7 June 2013

Finding our Voice with a "Scoff" of Seared Cod Cheek and Scallop Chowder

Seared Cod Cheek and Scallop Chowder

It was 4:30 in the morning as we gathered on the dock. Terra Nova National Park in the province of Newfoundland is 400 square kilometres of natural beauty. Rocky cliffs provide shelter from a tempestuous sea, only to merge inland giving way to rolling green hills, dense forests, marshes and green meadows. Its rocky headlands, which jut out into the ocean, have earned Terra Nova the nickname Gateway to Fingers of the Sea.

The hostel was on a rocky inlet along a lonely stretch of road. From this vantage point you had a view of the country for miles around. Nobody had ever stood on its rim and looked across at the craggy cliffs meeting the Atlantic Ocean with their constantly changing light and colours and remained unmoved. It has been over 30 years so the memory is dreamlike as I watch the small fishing boat pulling up to the dock through the morning mist. Just off shore was the remains of an iceberg in the distance that had floated down from the north. It had been there a few days ago when I was coerced into swimming in the sea by some local children frolicking in the waves.

The early morning fog was lifting and I was silently handed a bright yellow sow-wester complete with gum boots up to mid calf. I donned the bright yellow cap and secured it with a snap under my chin. Inside I was chirping with excitement like the huge canary I resembled. There were three time-weathered faces with sleep-heavy eyes staring back at me as I smiled warily and climbed into the starboard side of the boat. We pulled away from the sheltered bay past the breathtaking coastline and headed out for the open sea. Our senses became sharpened, our mental fog dispelled.
Salvage, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America
We dropped several lines over the side of the boat with bright red hooks in a linear pattern. We waited. We jerked our line. We waited. "Now pull your line up slowly and peer o'r the side of the boat," said one of my companions. "You have to help them in." Obediently I looked over the side of the boat to face the unknown and was immediately squirted in the face with a salty, brackish liquid by a multitude of startled squid squirming on the jig and squirting their protective ink haphazardly. Squid have a defence mechanism...dark ink. They shoot the ink at intruders who come too close. In the water it is an effective defence that creates a cloud behind which the squid makes a quick getaway.

This was my first introduction to a squid. There were peals of deep-throated laughter as I peered through the black haze that now covered my eyes. Three sets of twinkling eyes met my gaze and I started to laugh. This was the fisherman's way of initiating those from "away" who wanted to experience the "real" Newfoundland. Not unlike kissing a cod or being "screeched in." Not surprisingly, I discovered the ink is water soluble and washes out if you act quickly before it dries and I was safely covered head to toe in my time-honoured canary-like suit.

As I removed my squid one by one and dropped them into an aluminum bucket I was wiser by moments of experience. A second note of caution and good to remember is that these creatures have a parrot-like beak. Although squid are not likely to bite at a lure, they can and do bite things like food and perceived enemies who are not alert.

As if on cue a pod of beluga whales skimmed the surface of the ocean gently disturbing the frigid water that up until that moment had resembled a sheet of glass. They were so close I could almost reach out and touch them as they lightly skimmed the surface. It was so quiet you could hear their bodies barely break the surface and hear the slight expansion of their air holes as they gasped for precious air. It reminded me of just a few days earlier when I had hitchhiked to a remote corner of Newfoundland in French-speaking Port au Port solely to see a pod of beluga whales that had inexplicably beached themselves on shore. Some had been able to be rescued; but most had not.

Terra Nova  National Park, Newfoundland
There are few places on earth that continue to live on inside of you, long after you’ve departed. Where the stories, tales, and traditions are filled with old-world charm, and coloured by Irish, English, French, and Aboriginal influences. And where the legendary culture has a way of seeping in under your skin. There’s no better way to soak it all up than through authentic encounters and hands-on learning experiences with the locals that lead to a true understanding of the living, breathing culture and traditions that exist in every corner of Newfoundland and Labrador. The real spirit and traditions of Newfoundland survives in the small fishing villages that cling tenaciously to the rocky, exposed shores as well as in my treasured food memories.

