Winter is officially upon us. And that means falling back on food that’s warm and comforting. So why not look to the region of the country that has been cooking up all-American comfort food for generations? Here are a few New England dishes worth savoring.
1. INDIAN PUDDING
This steamed mixture of cornmeal, milk and molasses might be even more American than apple pie. Early colonists made the stuff using meal provided by the Native Americans, along with molasses that was in plentiful supply to make rum. The dish fell out of favor in the early 20th century as packaged puddings grew in popularity, but loyal New Englanders have kept Indian Pudding on their Thanksgiving tables for generations, adding spices like nutmeg to the mix. Try this recipe from The New York Times that adds raisins and ginger, and is topped with ice cream.
2. BOILED DINNER
This winter warmer cooks together heaping portions of brisket, potatoes and vegetables. It won’t win any presentation awards, but so what? You could go the traditional route with Yankee Magazine’s recipe, which slow simmers five pounds of brisket along with peppercorns before adding in carrots, beets, cabbage, turnips and potatoes. Or you could try something a little different, like using smoked ham or pork and adding some pickling spices.
3. RED FLANNEL HASH
New Englanders pioneered this dish as a way of repurposing leftovers from their boiled dinners. It’s essentially all of the same ingredients coarse-chopped and mixed together. When combined, everything takes on a red hue from the beets—hence the name. Add an egg on top or cook a few in with the mixture to make a savory brunch dish. For a fancier take, try Martha Stewart’s red flannel hash cakes.
4. BAKED COD
There are numerous ways to prepare this versatile fish, and baking offers up some really creative possibilities. Try a coating of butter, wine, lemon juice and crumbled-up Ritz crackers, or go with a healthier take via Eating Well that features a topping of diced whole wheat bread, gruyere cheese and paprika. Baking alongside accompaniments like olives and lime, or chorizo and potatoes, can kick the flavor up another notch or two. Just note that, due to problems with overfishing, it’s recommended you follow the buying guidelines from organizations such as the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
5. RHODE ISLAND CLAM CHOWDER
The country’s smallest state offers up big flavor with its take on the popular New England staple. Instead of a creamy, milk-based broth, Rhode Island clam chowder has a thin, clear broth that allows the full taste of the clams to come through. That’s why it’s known as the seafood lover’s clam chowder. As for a recipe, you can’t go wrong with this one from Food & Wine, which combines bacon, celery, bell peppers, onions and a few handfuls of cherrystone clams, and slow cooks for several hours.
6. FISH CHOWDER
We’d be doing the good people of New England a disservice if we only offered one type of chowder. For those who prefer haddock or cod to clams, fish chowder loaded with potatoes and vegetables can be immensely satisfying. Traditional recipes call for a few ounces of diced salt pork in addition to fish, giving the dish an extra meaty flavor. You can’t get much more New England than John F. Kennedy’s own fish chowder recipe, which he sent to a young girl in 1961 after she asked him what he most liked to eat.
This sandwich creation is wildly popular in New England, and a regular in kids’ packed lunches. The “fluff” refers to Marshmallow Fluff, the gooey white concoction that gets spread over peanut butter and smooshed between two pieces of white bread. If you’re looking for a recipe—well, that was it. Fans in Massachusetts have lobbied to make the fluffernutter the state sandwich, but the bill is currently stalled with the state legislature. And here’s another fun fact: It was invented by Paul Revere’s great-great-great-granddaughter.
These corn meal pancakes go way back in American history—all the way back to the Shawnee and Pawtuxet tribes, who shared their recipe with the pilgrims. Benjamin Franklin, who dubbed the cakes “better than a Yorkshire muffin” (high praise at the time, no doubt), was a big fan, as was the Marquis de Lafayette. The origin of the name, meanwhile, is a mystery (there wasn’t a “Johnny,” unfortunately). Some believe it derives from “journey cakes,” reflecting their portability, or from the term “Shawnee cakes.” Try this recipe that uses cornmeal, or opt for one that uses special Johnnycake mix from Kenyon Grist Mill, one of the country’s oldest producers of Johnnycake mix.
