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Native Cooking

Indigenous food is my passion. I would give anything to be invisible and visit the kitchens of my sisters in every corner of Indian country. I could eavesdrop on the grandmothers teaching their daughters and granddaughters ''how it has always been done''; hear all the stories and the laughter. It would be fun to see how they garden and share good hints for bountiful harvests. But I wouldn't stop there. I'd want to hunt, learn the techniques of traps, flintknapping, blind-making, smoking, skinning and all that is part of that skill.

I am also fascinated by the patience of the ancients who devised incredible weirs, seines, clam forks and herring runs for capturing the food of the sea. Coastal New England was an amazing habitat for clams, oysters, shad, sardines, herring, menhaden, salmon, flounder, lobster, crab and the list goes on. Terrible damage and waste was perpetuated in the last 200 - 300 years, but efforts to correct this major threat to our food source came about in the l970s with the beginning of conscientious aquaculture science. The Wampanoag of Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard have been in the forefront of this movement with their aquaculture farming of both fish and shellfish.

Did I forget to mention cod? Codcakes, chowder, fillets and cod every which way were staples in my home growing up. We love it now, but it seems harder to find and more expensive when I do find it.


Salt Cod Fritters

Salted, dried cod comes in boxes in most supermarkets. Just soak the cod in a tightly covered container with cold water. Change the water every 6 - 8 hours and keep in the fridge until ready to use.

1 pound boneless salt cod

3 large potatoes, peeled, cooked

1/2 cup cream

1/3 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic

1/2 onion, minced

2 tablespoons each: lemon juice, fresh parsley (chopped) and mayonnaise

6 dashes hot chili sauce

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

Cook the potatoes; drain, mash, and set aside. Drain the cod and place in a large saute pan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Now drain and rinse the cod one more time and dry on paper towels.

Heat the cream and garlic cloves in a small pan over low heat until just barely hot, then turn off heat. Put the cod in a food processor. Add the cream mixture and olive oil, and puree until smooth. Add all this to the mashed potatoes. Now add the onion, lemon juice, parsley, hot sauce, mayonnaise and bread crumbs; stir all to combine.

Heat the oil for frying (about 1/4-inch deep) and drop mixture by rounded tablespoons into the hot oil. Do a few at a time so they aren't crowded. Remove when golden to drain on paper towels. Serve plain or with tartar sauce.


Narragansett Fish

2 pounds scrod, haddock or flounder

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 cup stale, flat beer

Oil for frying

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, pepper and baking soda. Add the beer and vinegar, very slowly. Let stand for 10 minutes. Be sure to gently stir again before you use it. Heat about 1/2-inch of oil in a deep-sided, heavy pan (I use cast iron). Dip the fish into the batter gently, let excess batter drip off and ease the fish into the pan. When you feel it is golden on the first side, turn over gently. Turn the fish only once. Total cooking should be no more than 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce or malt vinegar.


Sea Scallops of the Dawnland

Sea scallops are big and meaty. This topping is meant to protect the tender scallops from drying out while broiling, adding a tasty, rich flavor.

2 pounds sea scallops

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, pepper and grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

If the scallops are very wet, pat dry on paper towels. Place them in a single layer on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Set aside. Melt butter in a medium pan. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring a bit. Add the breadcrumbs and turn up the heat. Stir constantly until the crumbs begin to toast and get slightly golden, about 2 - 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Preheat the broiler. Sprinkle each scallop with the crumbs and pat lightly so they stick. Broil about 4 or 5 inches from the heat for 5 - 7 minutes.


Notes and Tips

* Fish contain lots of good-for-you Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease and breast, colon and other cancers.