If Isaiah Mustafa is The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, then Hank Shaw is The Man Your Man Could Cook Like. Except instead of wearing a towel and holding Old Spice body wash, he’s wearing waders and holding a fly rod. Now he’s foraging for porcini mushrooms! Now he’s hunting elk! Now he’s making duck confit!
Shaw was the California capital bureau chief for the Stockton Record when he began blogging about food in his spare time. He had long been an avid angler, but only in his 30s did he become what a friend calls an “adult-onset hunter.” It started with ducks, but over the past decade, this former desk jockey has transmogrified into a master chef who hunts, gathers, fishes and grows almost everything he eats.
His journey is shared by 12,000 Twitter followers
@Hank_Shaw and many more thousands of loyal readers of his blog, “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.” They come to find recipes for ducks and geese, shad and frogs, bear and boar, cardoons and gooseberries—and to follow his journey of culinary self-sufficiency.
In an age of hyper-processed, zillion-ingredient industrial “food,” many urban Americans have embraced slow food, local food, vegetable gardening, home pickling, bread-making and kombucha-brewing; things many of their rural brethren never forgot. Shaw appeals to two seemingly disparate demographics: Brooklyn-dwelling artisanal hipsters and Duck Dynasty-watching trout fishermen with a full gun rack in the pickup.
A passionate proponent of snout-to-tail eating, he’s devoted to using every part of an animal. He gives inspiration to hunters who haven’t gone far beyond roasted whole duck or seared duck breasts. Gentlemen: Have you tried maple-smoked goose? May Hank show you how to make goose jerky?
And you, city-dwelling Saveur subscribers, do you know how to make duck demi-glace or Toulouse-style goose sausage? Hank does.
After his first book, Hunt, Gather, Cook, (Rodale, 2011), Shaw was able to leave political reporting behind to eat and write about eating full time. He’s coming to Santa Fe Jan. 7 to help the New Mexico Wildlife Federation kick of its yearlong 100th anniversary celebration. He’ll talk about eating simply and locally, and sign copies of his new book, Duck, Duck, Goose (Ten Speed, 2013). La Fonda Chef Lane Warner (also an avid hunter and angler) is in charge of the multi-course meal that includes elk, duck and quail.
SFR caught up with Shaw just before Christmas, as he was preparing to embark on the final leg of his book tour:
SFR: Your goal is to have a diet that is made up, as much as possible, of food you’ve hunted, fished for, grown in your garden or found in the wild. Why?
HS: Well, that’s the idea. Obviously I’m not a monk. I still buy beer. I still buy flour. I still buy dairy products. And when I’m out on the road I’m not going to starve myself because I can’t eat the same way. The overall message is less about diet per se than it is about taking a piece of nature and making it a part of your daily life. Whether it’s gathering mushrooms or going fishing, the most important thing to me is to reconnect with nature. I don’t think there’s ever been a period in our history when we were so divorced from the natural world. I mean, kids today don’t play football, they play football video games. We need to balance our lives in front of the computer screen or tablet with time outside in a field or at the seashore.
How has living this way changed you?
It’s made me slow down a lot, which is really ironic because my days are busier than ever. Yesterday I went goose hunting and I got some snow goose, which is known as “sky carp,” and the reason I didn’t pick up the phone earlier is I was arm-deep in snow goose gore.
When you do this, you’ve basically traded time for money. I just look at things differently now. I’ve always pretty much known the wild plants in my area, but every time I go to a new area now I’m looking for plants there. I went to Tampa and I was astonished by the plants there. The same thing is true of the Sonoran desert. A lot of people would say, “Oh, it’s just cactus and yucca,” but it’s a lot of different kinds of cactus and yucca and many of them are useful!
Your blog is called “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook,” but the web address is honest-food.net. What does that mean to you, honest food?
What I’m really talking about is non-corporate food. Everybody quotes Michael Pollan saying “food your grandmother would recognize.” But I’ve been around as long as Pollan has. It’s really just trying to get at connections to food.
