If it is haddock and it is smoked, then it is finnan haddie. To my astonishment, however, that grand old traditional name was not on the label of the package of fish I picked up at the store. Instead, it said “smoked haddock.” I puzzled over this change of nomenclature a little while, and then it occurred to me that a generation or two of new shoppers in stores might not recognize “finnan haddie” and be reluctant to buy a strange-sounding fish.
The name comes from the Scottish town of Findon and the slang word for haddock. In the 1800s in Findon, fishwives hung lightly salted or, as Down Easters would say, slack-salted, haddock in their chimneys to be smoked gently over peat fires. (Peat gives that nicely smoky flavor to some scotches, you know.) The delicious result was Findon haddock or, in the colloquial, finnan haddie, even when it was no longer made only in Findon, Scotland.
We in Maine, and in all of New England in fact, owe our taste for it to the Nova Scotians and New Brunswickians in our midst who came to work in New England on fishing vessels and in shipyards and factories.
It is ridiculously easy to prepare, and it is a perfect cold weather supper. Allow a quarter to a third of a pound of fish per serving, and begin with one-half cup milk or cream per serving, gradually adding more for each serving but never so much that you drown it. You can serve the fish on boiled or baked potatoes if you want a bit more substance.
You can serve it on crackers in a soup plate, or on toast. You also can eat it the way you would lobster stew, just fish and cream, maybe a bit of crusty bread to go with it. Put a salad on the side, and you have a meal.
If you wish, you can lay the fish in cold water for an hour to reduce the salt somewhat, but you don’t want it to be bland, either.
P.S. I will be speaking to the Union Historical Society at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, at the Old Town House, about the history and foods of Thanksgiving. I’ll talk about such topics as whether or not there really was turkey at the first Thanksgiving, and why we eat pumpkin pie on that holiday. If you live nearby and have an evening free, I would be tickled to see you and have you introduce yourself.
Yields three to four servings.
1 pound smoked haddock
1 to 1½ cups milk, cream, or half-and-half per person
Salt and pepper
Put fish in a pan or bowl with boiling water, and let it sit for five minutes. Remove from water, and gently flake or cut apart into large bite-sized pieces. Put fish and milk, cream, or half-and-half into a heavy-bottomed pan, and warm over moderate heat 20 minutes or more, until fish flakes apart easily. Take off the heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and add a bit of butter and a grating of nutmeg if you wish. Serve on potatoes, toast, crackers or with crackers or bread on the side.