Kate Christensen’s How to Cook a Moose isn’t the type of book I may have bought for myself, so I consider myself fortunate that my mom has been following this blog and knows my love for MFK Fisher’s work. As with Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, Christensen’s book offers practical advice and a series of anecdotes that are both humorous and thoughtful. Equal parts how to Cook a Wolf; Eat, Pray, Love; and A Year in Provence, the book offers a delightful selection of recipes. Some are classics, like traditional New England chowder and the super basic lobster and steamers, with a recipe for Thermidor thrown in for good measure.
The book shines when Christensen discusses the environmental impact on food with climate change as well as the agricultural industry. Her advice on farmers markets, gardening, and CSA programs rings especially important in view of Fisher’s advice on cooking and eating well in the lean times of WWII. Much like my own style, the author finds solace in cooking, as a means to destress and work through writer’s block, and improvisation is a key aspect of finding that solace. I love wandering the kitchen, seeking the perfect spices or additions that will enhance a dish. It’s a meditative process that I find soothing.
The first recipe I chose to make was harissa haddock with chorizo. It was a tough choice. Her “Down East Duck” with its intriguing glaze of rhubarb, blueberries, thyme, maple syrup, cognac, ginger, and red wine is definitely second on my list. Pan fried with Yukon potatoes, it also features julienned zucchini poached in butter and chicken stock. The moose bourguignon and chicken thighs with mustard sauce and black trumpet mushrooms are also eye-catching. There are also wonderful historical details, such as how the oyster business on the Daramiscotta River rebounded after overfishing, and how the first cannery was built in Eastport, Maine, in 1843, to better be able to export Maine’s seafood delicacies around the world. In true MFK Fisher style, Christensen writes precise and insightful essays on what Maine is known for: lobster, blueberries, and oysters, and even as someone whose entire family came from Maine, I found I learned a lot.
The harissa haddock was a simple weeknight dish that I enjoyed sharing with friends. My version came out much more stew-like than the recipe described, but I had made some modifications and instead of a dry harissa rub, I used some pre-prepared sauce from a local market. The result was a bright range of flavors—the lemon, red wine, and leeks were accented with the smoky chorizo, but the haddock was the star of the show. A side of garlicky swiss chard was a nice complement.
While the book occasionally takes on an anthropological tone observing life in Maine, overall, How to Cook a Moose is a lovely culinary memoir that I’m glad shares a shelf with my MFK Fisher collection. I look forward to going through each recipe, one by one, and putting my own locally sustainable spin on them.