9. WHOOPIE PIE
Both Pennsylvania and Maine lay claim to this whip-filled treat that, at first glance, looks like something that came off the production line at Hostess. Pennsylvanians call them “gobs” and say the Amish invented them, while Maine residents point to Labadie’s bakery in Lewiston as the first place to start turning them out. No matter where they originated, they’re flat-out delicious, and can be easily made at home. Good Housekeeping uses cocoa, milk, sugar, and flour and to make the cookies, and then mixes confectioner’s sugar with some butter, vanilla extract and a jar of marshmallow cream for the filling. If you don’t feel like going to the trouble, you can always order premade whoopee pies online from Maine-based Wicked Whoopies.
10. ANADAMA BREAD
This bread made with molasses and cornmeal is believed to have originated in the fishing villages in northeast Massachusetts. Local legend says the name comes from a fisherman’s curse aimed at his wife, Anna. Food Network Magazine has a recipe that’ll make a hearty 4-by-8-inch loaf, and cooks up in less than an hour. Anadama bread is best eaten warm, so make sure to eat a slice or two shortly after it comes out of the oven. And save any parts you don’t eat in the freezer for up to a month.
11. BOSTON BAKED BEANS
Ever wonder why Boston is called “Beantown”? This dish provides what many believe to be the answer. Back in the 17th century, beans were an important part of settlers’ diets. Over the years, they learned they could add in salted pork, molasses and a few other ingredients, and slow cook it all in a pot to make a tasty meal. Pilgrims and Puritans would often cook baked beans and brown bread on Saturdays, then eat everything on Sundays while observing the Sabbath. Contemporary recipes don’t deviate much from those core ingredients. For an extra kick, try Chowhound’s rum-infused take on the classic.
12. STUFFED CLAMS
The possibilities are limitless with this wicked good dish that mixes clam meat with breadcrumbs, cheese, and a variety of other ingredients. Traditional recipes call for diced littleneck or cherrystone clams and breadcrumbs, along with finely chopped vegetables, butter and garlic. Yankee Magazine recommends adding Parmesan cheese and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to the mix. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from adding chorizo, bacon, raisins, lemon juice and other ingredients (not all at once, of course). Food & Wine has a recipe for Spanish stuffed clams that include bacon and smoked paprika, while Epicurous has a version that showcases oregano and red peppers.
13. APPLE CHEDDAR GALETTE
A cheesy apple pie might not sound very delicious, but just let the idea sink in for a minute. Apple slices with cheddar cheese make a great snack, after all. And isn’t just about everything better with melted cheese? A galette is basically an open-faced pie, so you’ll need to brush up on your crust-making skills. For the filling, you’ll want to use apple varieties that are good for cooking, like Courtland, Fuji, McIntosh, or a combination of these. If you’re following Simply Recipes' recommendations, add in some lemon zest, maple syrup, ground cinnamon, and a half-cup of grated cheese. The end product works as either a dessert or as a breakfast pastry.
14. MAPLE COOKIES
A specialty in Vermont, maple cookies are a great way to showcase the deep, rich taste of the state’s maple syrup. The key is in using superior product, and not just any mass-produced store brand (sorry, Mrs. Butterworth). Look for Grade A: Dark, or Grade A: Very Dark—formerly Grades B and C, before the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the designations last year. Follow Serious Eats’ recommendation and combine a half-cup of amber goodness with flour, brown sugar, butter and one egg, and bake for 8-10 minutes. You could also try variations on the recipe, including a pecan variety or one with peanut butter.
15. LOBSTER BISQUE
It takes a lot of prep work and upwards of 25 ingredients to create this flavorful concoction. If that feels daunting, you can always reach for a can of Bar Harbor brand lobster bisque; or find a fancy restaurant in your area that serves it up. For those up to the challenge, give Tyler Florence’s recipe a try, or follow along with this recipe adapted from Julia Child. Shortcuts are possible, but some time-intensive steps—like simmering the shells to extract extra flavor—are crucial.