Duck, Duck, Goose: Hank Shaw on Cooking Waterfowl and His Truly Epic Book Tour
Hank Shaw doesn't do things the easy way. That's a given, considering that he's been blogging since 2007 at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, sharing recipes and techniques for the food he eats -- nearly 100% of it hunted, fished, foraged, or grown himself; the rest sustainably raised by real people. So wasn't surprised at all when I saw his new cookbook, Duck, Duck, Goose -- it's an excellent guide to cooking waterfowl, both wild and farmed, pretty much from beak to tail. And I wasn't surprised that Hank took his usual care with this project, including lots of easy-to-understand technique, recipes inspired by all sorts of cultures (duck pho; I swoon), and gorgeous photos by his partner and photographer, Holly Heyser.
But I was surprised when I heard he was embarking upon a truly epic cookbook tour: Three months of promotions, crossing the country twice, hosting duck-themed dinners in 44 restaurants in 39 states. Whoa.
Hank's on break before the third leg of the tour starts in January. I recently got a chance to ask Hank about cooking ducks and geese, writing the cookbook, making jerky in his car in the summer, and the tour of all tours.
Julie Ross Godar: Why should we cook more (or, for most of us, any) duck and goose?
Hank Shaw: For me, it's all about flavor and diversity. Humans are designed to eat a little of a lot, not a lot of a little, so adding another protein source to your diet can only help your overall health. Eating duck is one small way to break the tyranny of the supermarket chicken. But even more than that, ducks taste awesome! A perfectly seared duck breast, with crispy skin and just a little fat, is like eating a steak wearing a hat made of bacon. It's one of my absolute favorite things to eat in the world.
JRG: Most of the people I’ve talked to who have never cooked (or even eaten!) duck and goose are worried about the fat. They’re worried they won’t render it properly. They’re worried they’ll catch their kitchens on fire. Or they’re just worried that it’s not healthy. What would you say to them? What’s the best recipe for a beginner to try?
HS: There is no animal fat lower in saturated fat than duck or goose fat: It's better for you than beef fat, butter, or lard. Fresh rendered duck fat will actually be liquid in a warm room, it's so unsaturated. As for rendering it properly, well, that's why I wrote a book on the subject: My methods will leave you with just enough fat to be exciting and luxurious, but not so much that you'll be gnawing on globs of it.
Best recipe for beginners? Hands down, a simple seared duck breast. It's something I do close to 100 times year. Here's how I do it:
Take a duck breast out of the fridge and use a very sharp knife to score the skin -- not the meat -- in a cross-hatch pattern. Salt the duck breast well and set it on the counter for about 30 minutes.
Put about a teaspoon of oil or duck fat into a pan and lay the duck breasts in it, skin side down. Turn the heat to medium-high. Don't heat the pan first; you want to slowly render out the fat and crisp the skin. When the skin and fat starts sizzling like bacon -- listen for that sound -- turn the heat down to keep things at a happy sizzle. Cook the skin side until the skin is crispy and brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Turn the duck breast and cook until it's done to your liking -- about 2 minutes for rare, and up to 4 minutes for medium, depending on how large the duck breast is. One thing I also do is stand up the duck breasts on the thick side (the breasts have a thick side and a thin one) to "kiss" the edges for a minute or so: This gives you a nice even brown.
Finally, you absolutely need to rest the meat. Once it's just shy of done to your liking, take the breasts out and set them on a cutting board, skin side up. Let them rest 5 minutes before slicing. If you have a sauce, make sure it goes underneath the duck so you don't wreck that crispy skin you worked so hard to get. Enjoy!
JRG: Every time I look at your cookbook, I start to picture Dickensian holiday illustrations in my head. Are there any treatments or recipes you recommend (or recommend avoiding) for the holiday season?
HS: I have a recipe in the book for a perfect roast duck or goose that I worked on with my friend Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes that I am very proud of. It is the only way I know to get that wonderful combination of slow-cooked legs and wings AND a goose breast cooked medium, with crispy skin. I've used that method on both store-bought and wild birds and it's a total winner.
JRG: Tell me about dehydrating jerky in your car. How did you come up with that idea? Did your car smell like jerky all summer?
HS: LOL. Well, I live in Sacramento, so it gets hot in summer. It can reach 125 degrees inside my little pickup truck, and that's plenty hot enough to dry jerky. So I gave it a shot, and well, it worked great! The meaty jerky smell in the truck did linger a bit, but hey, it's manly, right?
JRG: Tell me about your book tour. You’ll have been on the road for the better part of four months, presiding over duck-themed dinners in restaurants in 42 cities in 39 states. What motivated you to structure it this way? And do you think you will you ever want to eat duck again after you’re done?
HS: The tour has been exhilarating, grueling, exhausting, and gratifying all at the same time. Mostly I am out on the road so long because people have asked me to come to their town: readers, hunters, and professional cooks. A lot of chefs read Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and virtually every chef loves to cook duck, so it's a natural. My goal for all these dinners -- and dinners are a far better way to introduce people to the glories of duck than in a bookstore setting -- is to meet both my long-time readers and a host of new friends. Every dinner I do, I learn something from someone who knows some aspect of wild game, foraging, or fishing that I don't. They make me smarter, and I like that.
Will I eat duck after this tour? Sure. But I might need a break from it for a bit...
JRG: You aren't hunting, fishing, and foraging much during the time you’re on the road, right? Is that a real adjustment for you?
HS: Yes it is. I am a little bummed out about it, but it's really, really important to me to get the word out about Duck, Duck, Goose while people are thinking about ducks and geese -- the holiday season and while hunting season is still on. But there's always next year!
JRG: What have you learned since you’ve been on the tour? What’s been your favorite moment so far?
HS: I've learned that I need to take good care of myself on the road: Night after night of dinners takes a toll. I find myself eating very simply when I am not at a dinner: Good bread, some salami, and a glass of wine is all I normally need on a "night off."
My favorite moment? When an old man walked up to me in Montana. He looked like he was over 80 years old, and had led an outdoor life. He came up to me looking angry, and I thought, "Oh here we go..." he said, "You know that duck breast recipe you got? The one where you cook it rare, like a steak?" I said yes, bracing for a diatribe against eating duck that rare. But he surprised me: "Best goddamn duck I ever ate. But damn it, that made me think about all those years I'd been ruining my ducks. I been doing it wrong for 70 years!" That moment made the tour for me.
JRG: What’s your favorite recipe in the book … and what makes it your favorite?
HS: No fair! That's like asking me to choose between children. I think my favorites are the simple recipes that involve technique: The simple duck breast recipe and the instructions on how to make duck confit. Once you master those two skills, you are well on your way to becoming a skilled duck cook.
JRG: Did anything surprise you and Holly in the making of this book?
HS: Yes, actually. We were surprised how versatile duck and goose is. I kept asking chefs all over the country what flavors or ingredients don't work well with duck, and other than oddball stuff like marshmallows and gummi bears, pretty much everything works! This is the reason that duck is so widely eaten all over the world.
Get a copy of Duck, Duck, Goose and get inspired to cook (and even hunt; seasons vary by state but they're open now in California).