Nan’s Kitchen’s first featured recipe is Fish and Brewis! To follow-up on the “A History of … Fish and Brewis” article I posted earlier this week, what better than to attempt to make Fish and Brewis myself.
Making Fish and Brewis for the First Time
As I discussed in my blog post earlier this week, Fish and Brewis is one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most iconic dishes. It has been served by countless generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for centuries.
Despite its popularity and cultural importance, I have never had the opportunity to make Fish and Brewis myself. That is why I was so interested in featuring Fish and Brewis as the first recipe on the site.
Growing-up on the Mainland, I didn’t eat Fish and Brewis very often. Typically, I only enjoyed the dish when I visited family in Newfoundland or when my Nan came to Ontario.
I guess you can say I’m a relative newcomer to the world of Fish and Brewis.
Fish and Brewis vs. Fisherman’s Brewis
While Fish and Brewis is prepared in homes across Newfoundland, the way in which families do so varies.
One major variation of Fish and Brewis, called ‘Fisherman’s Brewis’, involves mixing all the ingredients together instead of serving them separately, and often uses fresh cod instead of salted.
In the 1958 cookbook, The Treasury of Newfoundland Dishes, Sally West writes that this variation is “made by Newfoundland fishermen when on board schooners, particularly on the East Coast.” This makes sense since the availability of fresh cod at sea warrants replacing salt cod in the dish. Also, by mixing the ingredients together, Fishermen’s Brewis makes serving the dish easier for larger crowds.
“You can have this at home as well as on a schooner but make sure the fish is fresh. It can be made with salt cod just as well, but all the salt must be soaked out before cooking. Any kind of fish and brewis is a good meal, but the fresh fish as described beats them all.”– The Treasury of Newfoundland Dishes, 1958
However, the use of these terms are inconsistent across the island and often get mixed-up. Therefore, its not uncommon to hear Newfoundlanders say ‘Fish and Brewis’ to refer to what is traditionally ‘Fisherman’s Brewis’.
If available, it is also common to see other ingredients or substitutions in Fish and Brewis. The most common additions include boiled potatoes added to the dish as a third main ingredients or the use of onions in frying scruncheons.
In recent decades, scruncheons are often replaced with ‘drawing butter’, which is a sauce mixture of butter, onions, water, and flour. This is seen as a healthy alternative to scruncheons.
For my attempt at making Fish and Brewis, I opted for including potatoes in my meal, since that’s how I’ve traditionally ate it with family. I also chose to make both Fish and Brewis and Fisherman’s Brewis.
This recipe was made by consulting various historic recipes from old cookbooks and newspapers, as well as from advice from family members.
Fish and Brewis
- 1-2 lbs salt cod (can be substituted with fresh cod)
- 4 pieces hard bread
- 4-5 medium potatoes (optional)
- 1-1½ cups cubed salt fatback pork
- 1 large onion
- Night before: In separate bowls, soak salt cod and hard bread overnight in water. Ensure that the salt cod and hard bread is completely covered in water. (If you are using fresh cod, ignore the salt cod portion of this dish and simply boil the fresh cod on the day you prepare your fish and brewis).
- Rinse salt cod and replace with new water. Boil salt cod for 20 minutes.
- Peel potatoes and boil in water for approx. 15 minutes, or until soft.
- Cut salt fatback pork into small cubes and dice onions. Fry pork until it starts to brown and then add onions. Continue to fry the pork and onions until they are golden brown.
- Using the water you used to soak the hard bread, cook hard bread until it reaches a boil and immediately remove the hard bread from the burner (do NOT let the hard bread stay at a boil).
- Once the salt cod, potatoes, and hard bread are done cooking, drain the water out of each. Flake apart the salt cod and cut-up the potatoes and hard bread with a knife (do NOT mash potatoes and hard bread).
- For Fish and Brewis: Serve each ingredient separately and top with a helping of scruncheons (fried salt fatback pork and onions).
- For Fisherman’s Brewis: Mix salt cod, potatoes, and hard bread together. Serve and top with a helping of scruncheons (fried salt fatback pork and onions).
My Fish and Brewis turned out perfectly! It was pretty good for my first attempt.
The meal was generally simple to make. However, there is the added challenge of remembering to soak the cod and hard bread the night before (I almost forgot!).
You may not want to have Fish and Brewis everyday due to the sheer amount of salt and fat in this dish but it’s a perfect way to treat yourself on special occasions. For example, some families chose to serve Fish and Brewis on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve as a celebration.
Fish and Brewis may not look the most appetizing, but trust me, us Newfoundlanders know what we’re doing!
Cook Book: Featuring Favourite Newfoundland Recipes. George St. United Church Women’s Association, 1956. http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/compoundobject/collection/cns/id/116586/rec/22.
Moore, Sarah. “Fish and Brewis: A Historical and Contextual Analysis.” Culture & Tradition28 (2006): 15–29.