By Ray Palmer, as told to Crys Stewart

When Ray Palmer was growing up, his family didn’t need a lot of people to have a kitchen party. With him on guitar, his brother at the piano and his dad playing the accordion, they were the party. Now sharing a home with his wife, Wanda, in the City of Mount Pearl (near St. John’s, N.L.), this born-and-raised Newfoundlander keeps the province’s strong traditions of hospitality alive and kicking.

You’re definitely going to have a kitchen party at Christmastime, and during the year, there might be an occasion, too. The food is always out in the dining room. Over the years, we’ve learned that you shouldn’t keep the bar in the kitchen because that’s where everybody hangs out, and the first stop, of course, is always in the kitchen.

Squid is the highlight for a lot of my friends. You can stuff them with anything, really, but we use a basic bread crumb dressing. They’re a ‘picky’ type of thing, like an hors d’oeuvre. I’ve got a son who comes early when he knows I’m doing squid. And I say, “Now, boy, you can only have a couple because you know there’s a few more here besides you, so don’t have them all gone.” My friend used to have a kitchen party every Christmas with a crowd of 20 or 25 people, and there’d be more there than cod tongues and squid, I can guarantee you—we’d have a moose heart that would be stuffed. Other kinds of pickies, too.

A lot of people think that fish don’t have tongues, but they do. When you look at the fish and open its mouth, there it is looking at you. Years ago, young boys on the wharf would wait for when the fishermen came in with their fish, cut out the cod tongues, then go sell them. They were very cheap back then. The better ones are the smaller type that cook pretty quickly. The bigger cod tongues take longer to cook, so they’re not as good. Once they’re crisp and crunchy, they’re fantastic.

If you get a knock on your door and a bunch of mummers come in that you’re not expecting, you can have no idea who they could be. Mummery is sort of a dying thing, but we’re trying to keep it alive. A bunch of people get together and dress up—you’re disguised—and you go around to your friends’ homes. They don’t know you and your fellow mummers are coming, and you’ve probably got a guitar and an accordion with you. You come in and have a little scuff (a little dance) in the kitchen or wherever they can fit you, then have a little toddy. Everyone in the house is trying to guess who everybody is, of course. Sometimes, they’re right; sometimes, they’re wrong.

When we’re having a party, my three grandchildren are always a part of it. They’re only six and seven years old, but I’m sure once they get into their teens, they’ll be having kitchen parties, too. Guaranteed, they will.

Fried Cod Tongues With Scrunchions, courtesy of Ray Palmer
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Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients
2 lb (900 g) cod tongues (preferably fresh; I prefer the smaller tongues)
½ cup (125 mL) flour
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) pepper
½ lb (225 g) pork fatback

Directions
1. Wash tongues carefully; dry with paper towel. Add flour, salt and pepper to plastic bag. Add tongues, shaking bag to coat. Set aside.
2. Cut pork fatback into small cubes. Add to skillet; fry at low to medium heat until fat is rendered out and fatback is crispy and brown. (Don’t overheat or the fat will burn.) Remove pork scrunchions; set aside.
3. Add tongues to same skillet; cook over medium heat until tongues are brown and crispy on both sides. Put scrunchions back in skillet when tongues are almost ready. Cod tongues can be served as an appetizer by themselves or served with fries as a main meal.

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Baked Stuffed Squid, courtesy of Ray Palmer
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Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients
6 squid tubes, cleaned and washed thoroughly
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
4 cups (1 L) bread crumbs (1 bag of bread crumbs)
¼ cup (60 mL) savory
¼ cup (60 mL) melted butter
1 medium onion, chopped finely
pepper to taste

Directions
1. Sprinkle squid with salt.
2. Mix together bread crumbs, savory, butter, onion and pepper. Loosely stuff squid (don’t overstuff).
3. Add enough cold water to cover bottom of 13 x 9-inch (3 L) baking dish. Add squid; cover with foil. (Don’t seal foil around sides of dish; keep tented.) Bake in 325°F (160°C) for about 50 minutes. Turn quid halfway through; add more water, if necessary. Remove from pan when cooked; slice into rings.

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Follow the jump to see more of what a Newfoundland kitchen party is really like.

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