A Wicked Scoff...Recipes and Food with Newfoundland and New England Influences.

This blog is dedicated to bring recipes, photographs, anecdotes, reviews and other insights on everything food related. As the name suggests, "A Wicked Scoff" will have a regional flare, a fusion if you will, of both Newfoundland and New England perspectives of the culinary world around me. Thanks for visiting and please come back often as updates will be frequent. Oh yeah, I also like tasting and cooking with regional beers. Expect a beer of the month, often paired with recipes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Jiggs Dinner

Here is one of A Wicked Scoff's first blog posts, and it is the second most popular among visitors to this blog. While I promise I have many new fall recipes and photos to share, I hope this recipe rewind will tide you over until I get some new posts completed. Thanks for stopping by.

This wouldn't be much of a blog on Newfoundland and New England cuisine if I didn't dedicate a couple of entries to Jiggs Dinner, New England Boiled Dinner or whatever it is you call your salty cured meat boiled along side a crop of winter vegetables.

Here it is, well Part I at least. For this post I'll talk a little about these classic regional dishes, notably the different names given to each, as well as the differences in their ingredients and preparation. Both dishes are a derivative of "Corned Beef and Cabbage", a dish associated with Ireland. While New England Boiled Dinner has not wavered much from the original, Newfoundland's version, faithfully called Jiggs Dinner, is a little more unique.

It is generally agreed these days that the name Jiggs Dinner, referring to the common Newfoundland meal of salt beef (or salt pork spare ribs), boiled vegetables and steamed pudding got its name from the popular comic strip "Bringing Up Father", which began back in the early 1900s. In that comic, the main character was an Irish lad named Jiggs, whose favorite meal was corned beef and cabbage. While the Newfoundland version does not have corned beef, but instead uses a fattier cut of trimmed naval beef (cured), the similarities were obviously close enough that the label of Jiggs Dinner stuck somewhere along the way and became entrenched in Newfoundland food lore.

Besides being called Jiggs Dinner, Newfoundlander's also call this dish consisting of salt meat, cabbage, potatoes, carrot, yellow turnip (actually rutabaga) turnip greens, and pudding (yellow split pea is most common, but a blueberry or figgy duff is also traditional), boiled dinner, and salt meat dinner. For my family, and like many other from across the province, this meal was often accompanied with a roasted piece of meat (chicken stuffed with savory and onion dressing, roasted pork or roast beef) and served on Sunday's...every Sunday! Traditional condiments for the meal include mustard pickles and pickled beets. For this meal of the extra fresh meat and delicious gravy, the term Jiggs Dinners may be dropped and replaced by "cooked dinner" or "Sunday Dinner". Finally, it is quite important to cook plenty so there are ample leftovers for hash on Monday! Somewhere along the way in history, Newfoundland became associated with the fatty cut of trimmed naval beef we know as "salt meat" instead of the leaner and meatier corned beef. It probably had much to do with price and the relationship between what merchants made available to Newfoundland outport fisherman and also to what would last the longest in the brine. Most Newfoundlander's though do not seem to mind and are "salt beef junkies" through and through.

Moving south to New England, or "the Boston States" as often refereed to back in the day by Newfoundlanders and Maritimers alike, the traditional boiled dinner consists of corned beef (usually brisket, either a flat cut or point cut piece, but also a cut of round) and many of the same winter vegetables, notably cabbage, potatoes, carrots, turnip, parsnips and beets. What we don't see are the use of steamed puddings, roasted meat and gravy does not get paired with the meal, and a new range of condiments are used to accompany the meal.

Here is a comparison breakdown:
Newfoundland Jiggs Dinner .............. New England Boiled Dinner


Salt Beef (trimmed naval beef) .....................Corned Beef
or Salt Pork Spare Ribs ..................................(flat cut/point cut brisket/round)


Cabbage ..........................................................Cabbage
Potatoes (often blue spuds) .........................Potatoes
Carrot.............................................................. Carrot
Rutabaga .........................................................Turnip
Turnip (Rutabaga) Greens ...........................Parsnip
Onion ...............................................................Onion
...........................................................................Brussel Sprouts

Side Dishes

Pease Pudding (Yellow Split Peas)
Figgy Duff
Blueberry Duff
Bread Pudding
Potato Cakes with salt pork belly
Roast of chicken, pork or beef
Savory Dressing


Pickled Beets ....................................................Grainy Mustard
Mustard Pickles ...............................................Mustard Pickles
Gravy ................................................................Vinegar

So there it is, the differences between Jiggs Dinner and New England Boiled Dinner. This past Sunday I made my own version of these dishes, a bit of a fusion between the two. I have fallen in love with corned beef. While I've always loved the flavor salt beef put on this meal, I've always thought it to be too fatty and not meaty enough for my taste. Corned beef fits the bill and makes for some awesome hash, not to mention Reuben sandwiches.

