“I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else.”
—E. B. White
Maine doesn’t spring to mind as a gastronomical center. But from his farm, E.B. White described a Maine springtime– rhubarb’s red stalks, asparagus breaking though the earth, and putting in peas and potatoes. He writes most famously about the Death of a Pig, marked by the sudden fall of a tart green apple into the dug grave. Every bit of deliciousness that comes from Maine is well-earned.
Luke Holden is a Maine native, son of a lobsterman, who found his partner Ben Conniff on Craigslist. After both mistakes and luck, Luke’s Lobster has become a small and trendy chain–kind of the anti-McDonalds–with outlets in D.C. and New York City. The menu keeps is simple and focused–shrimp, crab, and lobster rolls, Cape Cod Chips, a blueberry bite, and chowder.
With this book, part cookbook, part road trip diary, Luke draws on fellow Maine cooks, gathering recipes from award-winning pie bakers, church kitchens, and a schooner galley. And with a growing appreciation of northern cuisine, it is a timely book, one that will help diners, readers, and cooks appreciate these fresh and flinty flavors.
Some of the recipes are unabashedly regional–you’ll want sparkling fresh seafood for Scallops Tartare or Hugh’s Grilled Oysters. But chowder is a sturdy thing and if you can’t take a drive to Hurricane’s, a deli in Greene, Maine, making a pot of Hurricanes’ Clam Chowder will get you close.
There are plenty of sturdy recipes here–Bean Hole Beans (cooked in a crock, placed in a hole), Red Flannel Hash (a New England classic made with potatoes and beets), or Finnan Haddie Gratin (another old school recipe made with smoked haddock).
But the book’s recipes also take a leap toward delicacy in technique, ingredients, or both. If you can’t get those oysters, try the three suggested mignonette sauces–basic, blueberry, and ginger-maple–on grilled sweet peppers. Call on your best forest or farm market foraging skills to make Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fiddleheads, those tightly curled fern shoots. Or make a silky Corn Custard with Blackberry Sauce.
So whether you’re cooking for a salt-sprayed summer vacation or a snowy winter weekend, get some Real Maine Food on the table.