Of all the fish Washington enjoyed, salt fish ranked highest. The general is “exceedingly fond of” them, wrote General Robert Howe of North Carolina in a June 1782 request “for as much fish as would serve a pretty large company for dinner.”
The egg sauce Mary Randolph added to her recipe became fashionable during the eighteenth century The ingredients are simple—just butter and finely chopped eggs, with a little seasoning to accent the flavor. Enhance the recipe with cream, plus a bit of cayenne pepper to add color.
This recipe is a modern adaptation by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.
1 pound dried salt cod
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
4 large hardboiled eggs, peeled and yolks and whites separated
Cayenne pepper as needed (optional)
1. Put the cod in a large glass or ceramic bowl, cover with cold water, and set in the refrigerator to soak and soften for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
2. When you are ready to cook the cod, drain it thoroughly, place in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, and pour in enough water to cover it. Set the cod over very low heat and cook, barely simmering, for about 8 minutes. Do not let the water boil. Drain and repeat the procedure 2 more times, until most of the salt is extracted from the flesh.
3. Remove the cod, and rinse out the saucepan. Return the cod to the pan, and again pour in just enough water to cover it. Bring to a gentle simmer over low heat, and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cod is easily flaked into pieces. Again, do not let the water boil. Carefully lift out the cod with a strainer, and cool just until it can be easily handled. Using a fork, flake the cod into pieces and set aside.
4. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the cream and white pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer over very low heat, and cook until it thickens slightly, stirring often. Fold in the cod, and continue simmering for about 3 minutes until heated through.
5. Discard 2 of the egg whites, or reserve for another use. Finely chop the remaining 2 egg whites and 2 of the egg yolks, and stir into the sauced cod. Season with salt, if necessary.
6. Pour the cod into a serving dish. Break the remaining 2 egg yolks into small bits, and scatter over the top. Dust on a little cayenne, if desired.
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