Salmon and Peas on the Fourth of July

Is eating salmon and peas on the Fourth of July part of your family’s Independence Day tradition? Here’s our favorite salmon and peas recipe.

By Bethany Bourgault

Jul 04 2016

Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

Pairing salmon and peas on the Fourth of July has been a New England tradition for as long as America’s been a country. Maybe even longer than that, some historians speculate.

Salmon and Peas
Salmon and Peas
Photo Credit : Bethany Bourgault

But why salmon and peas? The salmons’ annual migration up New England’s rivers from the Atlantic made them an available (and delicious) source of protein for early settlers in the summer months. It’s estimated that nearly 300,000 salmon made this yearly journey in pre-Colonial times. The fish don’t take the same paths in the same numbers that they used to because the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s wreaked havoc on their favorite stomping grounds, but luckily for us, the tradition had already been established by then. (And luckily for future generations, ecological restoration projects are slowly but surely bringing the fish back up New England’s waterways.)

The late-June ripening of peas made for a clear choice of pairing for a flavorful, nutritious dish, and then many New Englanders added new potatoes – small, freshly harvested potatoes of any variety – to round out the meal.

There are so many options when it comes to cooking your Fourth of July salmon and peas. If you’re entertaining friends backyard-barbeque-style, it might be best to grill it. If New England’s weather remains predictably unpredictable (and your backyard party suddenly finds itself in your living room) you can always bake it in the oven. If you’re looking to preserve the centuries-old tradition just the way it was meant to be, though, try this recipe to cook your salmon and peas like your parents, grandparents, and generations before them did – poached, covered in a hearty helping of egg sauce.

Fourth of July Salmon and Peas with New Potatoes

From Yankee Magazine, July 1990 and the L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery


1 whole salmon with its head (about 8 pounds)
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped carrot
1 scallion, chopped
2 bay leaves

Egg Sauce

6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups hot fish stock or salmon-steaming broth
1 ½ cups milk
Freshly ground pepper
A few drops Tabasco sauce
A few drops lemon juice
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill or chervil
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

In a fish steamer or a pan large enough to hold the fish whole, place the salmon on a rack and pour in boiling water to just beneath the rack, it should not touch the fish. Add the vegetables and bay leaves, sprinkle well with salt. Cover the pan – you may use heavy-duty aluminum foil, if necessary. Steam about 45 minutes, adding more water if it threatens to boil away.

Make the egg sauce:

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring 2-3 minutes, then add 1 cup fish stock of the steaming liquid from the poached salmon. Return to the heat, stir until the sauce thickens. Add the milk, whisking until smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper, tabasco, and lemon juice, then fold in the chopped eggs and herbs. Heat through. Put the salmon on a platter, remove the skin, and coat with a little of the egg sauce, passing the rest in a bowl. Serve with steamed new potatoes and garden peas cooked in a little boiling water until just tender. Serves 12 or more.