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Cape Cod Turkey

Cape Cod Turkey
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Have you ever heard the term Cape Cod Turkey? Believe it or not, there's not any turkey in it at all. This old-time recipe is for salt cod served with potatoes, eggs, and cream sauce.

The origin of the name "Cape Cod turkey" is obscure. It has come to mean cooked fish;  more specifically, baked stuffed codfish well larded with salt pork. One explanation of the term centers about Thanksgiving. The traditional food for that day was, and still is, turkey. Turkey meant thankfulness to God for his bounty. However, without the fishing industry the colonists would have had very little to be thankful for. Then, too, the Irish in and around Boston used the term "Cape Cod turkey" to refer to their Friday meal of fish. Fish, and particularly salt fish, seemed to taste better if it bore the aristocratic name "Cape Cod turkey."
—from  THE YANKEE COOKBOOK by Imogene Wolcott, 1939

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Photo/Art by Aimee Seavey

For the "Turkey" (aka The Fish)


  • 1 box salt cod fish (1 pound)
  • 1/4 pound salt pork (or bacon)
  • 8 medium potatoes, boiled and peeled
  • 1 cup medium cream sauce
  • 1 hard-cooked egg


Cover the cod with cold water, bring to a boil, drain. Repeat this process 2 or 3 times, then simmer the fish until tender, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile boil the potatoes, cube and try out the salt pork, and prepare the cream sauce and the hardcooked egg. When serving pour the cream sauce over the potatoes and the fish, add the sliced egg and sprinkle with the pork scraps.

For the Cream Sauce


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • salt and white pepper to taste


Melt the butter over low heat and blend in the flour. Add the milk gradually and stir until thick and smooth. Add the cream and simmer for 5 minutes to cook the flour. Season with the salt and pepper.
Updated Thursday, December 10th, 2015

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11 Responses to Cape Cod Turkey

  1. Jim MacKay October 26, 2008 at 5:08 pm #

    My grandmother used to mave a slightly different version of this with shallots and no egg, mashed into a potato. A very good version just the same. It takes me back a few years.

  2. Dawn P. Gallo May 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    I grew up in the 50’s eating something very similar to this recipe. I loved it!! Unfortunately the cost of the cod fish is now through the roof.

  3. Anonymous December 23, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    This is our families traditional Christmas Day dinner. This recipe is something that we have been making in our family for generations. We don’t use the hard boiled egg, we soak raw onion rings in vinegar and top the dinner with that…and the drippings from the fatback! So unhealthy…That’s why we only have it once a year, but it is SO GOOD! Everyone who has turned their noses up at the sound of it have become true lovers of this recipe once they’ve had it! Try it!!

  4. Anonymous February 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Cape Cod Turkey came from the whaling ships of New Bedford. The ingredients of potatoes, salted pork, beets were food available on board.
    This is how we always served it, fried pork with drippings, boiled potatoes and beets.

  5. Linda Dean July 5, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    I never heard this dish referred to as Cape Cod Turkey but I grew up near New Bedford and remember my mother serving a version of this frequently during “the war” (WWII). I do not remember cream sauce or eggs – just the potatoes with the salt cod crumbled, mixed in and topped with tiny cubes of pork fat fried with the drippings as “gravy.” It was good! I haven’t seen those wooden boxes of salt cod since then. I wonder if they still exist. Another wonderful treat before we were all educated about cholesterol and trans fat was pie crust made with lard. There is no vegetable shortening that can come close to the delicate, flakey texture and wonderful flavor of pie crust made from lard!

  6. Tracie Brann July 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    The cap code turkey I grew up with was salt cod, potatoes, turnip, salt pork and mayo – all mashed up and mixed together

  7. Marianne Stowers September 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    My husband’s family who came from Revere, Massachusetts to Illinois in 1915 brought this “dish” and made it with beets and without cream sauce and eggs. We generally use bacon instead of salt pork, crumble it and pour grease and all over the cod, potato, and beets and stir together.
    In most of the country the winter diet and summer diet used to differ greatly because of availability of fresh garden foods. This definitely was what was available in the winter.

  8. Susan Clark May 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Cape Ann Turkey is the beets, potato and salt cod all mashed together. Cape Cod turkey is the cream sauce and eggs. At least that was what it was in my home growing up. I’m still not much of a fan of either, but prefer the Cape Ann version, beets and all.

  9. robbi May 24, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    what wonderful food memories……on a somewhat related note, my mom used to save those salt cod boxes, (she worked as a cook), as they made perfect “departing vessels” when I had to have “services” for my pet mice and gerbils.

  10. tina February 7, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    I grew up on this dish in downeast maine… love love it. I’ve never had with the beets, instead my family always used a layered dish of onions finely chopped that sat in the refrigerator atleast 1 hour before serving and then topped with vinager. its a far cry from a poor man’s meal today!!!

  11. Jerri February 17, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

    My grandmother (from Brockton, MA) made this every Easter, w/o the fish or bacon, as a side dish with ham. She would refrigerate the colored and gathered eggs and use them in the cream sauce with the potatoes. Colorful dish and perfect for the day. She called them Oak Hill Potatoes. My family tradition to this day!

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