Beginning in the month of June, this story and this recipe launches my year long challenge from Valerie of A Canadian Foodie called The Canadian Food Experience Project. Valerie was one of the lucky few who attended the very first Canadian Food Bloggers Conference north of Toronto in April. Her experience inspired her to dig deep within herself, to discover what it meant to be a Canadian in our melting pot of food culture. She has challenged us to find our truly Canadian voice and connect with each other coast to coast through food, stories and experiences. The hope is that we will discover our truly Canadian voice and identity in this diverse country. Here’s what to expect:
  • Participants will publish a Canadian-themed post on the 7th of every month
  • Each month has a challenge theme, from regional dishes to cherished Canadian recipes
  • You can view participants’ posts (and learn how to get involved) over at Valerie’s blog, A Canadian Foodie - Canadian Food Experience Project. It will be interesting to discover how our fellow "food enthusiast" Canadians rise to the challenge.
To discover what it means to be a "food enthusiast" in Canada it is like peeling away the layers of an onion. By methodically removing each layer of the onion, you are able to appreciate the complexities at each level as you eventually reach the core where you can objectively define the answers. When you use a metaphor, such as "peeling away another layer," you visualize a central concept (a heart or core) that is buried within. 

At this moment in time it is hard for me to get to the central core and define what it means to be a Canadian in our food culture. I have lived in 4 out of 10 provinces, grew up in a British family where Yorkshire pudding and jello were the norm. My perception of how the melting pot of Canadian cuisine can be defined is muddled. By participating in Valerie's challenge I hope to sharpen my senses and dispel this mental fog just as we did on a tiny fishing boat at 4:30 AM off the shores of Newfoundland while jigging for squid. 

Italian, French, Greek, Chinese and other cuisines are easily definable and widely available the world over. One defining factor that they all have in common is that when each of these cultures are preparing their regional dishes the cooks use ingredients that are available to them in their own country or region. A cuisine is built on foods we eat on a day to day basis at home from what is available to us. This is also true of Canadian cuisine. We use ingredients that we find in our local farmers markets with one foot heavily in our ethnic roots which change from province to province. Canada was built on its British and French roots which means you could be chomping down on Tart de Sucre in Quebec, Nanaimo Bars in British Columbia or Butter Tarts in Ontario. If the mention of Canadian cuisine brings to mind peameal bacon, poutine, Montreal Smoked Meat, Oka cheese, ice wine or Bloody Caesars you are on the right track and beginning to scratch the surface of what it means to be Canadian.

This may have been our humble beginnings but today Canada is a melting pot of diverse cultures that has heavily influenced our day to day foods in a big way from the Eastern shores of the Maritime Provinces to the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast. If you asked a Canadian in Halifax, Nova Scotia or Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to define what they eat on a daily basis you would have two different answers. Ask your neighbour what they had for dinner last night and see what the ethnic influences are. Like everyone else we use what's in our backyard and cook instinctively with what's around us. No matter where you sit down to dinner North of 49, there are classic Canadian foods that make us all feel at home. Still confused? Over the next year I hope to not only peel away the layers of the onion for myself but for anyone willing to listen as well.

Canada is a country strong not in spite of its diversity but because of it. 
While we as a people embody huge differences in cultures, 
perspectives and backgrounds, 
from coast to coast to coast we are united by the shared Canadian values of openness, 
respect and a willingness to be there for our neighbours.
 Let's celebrate this loudly and proudly!”

-Justin Trudeau

My first food memories took us to the province of Newfoundland which borders the Grand Banks, one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. In fact, in Newfoundland everything depends on the fishery. There’s conclusive evidence that the Vikings visited Newfoundland around the year 1000, and there are some suggestions that Basque whalers might have been working off the Labrador coast before Columbus made his well-publicized explorations, but it is safe to say that European habitation really took off in the 16th century, and only increased from that point on. 

