That sounds so weird! We have to try it
My friend and I read the appetizer description on the menu at Loyal Nine in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the same time. We glanced up at each other, our noses wrinkled in confusion. “Boston Brown Bread with smoked fish?! That sounds so weird! We have to try it.” Our third dining companion, who didn’t grow up in New England, looked a bit confused, but also intrigued.
Weird, yes, but this Boston Brown Bread was also delicious
It was weird, smoked blue fish with radish and dill atop Boston Brown Bread. But so good that I haven’t gotten it out of my mind since I had it that evening in 2015. Loyal Nine, which specialized in cuisine from New England became a favorite spot for me to take friends visiting from outside the region. Echoing the past, but with a delightfully contemporary twist, Loyal Nine was a special place. Sadly, the celebrated restaurant did not survive the pandemic.
Boston Brown Bread in New England
If you grew up in New England, particularly northern New England, chances are at some point that you ate brown bread out of a can. Yes, a can. Boston Brown Bread is a steamed bread, and a tin can is a perfect cooking vessel for it. It’s dense and flavorful, bordering on sweet with the raisins and molasses, yet somehow not.
Before Loyal Nine, the last time I’d had Boston Brown Bread was when I was a kid, topped with butter. I was a picky eater as a kid, and liked brown bread, so, while unusual, it’s easy to love. What I really remember is how unusual it looked, shaped like a can.
Boston Brown Bread is easy to make
It’s also really easy to make, and requires nothing more than a tin can and a pot to make (if you don’t have a tin can, you could use a loaf pan). It helps if you have a steamer insert (I steamed mine in an asparagus pot), but you can use some crumpled up aluminum foil (often called tin foil in New England). The batter comes together in seconds, and you just add it to a buttered can, cover that with some foil and steam for a couple of hours, checking on the water levels every now and again.
A few different touches for Boston Brown Bread
Boston Brown Bread has a fairly standard recipe, and I used this one from King Arthur Baking as a starting point. I replaced the traditional raisins with dried cranberries, plumped in boiling water before adding to the wet ingredients. I have a dog who finds every last morsel dropped on the floor, and raisins are toxic to dogs and make me nervous. Cranberries are about as New England as it gets, so I felt that it was a good substation. I also substituted half of the cornmeal with corn flour to lighten the texture a bit. I’ve come to corn flour relatively recently, and I love it.
Make it small batch
Otherwise, this is a fairly standard brown bread. Most recipes give you two cans; this small-batch version gives you one, plenty for a couple of servings with the smoked fish and a slice or two left over for the more traditional butter.
A scale is going to make measuring a lot easier, as recipes can get a bit strange when reduced. Weighing is good baking practice, so if it’s something new for you, now’s a good a time as any to acquire the skill. If you need a scale, I’ve linked mine below.
Serve Boston Brown Bread with smoked trout and radish
Loyal Nine’s dish had smoked blue fish, which can be a bit tough to find. I replaced it with my trusted smoked trout, packed in oil. I added a little prepared horseradish to some Greek yogurt. I slathered that on the warm brown bread and then topped it with some pieces of smoked trout, before garnishing it with thinly sliced radish and dill fronds.
Yes, it’s weird. And, yes, it’s delicious.
Looking for more small-batch Thanksgiving recipes?
Planning a solo (or small) Thanksgiving this year? This Thanksgiving Recipes Roundup post is for you! Includes (mostly) small-batch recipes perfect for a peaceful Thanksgiving to remember. This post contains affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you take advantage of the offer (thank you!).
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Small-Batch Boston Brown Bread with Smoked Fish
- 1 scale this is a lot easier than doing this
- 1 Dutch oven or sturdy pot with a lid large enough to hold the canning rack and baking dish when covered with room to spare
- 1 15-oz can, buttered, or another suitable small baking dish
- Crumpled aluminum foil or a canning insert to allow the bread to steam
- 1 string or rubber band able to fit around the baking dish you could use string, but it would need to be tied very tightly
- 1 tongs to remove the can from the pot
For the Brown Bread
- 37 grams whole Rye Flour, plus 2 teaspoons
- 22 grams yellow cornmeal
- 22 grams corn flour
- 42 grams white whole wheat flour
- 0.4 teaspoons baking soda
- 0.4 teaspoons table salt
- ⅓ cup dried cranberries Raisins are the traditional go to here, but I prefer dried cranberries
- ¾ cup buttermilk (17.4 ml) Can substitute whole milk, curdled with ¾ tbsp white vinegar left to stand for 5 minutes
- ¼ cup molasses (59 ml)
- butter, to grease the pan and the aluminum foil
To Serve (per piece)
- 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
- ¼ tsp prepared horseradish to taste
- ¼ tin smoked trout in oil, drained you want a couple of pieces
- ¼ small radish, thinly sliced you want a few slices, see photo
- dill fronds, for garnish
- Plump the dried cranberries in boiling water for about five minutes. Drain and dry them out on a paper towel⅓ cup dried cranberries
- Lightly grease your can and have on hand enough aluminum foil to cover the top, with room for the bread to expandbutter, to grease the pan and the aluminum foil
- Set a pot with a cover large enough to hold the baking dish and the crumpled aluminum foil or canning rack on the stove. Bring water to a boil to add to the pot
Make the Boston Brown Bread batter
- In a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, whisk the flours, cornmeal, baking soda, salt, and the dried cranberries37 grams whole Rye Flour, plus 2 teaspoons, 22 grams yellow cornmeal, 42 grams white whole wheat flour, 0.4 teaspoons baking soda, 0.4 teaspoons table salt
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and molasses until smooth, and add the cranberries¾ cup buttermilk, ¼ cup molasses
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just incorporated. Do not overmix
- Add the batter to your greased can. Grease the foil with butter (so that the bread will not stick to it) and then cover the can with the buttered foil. Crimp the foil firmly around the edges of the pan, but allow a little tent at the top to give the bread room to rise. Tie the can with string
- Place the can in the canning insert or on top of the crumpled foil and add the boiling water until it reaches about ⅔s of the way up the can. Bring the water back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer before covering. The can should not hit the top of the cover
- Steam for approximately 2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure that there is enough water in the kettle. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the bread. It should come out clean or with a few crumbs. Remove from the kettle
- Allow to cool in the can for about 10 minutes before turning it out of the can (if you have trouble, open the bottom of the can and push it out gently) and cooling completely
Assemble the dish
- When ready to eat, mix the Greek yogurt with the prepared horseradish. Spread a dollop on a slice of Boston Brown Bread. Add a couple of pieces of smoked trout. Add a few radish slices, and then garnish with dill fronds1 tbsp Greek yogurt, ¼ tsp prepared horseradish, ¼ tin smoked trout in oil, drained, ¼ small radish, thinly sliced, dill fronds, for garnish