Jiggs Dinner and Corned Beef and Cabbage. Since I love roasted meat and gravy, I always include it when I make this meal. This past weekend it was a whole roasted chicken, minus the stuffing (I had a lot going on, plus I ran out of savory at my in-laws house). I trussed the chicken, seasoned it entirely with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted it uncovered with one chopped onion for about 1 1/2 hours at 350 degrees, basting every 10 minutes for the last 30 minutes of cooking. At the end I sprinkled a little fresh rosemary from my herb garden. Besides the wonderful taste of the roasted meat, and the bonus of rich tasty gravy, the addition of a roast allows the corned beef to go farther, thus leaving some for leftovers.

With that being said I also cooked a corned beef brisket (flat cut). I purchased a 4 lb brisket and cooked it on a low simmer for 3 hours. I place the corned beef in a large stock pot and cover it with water. I watch it for the first 10 minutes or so to get the simmer just right. A rolling boil will not do any kindness to the corned beef. Low and slow is the way to go for this cut of meat. Once I had it just right, I went off for a 90 minute bike ride and came back in time to pop the chicken in the oven and start my veggies.

While I often make pease pudding (yellow split peas are easy to find here, and I have a couple of pudding bags), I opted out this time. My loss I know! What I did do was cook rutabaga for a mashed rutabaga side dish, carrots, new baby white and red potatoes, cabbage, and some onions. When my mom makes Sunday Dinner, she has a time chart of when everything goes in the pot as for it all to be ready at the same time. This method is so affective that even my father is able to cook this meal from start to finish all by himself, as long as he follows the directions EXACTLY. He is culinaryly challenged to say the least! For me however, I do things a little differently. I don't enjoy the "rush" of having everything ready at the same time. I like to get the turnip/rutabaga done a bit early so I can get em mashed up and put aside in a covered casserole dish. I also like to get the roast/chicken done a bit early so: A) I can turn the oven to low; B) I can let the meat rest before slicing; and C) so I can spend quality time making some really good gravy. Not only does cooking a few things early cause less mayhem at the end, it also assures that your veggies don't get horribly overcooked and fall apart. Here's how I do the veggies and gravy, one by one:

Mashed Turnip/Rutabaga

For the rutabaga, I cook them in a second stock pot. I add some tap water and a number of ladle fulls of the stock from the corned beef. To prep the rutabaga, using a heavy chefs knife I cut it in half, and then lay each half on the flat side and cut 1/2 inch thick half moon shaped slices. I then peel on the rind and that's it. I drop the rutabaga in the pot, bring it to a boil, and reduce the heat to simmer. At this time, I also add two yellow onions, peeled and halved. The onions makes a nice addition to the meal.

The rutabagas will take some time, up to 30 minutes. Check then regularly with a fork until done. I add them to a casserole dish, with a tsp of fresh cracked black pepper, 2 Tbsp of butter, and mash them until well incorporated. Keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. Then top with fresh parsley.

Potatoes and Carrots

This is the easiest part of the meal. For the carrots I just peel'em, cut them in half, and cut the thick part in half again, so they are all about the same size. For the new baby potatoes, I just give them a wash under cold water. The carrots and spuds get added to the pot of turnip/rutabaga and will take about 20 minutes. Check them with a fork and once tender, put them on a platter and keep in the warm oven.


Well maybe the cabbage is the easiest part. All you have to do is quarter it and give it a wash. I cook it directly with the corned beef. The New England recipes seem to call for a quick 10 minute cooking time, while I've seen recipes for Jigs where the cabbage is the first vegetable added. I like to go in between, and give the cabbage about 25 minutes, so it is tender, but not falling apart too much.