It was fish that brought Europeans to Newfoundland, it was fish that dictated the pattern of their settlement, and it was fish that laid down the forms and structures of the society they built. Cod, once, were so numerous that they could be scooped from the sea in baskets. Cod, once, weighed thirty pounds or more and grew "as big as a man." Now, modern fishing methods have made fishing limits, quotas and fishing moratoria essential for the cod's survival. Fresh cod is wonderfully flaky and tender, but most cod was eaten after it had been dried for storage and reconstituted, often in soups and stews.  A collapse in cod stocks has greatly limited the cod fishery, but Newfoundland specialties can still be found and are important cultural touch-stones.

Just the other day I had a craving for salty fried foods and sat at one of our local fish-and-chip shops devouring tender, crispy morsels from its newspaper wrappings. I remember in Newfoundland this same dish was topped with gravy and stuffing. In this day and age I am forced to think about sustainability and the preservation of our fish stocks. Perhaps it is for reason of this article that I was thinking about history. As I munched on my fish and chips who would have believed that the humble cod had started wars, founded cities, and kept the whole population of some northern countries alive? Who would have thought, as we fed cheap codfish heads to our cats, that cods' cheeks, tongues and lips were delicacies in some parts of the world? And who now, seeing the rows of bottles of cod-liver-oil capsules in the local health-food shop, would believe that cod, once the most abundant, prolific and hardy of fish, is in danger of disappearing from our seas?

Cod Fish and Chips usually served topped with dressing
With cod stocks depleted, other seafood—including tasty lobster—are being commercially fished and are widely available in Newfoundland. The squid and shellfish fisheries are growing to appeal to locavores also. When I was nineteen I was fortunate enough to be taken out in a small open fishing boat by generous locals and afterwards "pitted" each tiny squid one by one, laid them flat and hung them to dry on lines back at the house next to the hostel. When dried we sold them to the Japanese as a delicacy.

For a young impressionable girl from the "mainland" this was my first foray into something new, something tangible I could grasp and something far different from the sheltered city life I had grown up in. Growing up in Galt in Southern Ontario I had many friends who were from Newfoundland. Their families had moved there to work in the textile mills from Bell Island when the mines and thus their livelihood had dried up. As a teen I had spent many a Saturday night at the "Newfie" Club in downtown Galt sampling Screech, but, at the time they did not offer truly authentic Newfoundland dishes.

Until I ventured to their beloved "rock" I was in the dark. Of course, an invitation to tea or supper is the very best way to experience a good old Newfoundland "scoff," and given the magnificent hospitality of  this friendly province, I was very fortunate to have many invitations. 

In my travels I was invited into a cozy Newfoundland home, where a sideboard filled with food I was about to try for the first time beckoned me. There was a jar of seal meat, and next to it was the moose pie. On the stove in a black Dutch oven was a fish stew with its salt cod, potatoes and brewis, which is what Newfoundlanders call hardtack, that is, ship’s biscuit made of durum wheat. I came across cod tongues and cheeks which are sought-after delicacies. Britches are the roe of the codfish named for their resemblance to a pair of baggy pants and cooked and served in the original packaging, so to speak. You might say it’s the caviar of Newfoundland. At the grocery store or at a kitchen table, you’ll be tempted by the lassy mogs and jam-jams, cookies made with molasses and homemade jam respectively. This was Newfoundland cuisine and I had never known or even thought about what that might be until this moment in time.

We came across young lads selling bake-apples or bog-apples along the side of the road. These are wild berries, collected with considerable difficulty. Also called cloudberries or salmonberries in other parts of the country they are plump amber berries that look like overgrown and pale raspberries but with a delicate flavour all their own. They’re popular as jam or just as they are, with a generous helping of sugar and cream. On Sundays, many families make “Jigg’s Dinner,” which consists of roasted salt beef, collard greens and cabbage cooked with boiled carrots, turnip and potatoes, doughballs, beets and mustard pickles, and pease pudding. Flipper pie, "cod sounds and scrunchions," toutons, partridge soup, baked turr, dough boys…the list goes on for dishes I never had the opportunity to try. 