A friend of mine had a coworker who was convinced that carrots grew on trees. Grew on trees! Seriously! I butcher meat all the time, several times a week, and I know how things are put together because I take them apart. Nobody knows what the different cuts are now. I met someone who thought there were 100 pounds of tenderloin on a cow. [Note: It’s more like 10 pounds, from a big cow.]
In the case of the duck book I call it eating “beak to feet.” There’s more meat on the duck that is not breast than there is breast meat. Part of the reason I wrote the book is to show people that some of these other bits—the giblets, the legs, the wings—can be as good or better. I’ve eaten a lot of duck on this book tour and the most memorable dishes are something other than the duck breast. There were no duck breast dishes on this book tour so far that made me go “Wow!” All the innovation came with the other bits.
Most people think of duck, porcini mushrooms and fava beans as luxury food, out of the reach of regular folks.
I question the premise of that. If you live in Northern California porcini are pretty common because you can pick them. Something that’s a scarce luxury in California is a luxury in Iowa. And vice versa.
So it’s not expensive?
No, it’s cheaper! There is a learning curve; I’m not going to lie to you. If you want to hunt and do this, know that until you get very good at it, it will be cheaper for you to buy a whole cow or whatever.
It’s the evolution of every single hunter, or every single pursuit, really. When you first start you want to get good at something you want to do it a lot. Then, when you get competent, you want to be good at it. Then you have this competitive phase, when you want to be better at it than everyone else. And then, there’s this calming, mature hunter phase, where it’s OK if I don’t get anything today. Because I was out today and I saw things that I would not otherwise see and tomorrow is another day.
It sounds impossibly time consuming.
Well, yes. It absolutely is time consuming. But keep in mind I am not asking people to live the way I live. The way I live is possible. I’m an outlier. What I am asking people to do is take a piece of it. Maybe it’s picking mushrooms after the rain or fishing for trout. I have a lot of vegan readers because I write a lot about foraging and plants. Because it’s just as important to me as hunting and fishing.
On your blog, you recently posted a recipe for pheasant confit. I’m having a hard time imagining the center of a Venn diagram of pheasant hunters and people who know what confit means. Who are these people?
Probably about 30 to 40 percent of the pheasant hunters out there. They don’t have to know what it’s called or how to pronounce it. People want to get more out of a bird. If you shoot a pheasant and you only take the breast it’s not illegal but everybody knows you’re leaving a lot in the field. There’s a lot to do with those legs. And people want that! It’s not about confit or brunoise or consommé, it’s about what you do, and I think people are receptive to it.
I had a friend who until last year was as bachelor as you can imagine. Guns and hunting gear all over the house. He’s also obsessed with [the Food Network series] Chopped. So what you’re seeing now is Americans taking on what’s true in, say, Basque country, which is that it’s not unmanly to be a good cook. They’re starting to see being able to cook your game well is a part of being a good hunter. It’s always been that way in places like Louisiana. But now it’s becoming the case elsewhere.
Your new is all about how to cook waterfowl and you were recently on NPR’s “Splendid Table” talking about making a traditional Christmas goose. How do you do it?
Honestly, I break it down and cook it separately. I don’t care about the Norman Rockwell moment, I care about how it tastes. I’m actually cooking tundra swan for Christmas dinner. I got a permit to hunt them in Utah. You only get one per year and you have to take a test to prove that you know the difference between a tundra swan, which there are plenty of, and a trumpeter swan, which is threatened.
Swans have really long necks but most people don’t know what to do with it. I’m going to use the neck skin as casing for sausage. I’m going to sear the breast meat and probably slow roast the legs and finish them in the smoker. I’ll probably smoke the wings and pull the meat off and put it in the sausage.
I have a soup recipe [German Ganseklein Soup] in the book where you take the neck, the wing tips and the giblets and you make a broth, then you pull off all the meat and chop it up. Then you put in spices and sugar and dried fruit with a splash of vinegar. It’s this amazing soup that you make from trash, essentially.
The whole Christmas goose thing reminds me of that 1930s film version of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” when Bob Cratchit brings home a giant goose for Christmas Eve—feathers, feet and all. And his family goes beserk. They are so psyched about that goose. I can’t see kids today having that same reaction.
