Cod With Bacon – Week 3 2020


Welcome to Week 3! Now that we’ve got a couple of recipes under our belts, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Cook Off veterans know that each season includes at least one fish dish. And with NL’s food fishery currently in full swing, there’s no time like the present.

This week’s recipe is courtesy of Elizabeth Ayrton’s The Cookery of England: being a collection of recipes for traditional dishes of all kinds from the fifteenth century to the present day, with notes on their social and culinary background, first published in 1974. Ayrton describes it as a traditional Lancashire dish and provides instructions for two versions: one prepared by fishermen’s families and another, grander recipe from a manor house. In keeping with this year’s “Go Big or Go Home” theme, we decided to give the second one a try:

Butter a large dish and lay in the fillets, which should have been rubbed with seasoned flour. Pour in a very little milk and sprinkle the fillets with crumbs. Cut the rind from the rashers and cut each in half. Flatten with a knife, lay on each a little forcemeat and roll up …. Put the rolls, standing on end, all round the sides of the dish. Dot the dish all over with butter and put in the oven.


A few things jump out from this recipe. The first is “forcemeat” which simply means forced or minced food which was served on its own (often rolled into balls) or as stuffing for meat or fish. Cookbooks from the latter 17th -18th centuries are filled with recipes for forcemeat of all kinds. While pork and oyster seem to have been particularly popular, just about anything could be “forced”, from lobster to pigeon livers to vegetables. Here’s an example from A True Gentlewoman’s Delight (1653):

To make a forc’d dish of any cold meat

Take any cold meat and shred it small, a little Cloves and Mace, and Nutmeg, and two yolks of Eggs, a spoonful or two of Rosewater, a little grated bread, a little Beef suet shred small, make it up into balls or any fashion you please….

Baffling Bacon

The second item is the bacon. Ayrton tells cooks to “cut the rind from the rashers” and “flatten with a knife”. Clearly, she’s using traditional British bacon rather than the streaky, sliced bacon most common in North America. But what would 17th century cooks have used?

That questions led me to this fascinating study of pre-17th century bacon which suggests that prior to the 18th century, bacon was drier and saltier, did not use sugar in the curing process, and wasn’t always smoked. So, maybe more like pancetta or speck than the breakfast bacon we know today? This, it turns out, is an important part of this recipe. But more on that in a bit.

Mystery Date

Ayerton does not provide details about the source of this recipe. She describes it as “traditional”, but could that mean 17th century? After much searching, I haven’t been able to find a similar recipe from a confirmed 17th century source. In fact, the baked and poached fish dishes I’ve seen from this time period use wine or broth as the poaching liquid, not milk. The search continues.

A recipe for stuffed cod, 1650 – 1662: “stuf a fillet of veall with sweet herbs Suett a little flour yolks of Egs some whis season it with a nutmeg Leman peall salt put it in the cod” from the Folger Library. The “stuffing” sounds like forcemeat, but with a more typical 17th century combination of herbs and spices.

And Since We’re Talking about Milk ….

Although Ayerton doesn’t specify the kind of milk, we STRONGLY suggest you use whole milk or something with an even higher fat content like half and half (FYI … I had some left over whipping cream left in the fridge, which I cut with 2% milk). As the saying goes, fat equals flavour. The higher the fat content, the better the milk will absorb and hold the flavours from your other ingredients.

A Work in Progress

I cooked this dish for the first time for dinner guests last week (go big or go home, right?) and it was a slam dunk! Surprisingly quick and easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. I will definitely (definitely!) cook it again … but with a few modifications.

First, I’ll switch regular streaky bacon for pancetta or speck, and second, I’ll reduce the amount of milk slightly. Hopefully, these changes will result in consistently crisp “bacon” rolls, rather than rolls with crispy, crunchy tops and soggy bottoms. They still tasted great, but the texture of the poached bottoms wasn’t the very best.

Ready for the Oven. Next time, I’ll reduce the amount of milk and try pancetta or speck, rather than regular streaky bacon.

Finally, I’ll use the proper forcemeat recipe. As you probably noticed, Ayerton provides zero details on the forcemeat in her recipe. Perhaps that’s because everyone back in the day knew how to make the stuff, I thought. Well, actually, it’s because Ayerton included the forcemeat recipe in her following chapter “Sauces and Stuffings for English Dishes”, which I didn’t realize until this morning. HA! I’ve included both my speedy vegetarian take on forcemeat plus Ayerton’s original recipe below.

The Finished Dish. Taste? Amazing! Plating …. not so much 😉

And there you have it. Remember, cook this recipe, snap a photo and attach your pic as a comment to the recipe post on the Colony of Avalon’s Facebook page for a change to win weekly and grand prizes. Deadline for Week 3 entries is 11:59 PM, Monday, July 27, 2020.

Good luck and, as always, feel free to experiment and make this dish your own!