I was offered Screech wherever I went. It is a drink peculiar to Newfoundland. In times gone by, it was made by pouring boiling water into empty rum barrels to dissolve whatever "rummish" remains might have lingered there. Molasses and yeast were added to the black, resultant fluid, and this mixture was allowed to ferment for a decent length of time before it was distilled. However the old ways have given way to the new, and Screech is now a different beast. It is the worst conceivable quality of Caribbean rum, bottled by the Newfoundland government under the Screech label, and sold to poor devils who have no great desire to continue living. 

Living now in Western Canada I had to think long and hard about how I could commemorate my time in Newfoundland. My first thought was to make fish and brewis but the hard tack or ships biscuit needed to create such a dish would be impossible to find. At our local fishmongers I came across some cod cheeks and an idea materialized. Chowder! Cod cheeks; what an incredibly interesting and intriguing ingredient! Seen as a waste product by fishermen and a a little gem for a chef. They are literally the cheeks of a cod beneath the eye. 

The chowders made by early settlers used salt pork and biscuits. Today chowder cooks discard the biscuits, but often sprinkle crackers on top. A pot of chowder comes about as close as any dish to truly warming comfort food and takes me back to the days I spent as a teenager discovering "the rock." This one uses seared cod cheeks, but you can substitute just about any white, flaky fish or sweet shellfish. I also seared some sweet, tasty scallops to add to the mix. Original recipes use milk, and not cream, an alternative that makes a slightly thinner, less calorific and more traditional soup according to food historians. Cream is said to be a modern addition. 

It doesn't take much more than a bowl of chowder to make an evening meal. Some crusty bread or a bowl of oyster crackers, and you're good to go. A rich white wine on the side is optional, but mighty nice. 

"My First Authentic Food Memory" was this months challenge in The Canadian Food Experience Project which begins today June 7, 2013. As participants in this project we will share our collective stories from coast to coast through our regional food experiences. Please join us here each month or on Valerie's Facebook Page as we embrace our nation

From recounting long ago experiences I was able to relive my first encounter with a culture that is truly Canadian and yet vastly different from anything I have experienced then or now. I can imagine that Newfoundland food history lives on in the homes of rural Newfoundland but like in the rest of Canada these traditional foods are becoming only a faded memory with the influx of global influences. Perhaps if more of us could be "screeched in," and become honorary Newfoundlanders these truly Canadian dishes would survive the test of time. Learn a silly phrase, kiss a frozen cod, drink a shot of 40% Screech (Jamaican Rum), and eat some bologna and these traditions may be preserved for future generations. 

When you’re inspired by the amazingness of other people, the world around you, and a sense of place, you can’t help but come out the other end loving what is unique about yourself. Through this exercise we will find our own individual – not to mention collective – voice.  After a year of discovery we will hear ourselves a little more clearly. 


“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 
“What? You too? I thought I was the only one”.

 S.S. Lewis

**Seared Scallop and Cod Cheek Chowder with Chives**
based on a recipe from Pike Place Chowder

1 oz pancetta
1 lb bay scallops or Digby scallops, diced

1 lb cod cheeks, diced
2 cups red skinned potatoes, steamed and diced
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups water
3  cups heavy cream

3 cups half and half
1 medium or 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/3 cup lemon or lime juice, about 3 lemons
Cooking oil vegetable or canola
A pinch of chopped parsley or chives and paprika makes for a nice garnish 

Dice the pancetta and cook it over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan or soup pot, using no additional fat, until the pancetta is crisp and brown and has rendered its fat. Add diced onion and celery and saute until translucent. Mix in sea salt. Chop bay scallops and cod cheeks into smaller piece and add to pot to sear lightly, turning frequently. Lower heat.

 Sprinkle flour over the mixture and slowly add water, stirring constantly until thick and smooth.  Add cream and pre-cooked diced potatoes. Stir until chowder reaches 190 F. Remove from heat. Add chopped tomatoes, dill and lemon or lime juice. Sprinkle with chopped chives and paprika. Let the mixture cool to 155 F and enjoy.

*For gluten free chowder substitute rice flour or arrowroot.

