|photo: Amy Root-Donie|
By Jeanné McCartin
April 17, 2011 2:00 AMIt's all about the book these days for chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier. Fair enough, as their second book, "Maine Classics: More than 150 Delicious Recipes from Down East," co-authored with Rachel Forrest (see sidebar), just hit the shelves. It deserves their attention. But for those reading it, it will mean a lot more with some background on these groundbreaking chefs.
There's reason enough to linger over recipes such as grilled rabbit with juniper and bay leaves, or grilled venison and huckleberry sauce, not to mention the simple and classic lobster roll. But as the book demonstrates with its wonderful facts, tales, tips, recipe introductions and sidebars, background enriches the experience.
The pair, named by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as 2010 Best Chefs in the Northeast, fell into farm-to-table cooking before the phrase or fashion, and have continued the practice over the past two decades at their three restaurants Arrows and MC Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, and Summer Winter in Burlington, Mass.
|photo: Amy Root-Donie|
Pioneering farm-to-table started as an act of desperation, says Frasier, point-man for the interview while Gaier was working the kitchen at one of the restaurants.
The two were working with acclaimed chef Jeremiah Tower at Stars Restaurant in San Francisco when a friend suggested they purchase a restaurant for sale in Ogunquit.
"We were kids. ...; We had nothing to lose. So we packed up the car, drove across country and opened Arrows in 1988," says Gaier. "When we got out here, well Maine was a different place 25 years ago; it's changed a lot."
The original vision was a bistro style, casual eatery. The issue was they couldn't find products they'd taken for granted on the West Coast. "They just weren't available.
"So food-to-table was born of necessity. If we wanted good bread we just made it ... Ice cream, same thing," he says.
The property they owned had an orchard, so cider "made sense."
"Even on the Seacoast there weren't a lot of fishermen who handled fish in a good way, so we searched for purveyors with the highest standards," Frasier says.
"Across the board we had to do it ourselves and that made it exciting and really challenging and made it very Maine. ...; Go out and find it yourself."
Produce, with help, became a backyard effort. They still cultivate more than two acres of land, with a greenhouse, all restaurant bound.
Ted Johnson provides the lobster. Standard Baking Company in Portland has partnered with them nearly from the start, as has Rod Mitchell at Brown Trading who supplies fish. You meet them all and more in "Maine Classics," in Ron Manville's photos, the book's tales and through related recipes.
Some recipes feature fiddleheads, hen-of-the-woods and wild ramps, foods found by foraging — that's right, as in go out in the woods with a satchel, hunt and pick.
"Our executive chef, Justin Walker, has been with us 15 years. ...; He was the one that led the charge on that," says Frasier. "All you have to do is know what you're looking for and walk in the woods and you'll find some pretty fantastic things."
The "Maine Classics'" process took three years, with a year and a half spent on writing, Frasier explains.
Working with Forrest they organized, planned, researched, wrote the stories, tested recipes and finally put them together.
"Ron (Manville) was a joy to work (with) and working with Rachel was great. She really understood the concept from the get-go, and allowed us to give our voice to the book."
When it comes to the collection, Frasier's personal favorite recipe is the corn soup with crab, "it's absolutely fantastic," he says. Like many of the recipes it's "taken home." He's partial to Mark's Mustard Herb Vinaigrette as well. The book's recipes can be as simple as lobster mac & cheese, or something more complex — a leisurely process or a fairly quick meal.
"Cooking isn't necessarily elaborate, but a lot of different things, good ingredients and having fun. Cooking should be like music — you should enjoy all kinds. ...; Why limit yourself?" Frasier says. "Food is not supposed to be dreary. It's made to enjoy."