Of course they will! Maybe not a suburban kid, but other kids do. I know a guy who came home with this Canada goose and his kids were running around him like “Christmas goose! Christmas goose! Christmas goose!”
In December the New York Times Magazine included goose along with ham, turkey, roast beef and pork for a holiday food feature. Does that mean goose is back?
Gooose never really left. Goose sales have been pretty level for years and years, but Christmas is the big season.
You tweeted this morning that you had just rendered a cup and a half of fat from three specklebelly geese. What will you do with it?
You can do everything with it. Our dominant cooking fat in the house is either duck or goose fat and olive oil. We cook everything in it, eggs, potatoes, other meats. I use it for baking. I have a recipe for duck fat pie dough, both sweet and savory. The really strong duck flavor works well with quince or pear pie. Goose fat in general is very neutral.
You also posted “Geese = Pigs of the Air.”
It’s true. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote this book. There’s so much excitement about geese in restaurants right now. The different pieces taste very different, there’s a nose-to-tail ethic that goes a long with it. And they’re more versatile than anything but pork, really.
I’ve helped pluck ducks and it’s a real hassle. I can understand why some people would want to just pull off the breast meat and give up on the rest.
Especially on prime birds, you just don’t want to skin them. It’s a crime! On the other hand, there are birds like shovelers and snow geese that you do want to skin. So I’m not telling people to pluck every bird.
Is this also an ethical issue?
I think so. I personally don’t believe in breasting-out birds. I would feel bad about just taking the breasts off a bird. I can completely process a snow goose, take all the meat and giblets in about eight minutes. That bird is worth eight minutes of your time.
Is it an issue of respect?
Some of the snow geese we shoot can be 20 years old. The oldest ever was an eider, a sea duck, and it was 32 [according to its leg band]. The converse argument is that coyotes gotta eat too, and it’s true, but I don’t hunt for coyotes. I’m not going to tell someone who breasts out their birds that they’re a bad person, but I hope to convince them to give it a shot not to.
Do you get hatemail from people who don’t approve of the hunter/angler part of your shtick?
None. The only place I get it is every once in a while on Facebook. I also don’t allow any kind of real vitriol on the website. You can disagree with me and that’s fine; I have some posts where there are rollicking disagreements, but if somebody tells somebody else to go fuck themselves, I’ll email them and ask them to rephrase it because I don’t allow that.
Gardening is really important to you. What did you grow this year?
I forage more than I garden, so I try to grow things I’m not going to find. This year I did salsify, American ground nuts, crosnes, root parsley, an old Cherokee-style pumpkin, chile peppers. And I grew a bunch of weird Italian greens because they go really well with duck fat.
You have very interesting vegetarian recipes for things like acorns, stinging nettles, ramps and sunchokes. Is it a great challenge for you to come up with something so humble as acorns?
It’s my firm belief that wild food and unloved vegetables have real potential that has not been tapped. I know this food can be delicious and if it’s not I’ll tell you, but I’m going to put it through its paces. I do acorn-maple shortbread cookies that are great. Acorn flour doesn’t have any gluten, so it makes a very short dough, which is exactly what you’re going for with shortbread.
Speaking of sunchokes, which are the underground portions of a plant in the sunflower family, are there more hidden treasures that city dwellers overlook?
Daylillies are one of my favorite tubers, but there’s a small percentage of the population that gets stomach-upsetty [when they eat them]. They’re crunchy, sweet, like peanut-potatoes, like sweet jicama. They’re tiny, the size of the first digit of your thumb. You pull the plant and all the tubers are attached. You take them off and you can actually replant the whole thing. The tubers are just a nice storage organism for the plant.
Here in New Mexico we often joke that it gets so hot in the summer you could fry an egg on your dashboard, but you’ve actually made beef jerky in your truck. How do you do it?
Well, I have done it, but it’s not something I do all the time. It’s just one of those things where when it gets hot you take advantage of it. You do it in New Mexico with those ristras.
You’re on an epic three-month book tour, driving around doing book signings and hosting duck-themed dinners. Why did you choose Santa Fe for one of those stops?
Because I haven’t been there yet! I was looking at the area because there’s a lot going on in New Mexico. And I want to learn more