Cod Tongues and Tartar Sauce - The Wicked Scoff

Cod Cheeks - The British Larder 
Spanish Rice with Cod Cheeks - Nutmegs 7
Toutons - Rock Recipes
Ham and Split Pea Soup with Doughboys - Rock Recipes
Blueberry Grunt - Suzie the Foodie

What do you think of when you think of Canadian cuisine?

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. A beautiful post and wonderful place (paradise)! This chowder must taste really good.



  2. Ya me apuntaba yo a ese viaje y a ver todo eso, las fotos que nos pones son de un lugar muy hermoso y hasta los pequeños detalles que nos narras son sencillamente encantadores...daría algo por haber estado allí!

    1. I already pointed me to this trip and see all that, we put the photos are of a very beautiful place and even the small details that we narrate are simply delightful ... give anything to have been there!

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed this armchair journey.
      Gracias. Me alegro de que haya disfrutado de este viaje sillón.

  3. I have yet to visit Newfoundland. You were a brave soul to head for the open seas! This is a great story.

    1. Valerie tells me that the next Slow Food Conference will be in Newfoundland, so you never know:D Time to visit the Maritimes.

  4. I have lived in 7 provinces and have many food memories. I still have to write my blog post. It will not be as beautiful as yours. You are such a great writer and I enjoy reading you so much. Hope we meet again soon :)

  5. What a wonderful post - great photos! The chowder looks and sounds AMAZING!

  6. First, thank you, Val, for taking us to Newfoundland as we don't have anyone participating in the project from there, yet... and what a ride this was. I am drooling and swooning... I am dying to get there now... but will this kind of authenticity still exist there now?

    "There are few places on earth that continue to live on inside of you, long after you’ve departed." and what a vivid image you have painted for us all!

    "It was fish that brought Europeans to Newfoundland, it was fish that dictated the pattern of their settlement, and it was fish that laid down the forms and structures of the society they built." So true. The power of belonging to a country is past understanding, at times. I feel that these traditions still belong to me, yet I know nothing of them... and I ache for the change that has wrought through the Maritime Provinces because of overfishing.

    "who would have believed that the humble cod had started wars, founded cities, and kept the whole population of some northern countries alive?" Really appreciate your take on this topic, Val.

    Clearly, I am in for an unforgettable experience, as I have never experienced a traditional Newfoundland "scoff". Is it still possible today?

    Unbelievable! I want it all: "There was a jar of seal meat, and next to it was the moose pie. On the stove in a black Dutch oven was a fish stew with its salt cod, potatoes and brewis, which is what Newfoundlanders call hardtack, that is, ship’s biscuit made of durum wheat."

    Thank you for the Canadian tour to the place I yearn to visit the most... and will get there, soon... in the spring, actually! Heading there for the next Slow Food Conference and will make sure I get to all of the provinces that are hanging over the Atlantic Ocean.

    1. It was 1979 when I was in Newfoundland so if these types of experiences still exist I don't know. Maritimers are quite friendly but these days might be a little more wary of people from "away" and not as apt to invite you in for dinner at the drop of a hat. There are many restaurants that still serve traditional dishes, you can still be "screeched in", but for the most part these are set aside for the tourists. You would need to be invited into someones home.You will LOVE Newfoundland!

      As mentioned the recipe is an adaptation of a recipe I make often, only with cod cheeks. In the '80's they would have made it with cream but not originally. I have no relatives in Canada at all, and my mom has never been a cook so a choice of recipes would be limited if I had to rely upon my family as a resource:D My family moved to Canada in 1957 from England.

  7. PS - where did the recipe come from? What is the history of this specific recipe? Your aunt, etc?

  8. Oh my gosh, my Dad would love this. I must try it. :)This is a great read. I love Newfoundland and miss it. I haven't been there in over 5 years now.

    1. I usually make the chowder with fresh dill which I love, but since I m trying to be a little more conscious of the seasons I used chives. I am glad you have been to Newfoundland and perhaps the other Maritime provinces. Such friendly people there:D

  9. There was a time when I would gladly get up pre-dawn for an experience. Now the thought of it makes me yawn!

  10. What a beautiful place and your memories are wonderful. You were braver than I to be squirted with black ink from the squid. Your chowder looks amazing. I always like to try chowders from different areas of the country.

