I mentioned earlier in the week that I would be reviewing Hank Shaw’s new cookbook, “Duck, Duck, Goose.” The full title is “Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated,” and Mr. Shaw named the book perfectly.
Click to go to Amazon.com’s listing for the book
I’ve never hunted waterfowl of any kind, all of my wingshooting adventures have been ringneck pheasant and ruffled grouse (though, to be honest, the ruffled grouse hunting was actually revenge for all the micro-heart attacks those loud ambush artists have given me, and with my usual luck, I didn’t see ANY ruffled grouse while hunting them, only to have one scare me half to death four days later IN THE EXACT SAME WOOD while deer hunting…). After reading “Duck, Duck, Goose,” I now want to hunt waterfowl, badly.
Before I dig into what made the book so interesting, and motivating, here are a few facts to get out of the way: I am not, nor have I ever been, a professional writer, critic, or hunter. I shoot archery for a shop, cook what I feel like cooking (I have salmon marinating for the grill at the moment), read a lot and write when I feel like it. I think the 795 posts on this website, over half of which are original writing, and one self-published-on-Kindle book of my own (seriously, that isn’t an accomplishment, you could bang your forehead on the keyboard for half an hour in Microsoft Word and upload it after making a free account, and Amazon will put it out there for you) shows that I do what I like.
Professionally, I am an IT analyst – which means I pretend to listen to the engineers when they whine about not having enough memory on a server that shows months of 4% memory usage in the logs. (It means the engineers don’t understand the difference between bad code and hardware performance, that’s what it means.)
So, take my review for what it is: somebody who likes to cook, hunt, and write passing their humble opinion on for folks who might be interested.
Back to the book:
“Duck, Duck, Goose” really nailed down several points before I even got to the first recipe – Hank Shaw can WRITE, his knowledge of how to find and prepare wild ingredients is exhaustive, and he doesn’t assume you are a trained chef when he puts his thoughts in writing.
From the very beginning of the book, Mr. Shaw’s enthusiasm for what, in my moderate experience east of the Mississippi, is something of a lost cuisine is an amazing thing to read. Take the very first paragraph of the book as an example:
Cooking a duck or goose in today’s world is an act of expression. It is a way to find that forgotten feast we Americans once enjoyed, to free ourselves from the Tyranny of the Chicken and shake our fists at the notion that fat is our enemy. Mastering these birds will make you a more competent carnivore. It will help you regain the skills needed to tackle more challenging morsels, such as giblets and wings and rendered fat. Cooking a duck or goose – a whole bird, from bill to feet – is real cooking. True, honest cooking.
I’ve eaten in upstate New York (all of the Southern Tier really) all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Jamaica, the United Arab Emirates, and Afghanistan, and while I will admit, VERY few of the restaurants would show up in a foodie’s guidebook, the only, ONLY time’s I’ve EVER seen duck on the menu was in Chinese restaurants and at Number 5’s in Binghamton, New York. The Peking Duck at the Chinese restaurant tasted like it had been dipped in kerosene and left on blacktop for a week, while the wild boar bacon wrapped duck tenderloin appetizer at Number 5’s was phenomenal. So, two experiences, in just shy of 44 years, is not really a wide base from which to compare waterfowl cookery, but I’m damn well going to do it anyway.
Mr. Shaw approaches the topic of how to cook the birds from the very start of the process – what to do after you’ve shot a bird out in the marshes or fields. He addresses hanging the birds versus not hanging the birds, which approach to use in different situations, how each SPECIES of duck or goose might be cared for, and how to use each species, and each part of the bird, for best effect. In fact, because like all hunting, you may NOT get the bird you want, Mr. Shaw even addresses how to use store-bought birds in the same recipes.
That’s one of the wonderful, wonderful things about this book – if you spend the day duck hunting, and end up with four different species, this book will enable you to cook all of them without having to think to yourself “Two pintails, a mallard and a teal, what now?”
Some of the birds discussed in the book are:
- Bluebill (Scaup)
- Northern Pintail
- Northern Shoveler (Spoonie)
- Canvasback (King Can)
- Wood Duck (Woodies)
- Surf Scoter
Domestic bird breeds and geese are also covered, and I mean COVERED – in the kitchen, this book will tell you which birds to break down, which ones to keep whole, how to break them down, how to store them, how to render the fat, how to sear, how to make your own duck sausage or salami, everything from confit to jerky.
Mr. Shaw even covers what the various species of birds prefer to eat, and how that affects the flavor considering what part of the migration or mating season they are in, which, for somebody like myself who may now be poking a shotgun barrel into the sky this year, is very important. I now know that if I am cleaning the bird, and I see orange colored fat, to discard the fat and how to use the bird to avoid the fishy flavor of a crustacean eating duck.
Instructions on how to pluck your waterfowl, or if you should skin them, are also included.
This book provides hunters and foodies a glimpse into WHY ducks are so treasured in haute cuisine, including some tidbits of history, such as how Canvasback ducks were priced for the table a hundred years ago (the cost of several days wages for an average person.)
I gathered from this book that duck and goose is making a culinary comeback. If so, I’m looking forward to it, though my treadmill might groan at the extra miles I’ll have to put on it to compensate.
If you like to hunt and read, this book is a fantastic window into the world of waterfowl. If you like to cook and you don’t hunt, this might get you curious to try hunting, or to branch out into cooking domestic ducks and geese. This is a wonderful, wonderful bridge between what a lot of the public sees as ‘light beer drinking redneckery’ and ‘pass the canapes,’ which the general public incorrectly sees as a form of snobbery. (In fact, take the case of Duck Dynasty and put them in Downton Abbey… because that’s how the general public probably sees hunters in comparison to gourmet food.) Neither stereotype is true – I work with people who are very well educated, have good golf averages, enjoy the arts, and hunt, and anyone who thinks “Downton Abbey” when they think of haute cuisine needs to read Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” to dispel that thought.
Hank Shaw has effortlessly* bridged that perception gap with a book that could make the most agoraphobic city-dwelling foodie think “Maybe, if I shoot at the sky to get a duck, I won’t notice the lack of buildings wrapped around me…” and at the same time, might make somebody who’s pickup truck doesn’t fit under the average overpass think “Y’know, maybe going into the city for a bite to eat would be worth it!” (Though, honestly, most of the folks I know who hunt would just damn well read the recipes and cook the birds themselves…)
You can follow Mr. Shaw’s food writing at his web site: Honest-food.net, along with the Duck tour he is currently on to promote the book across North America:
The event here in Atlanta will be at Holeman & Finch Public House, January 19th 2014. A FaceBook event is listed as “Ducks in Hotlanta,” I sent an email to Holeman & Finch earlier this week attempting to get more information, such as ticket prices, times, and number of guests possible, however I haven’t heard back from the venue yet. (And if I can’t get tickets, somebody is going to get mugged in the parking lot, there’s a REASON people think I’m Bigfoot when they see me in the woods.)
Thats it folks – I hope this motivates you to check the book out and, maybe, cook a bit, McDonalds and the like won’t miss us, trust me.
*I’m certain, having written a bit on my own, that Mr. Shaw would disagree with ‘effortlessly,’ but it fit the sentence nicely…