/3 cup molasses 2 tablespoons A-1 steak sauce 2 teaspoons prepared mustard 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Carefully pick over beans for any small pebbles. Soak beans in several quarts of water overnight; beans will swell considerably.
In the morning, parboil beans for 10 minutes with a teaspoon of baking soda. Pour beans in colander and rinse under cold running water.
Place half the salt pork in bottom of two-quart bean or cast-iron pot. Place onion in pot. Add beans and top with rest of salt pork.
Mix remaining ingredients with hot water and pour over beans. Add enough water to completely cover beans. Cover pot and bake in 300 degree F. oven for 6 hours or until tender.
Makes 10 to 12 full portions.
Tucked away on narrow, hard-to-find Winter Street is Locke-Ober Caf'e. Here, amid the polished brass and dark woodwork, the restaurant's classic Lobster Savannah is still served, as is much simpler Lobster stew. ``I'll just eat the broth,'' John F. Kennedy used to say, returning the lobster meat to a surprised waiter. Lobster stew 1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat 1/2 cup butter Green tomalley and/or roe from cooked lobster (if available) 1 teaspoon paprika 2 cups light cream 2 cups milk Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce (optional)
In a two-quart saucepan, saut'e lobster meat in 6 tablespoons butter for 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomalley and/or roe, and paprika. Saut'e briefly. Add cream and milk and heat, but do not boil.
Season with salt and pepper and a few drops of Tabasco or dash of Worcestershire sauce. Pour into tureen and float remaining butter on top. Serve with pilot or oyster crackers.