    1. I love chowder too Sam and would be wiling to try all manner of clams and seafood and even "britches."

  11. Thank you so much for the beautiful journey and recipe. I had no idea that squid bite!!! I also hope I never get on the business end to find that one out! yikes. Beautiful seafood chowder. I love that photo with the fresh laundry out to dry. There is something so relaxing and magical about that photo...

    1. I am not sure I can jig for squid off of the coast of Vancouver but I have read they do in Seattle off the docks. Who knows I might experience it again:D

  12. Wow. What a terrific project and what a great post to kick it off! I am hungry for more! Looking forward to reading the others' posts as well. The chowder sounds great, I have to keep an eye out for cod cheeks...adore that laundry photo too!

  13. You know I still haven't had cod cheeks and I live on cape cod.
    Go figure.
    This looks and sounds delish! Seriously.

  14. What a beautiful post! Full of humour, warmth and knowledge. I'll be going to Canada this year and hopefully experiencing some of the fun things that are on offer there :D

    1. Where will you be travelling in Canada Lorraine. It is such a diverse country. You must love it!!!

  15. This is a beautiful post! As a fellow participant in the project i feel proud of the Canadian company I'm in ! Loved it.

  16. What a hearty chowder! So creamy and delicious.

  17. What a wonderful heritage. Canada is surely an amazing, diverse and gorgeous country I hope to visit one day. My brother moved to Winipeg several years ago but I haven't had the pleasure of visiting him there yet. Thanks for sharing your lovely country and this yummy looking chowder. Love all those ingredients. I think your ancestors would be proud of you!

    1. I am a first generation Canadian seeing as my parents moved to Canada from England in 1957. I am sure some of my family would have enjoyed the chowder, but the vegetarians and fussy eaters would not:D You must make it to Canada some day soon Chris.

  18. What a spectacular post, Val. I loved every minute reading it. I always felt part Canadian as we lived right across a river from Canada AND spent every summer on a boat in Canadian waters. So fishing, berrying were all part of my childhood and then my mother, fabulous cook that she was, would make the most divine suppers from what we brought back to the boat. Never have been to Newfoundland though...your photos are wonderful.
    So is the chowder recipe. Always have loved chowder.
    (I see squid all the time while diving in the Caribbean. Nobody ever nibbled on me though. :) AND one of my favorite salads is topped with squid.)

    1. Did you grow up in the Thousand Islands Barbara?

  19. What a fantastic picture of the land and food you have painted!

    The chowder sounds wonderful!

    1. You are so right Redawna, this is a fascinating project to be involved in.

  20. What a wonderful post.... Makes me want to visit. I look forward to all the wonderful posts on Canada... My neighbor has relatives in Newfoundland - I'm going to pass this on to her. Oh, love the chowder.

    1. I have only been to Newfoundland once myself, but I was there for 3 months travelling across the province. I hope you do get to visit someday Katie.

  21. I love the photo with the laundry too!

  22. What a great post. I agree with your question about the overfishing of Cod Stocks - there are so many people around the world that have enjoyed the cod from this region for years that it would be a shame if it was to all disappear.

    Since moving to Canada I've made it as far as Halifax but it's on our list to visit and after reading this post and reading your recipe, we may have to make it there sooner than later :)

  23. What a wonderful post...I feel like I have been visiting Canada with you. Your chowder sounds wonderful.

  24. AnonymousJune 17, 2013

    Fantastic story, Val! The pictures are great, too.

    My dad just returned from his second trip to Newfoundland yesterday so, his hours worth of stories, combined with this post, make me want to visit even more. And, I also want to make chowder now, too. Great work!


Welcome to my home. Thank you for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your support, comments, suggestions, and daily encouragement.


This blog uses comment moderation therefore SPAMMERS, SELF-PROMOTERS and ADVERTISERS will be deleted.