Selected recipes from "Maine Classics: More than 150 Delicious Recipes from Down East":
Bacon-Wrapped Cod with Hominy Cake
Hominy is corn preserved with lye, made from an old cooking technique used to preserve and bring dried corn back to life. The Cherokees made hominy grits by soaking corn in a weak lye solution and beating it with a corn beater called a kanona. Hulled corn is a favorite old New England dish made from yellow corn while hominy is made from white corn. Elderly New Englanders may still tell stories of peddlers who used to sell hulled corn and horseradish. Today hominy can be purchased in two forms—hulled and ready to cook, or in tins ready to just heat and serve. Either is an excellent change from potatoes. You can find it in the supermarket in tins, almost always in the Mexican food section. We've included it in this updated fish stew.
2½ cups hominy
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 egg whites
½ cup canola oil, divided
6 (6-oz.) cod fillets
6 strips thick-cut smoked bacon
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Yield: 6 servings
For the hominy: Combine the hominy, egg yolks, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, and baking powder in a bowl and mix. In another bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the hominy mixture. Heat one-quarter cup of the canola oil in a nonstick sauté pan. Spoon one-sixth of the hominy into the pan, flipping the cake when golden brown and firm to the touch on one side, about 1 minute per side. Cook the remaining hominy cakes, adding more canola oil when needed. Place the cakes on a cookie sheet while making the entire batch.
For the cod: Wrap each piece of cod in a slice of bacon. Heat the canola oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and when melted and foaming, add the cod. Saute until the bacon is lightly crisp and the cod is cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side.
Place one hominy cake on each plate and top with the bacon-wrapped cod. Serve.
Cod Cakes with Tartar Sauce
New England's economy was built on cod — it was one of the commodities we exported along with rum in the Triangle Trade. People used to say you could walk on the backs of the cod they were so plentiful. Unfortunately, the stock of cod is severely diminished today, but efforts are being made to save it. We suggest you do your part by buying only line-caught cod, which is harvested in a sustainable manner.
20 oz. cod, coarsely chopped
½ cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1½ cup finely chopped Spanish onion
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons chopped chives
Yield: 6 servings
Toss the fish in the lemon juice in a bowl. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the bread crumbs and then set the mixture aside to cool.
Combine the bread crumb mixture and the fish. Stir in the flour, one-quarter cup at a time, to bind, but be careful to use just as much as you need to hold the cakes together. Add the sour cream and the chopped chives. Form into six "cakes." Heat the remaining butter in a large nonstick sauté pan and sauté the cakes on each side until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Serve with tartar sauce.
½ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup chopped gherkins
2 cups mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients. Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days.
Roasted Chicken with Mark's Cornbread Sausage Stuffing
This is one of Mark's favorite stuffings. He loves to make stuffing and is very particular about it, making his own cornbread or sourdough bread, making sure it's not too sweet and drying it just right so it doesn't get mushy. The right Italian sausage is also a must — a little hot sausage with a bit of sweet sausage to balance it out. Most things in busy restaurants are collaborations between the pastry department, savory department, and the chefs, but Mark lets no one help him with stuffing. He only makes it a few times a year and wants it all to himself.
Believe us, you'll find the results are well worth the effort, and we've found ourselves on many a night forgoing the silverware and hovering over this dinner, picking at the meat and stuffing until it was all gone. You can substitute sweet and hot turkey sausage in the stuffing recipe if you prefer.
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup finely chopped Spanish onions
½ cup peeled and finely chopped celery
8 oz. sweet Italian sausage, crumbled
8 oz. hot Italian sausage, crumbled
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped chives
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups cubed and dried corn bread, ½-inch cubes
2 cups cubed and dried sour dough bread, ½-inch cubes
1 (5- to 6-pound) chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Yield: 6 servings
For the stuffing: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large high-sided sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sausages and cook until thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the herbs and cook for 1 more minute. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Place the bread in a large bowl and pour the sausage mixture over the bread. Mix well. Place all of the ingredients in a buttered casserole and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and crispy.
For the chicken: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and rub it with olive oil. Sprinkle it with the salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Roast until the leg moves easily when wiggled, and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. The internal temperature should be 170 degrees. Turn the chicken one-quarter turn every 20 minutes.
Place the chicken on a cutting board and allow to rest for 2 minutes. Carve and serve with the stuffing.