Chicken and Gravy

As I already mentioned, it's a good idea to have the chicken finished a bit early. Once it is done (use a thermometer if you are not sure...160 in the breast, 175 in the thigh) and transfer to a platter, and keep warm in the oven. The rich chicken drippings, and the chopped onion make a great base. I add 4-5 cups of pot liquor (stock) from the corned beef and some water or canned chicken broth, depending on how much I need to make. I place the roasting pan on the stove top over a medium-high heat. Using a wooden spatula or whisk I scrape all the browned bits away from the pan, as this adds major flavor to the gravy. To thicken the gravy, I use a combination of flour and corn starch. I add 2 heaping Tbsp of each to a small mason jar and add a little water. Give it a good shake as to make it lump free and you have a "slurry" that will thicken your gravy. Once the gravy liquid is at a rolling boil, begin whisking in the slurry, until it reaches desired thickness. Reduce heat to low and add gravy browning to get the color right. Taste for salt and pepper. The key here is to let the gravy cook on low for about 10 minutes. This cooks off any of the raw flour taste and lets the flavors meld. and the thickness to get just right.
All in all this meal was a huge success. My in laws love it, and they're glad they have the opportunity to having such a feast on more than St. Patrick's Day. For me, this is a part of who I am. Jiggs Dinner or Sunday Dinner is a profound element of Newfoundland culture and food lore. This is my way of making a connection of where I come from through the food I eat, and a way to have one of my favorite meals a little more often.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Recipe Rewind...Newfoundland Split Pea Soup

The Wicked Bodhran Master himself Sean McCann
shares a few tips with the Wicked Newfoundlander before a
show at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA Oct 3, 2011.

Earlier this week I met some of Newfoundland's finest musical talent all the way down here in the Boston States. Sean McCann of Great Big Sea fame has embarked on on a small US tour with his band The Committed featuring great fiddler Kelly Russel and guitarist Craig Young. In addition to being an excellent singer, guitar player and song writer, Sean is a master of the Irish drum the bodhran, and I was fortunate enough to win a meet and greet contest with Sean as well as a free bodhran lesson before the show. I've been playing the bodhram for a couple year now but still have much to learn. thanks to Sean I've picked up some excellent tips that I'll be putting to practice. Besides the lesson and meet and greet, the concert was outstanding. We had front row seats and the boys rocked out with songs off Sean's latest CD Son of a Sailor, some tunes from his debut CD Lullabies for Bloodshot Eyes, in addition to a couple recognizable Great Big Sea shanties, an original song by Craig and some traditional Newfoundland jigs and reels from Kelly. We were left wanting more and are looking forward to the next time they're down in this neck of the woods. For a taste of the music check out Great Big Sean and do yourself a favor and buy the CDs. They are wicked good!

As a little tribute to my recent encounter with Sean McCann and the Committed here's a recipe repeat for a traditional Newfoundland soup. An old Newfoundland celebrity cookbook of mine featured a recipe for Sean's pea Soup and Doughboys, so like a good Newfoundland gaffer such as himself I'm sure he enjoys a feed of pea soup whenever he's back on the north shores of Conception Bay where the winds can blow right through you. Enjoy again.

I doubt if there is a single grandmother in Newfoundland, or "nan" as we like to call them, that doesn't make the best pot of pea soup. This traditional French-Canadian habitant pea soup, made with yellow split peas, a left over ham bone and some vegetables has been a staple for families both in Newfoundland and New England. The recipes I've seen from both regions are nearly identical, with yellow split peas, a meaty leftover ham bone or salt meat or salt pork if you don't have one, and then roots veggies such as onion, carrot, celery, turnip and potatoes. In Newfoundland it's traditional to serve "doughboys" with pea soup, a simple dumpling made with flour, baking powder, salt and water or milk, which are steamed atop the soup just before serving.

Last week I had a craving for peas soup, something I refused to eat as a kid because of the smell. For the most part I followed the recipe in Book 9 of Traditional Recipes of Atlantic Canada, however I made a few changes.

Unfortunately I did not have a meaty ham bone What I did have at my grocery store however were smoked ham hocks, which are almost just as good. I also avoided soaking the peas and I added more water. I have never found that soaking the peas overnight saves any noticeable difference in cooking time. Plus I found that using 8 cups of water means I have to add more. Lastly, instead of the 2 cups of peas in the book recipe, I added 1 pound, which happens to be one bag. I didn't measure it but it's not too far off 2 cups. Lastly, I love savory, and I added some of it near the end. I also saw savory in a traditional New England version of this soup. We're not so different you know. Here's how I put it all together.

In a large, enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven, add:
- 12 cups (3 quarts) cold water
- 2 smoked ham hocks (or 1 large meaty ham bone)
- 2 bay leaves
- bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour

Meanwhile pick through (for stones) and risne:
- 1 pound of yellow split peas

After the ham hocks/bone have cooked for one hour, add the peas, stir and simmer for another 1 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile prep your veggies:
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 carrots, dices
- 3 stalks celery, sliced
- 1/2 a large rutabaga/turnip, small dice
- 2 large russet potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks

Add the vegetables and 1 tsp of dried savory (rubbed between your fingers), and cook until the vegetables are tender and the soup has thickened. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.

For an extra treat make some doughboys and serve hot on a cold winter night!
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