Duck, duck, goose: Author inspires dinner at HoDoFARGO – Hank Shaw is on a mission, hitting the road, bringing his knives and gun with him. It may sound like he’s looking for trouble, but Shaw is really looking for a good meal.
By: John Lamb, INFORUM
FARGO – Hank Shaw is on a mission, hitting the road, bringing his knives and gun with him.
It may sound like he’s looking for trouble, but Shaw is really looking for a good meal.
The food writer is driving across the country for the next four months promoting his new book, “Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild.” He rolls into Fargo on Monday for a special book-influenced dinner at the Hotel Donaldson.
The menu features duck or goose in each of the five courses, from duck gizzard sausage and duck confit nuggets as appetizers to a goose fat dressing on the salad and a seared duck entrée. The menu even takes a fowl approach to dessert with a duck-fried donut with duck fat glaze, duck fat sherbet and candied duck skin.
More than happy to talk about the book, the recipes and his experiences as a hunter, fisherman and forager, the tour keeps the 43-year-old busy during hunting season. So he’s bringing his shotgun with him to get some birds on his days off.
“I want to take charge of what I feed myself and people around me,” he says of his self-sustaining lifestyle.
The days he has dinners like the one at the HoDo, or two nights later at Minneapolis’ buzzed about restaurant, Bachelor Farmer, he breaks out his cooking whites and chef’s knives to help prep in the kitchen.
The Sacramento, Calif., man’s road trip to Fargo is as long and winding as the path that led to the book.
Shaw grew up in a family that appreciated good food, and everyone was encouraged to have a hand in helping make dinner.
At a young age his mother taught him how to fish and forage, with picking berries and nuts becoming fond memory of family vacations.
“It was part of our family DNA,” Shaw says from his home.
His interest in food earned him jobs as a line cook before he swapped his kitchen whites for a tie and became a political reporter, eventually moving in 2002 to the Twin Cities.
In Minnesota he discovered the peace and connection to the earth he felt fishing could also be reached hunting.
“If you’re in the rough and tumble world of politics all day, it can get old in a hurry,” he says. “Sometimes you just want to be in a quiet marsh or alone in the woods waiting for something to happen and not having a phone go off and not having someone spin you this way or that. It’s really what kept me grounded.”
He started hunting pheasant, but when he moved to California in the mid-2000s, he had to change his game.
“Pheasant hunting in California is terrible. But duck hunting in California is legendary,” he says. “The duck hunting in California is second only to the duck hunting in Louisiana, and not a lot of people know that. We have far better duck hunting than North Dakota, I’m sorry to tell you.”
Still, he has a soft spot for hunting in the Peace Garden State.
“Sharp-tailed grouse hunting in North Dakota is phenomenal and so is all of the rest of the upland game hunting,” he says.
After 18 years, he left political reporting in 2010 and devoted his time to writing about the gathering and preparing of food. His website, Hunter-Angler-Gardener-Cook (http://honest-food.net) earned him three James Beard Award nominations for food writing. He finally took the medal earlier this year.
He says the site is the largest collection of wild food recipes on the internet, attracting 750,000 unique readers a month.
He also writes for various magazines as a freelancer and picks up the odd catering job or the occasional teaching gig, but that’s not what puts food on the table.
He hasn’t bought meat or fish from a store more than a handful of times since 2004, with wild game being 99.9 percent of his meat intake. Similarly, depending on the year, 20 to 50 percent of his produce comes from the wild.
While he still needs to shop at grocery stores for basics like flour, dairy and beer, he enjoys the satisfaction of providing for himself.
“If you’ve ever been fishing and you you’ve ever caught a walleye, that walleye is going to taste a hell of a lot better because you went out and you caught it and you cleaned it and you cooked it, than it will ever taste in any restaurant because you worked for it,” he said. “We were hunters and gatherers for a million years before we were farmers. Those instincts don’t die easily. I choose to let those instincts express themselves.”
His cookbook fills a niche with duck becoming more readily available but a lack of other waterfowl cookbooks on the shelves.
While some may be intimidated by preparing duck, Shaw encourages game cooks to ditch the ubiquitous hunters’ can of cream of mushroom soup and take his advice.
“If you think of duck as beef and not chicken, you’re good to go,” he says. “The breasts are like steaks, the wings and legs are like brisket. That’s all you need to know.”
The legs and wings should cook slow and low with moist heat, while the breasts should be seared to medium or however you like your steak.
While it won’t be featured on the HoDo’s dinner menu on Monday, Shaw’s website also has tips on preparing a less-popular bit of game – squirrel.
“Young squirrel is so good chicken-fried, there’s really no other way to cook it,” he says. “If you get an old one, you have to braise it. You can actually do worse than crock pot squirrel.”
He even uses the squirrel’s favorite food, acorns, in a soup or in flour for pasta or baking, which gives the finished product a chestnut-like flavor.
“There’s a reason that whole cultures used to survive on acorns. They’re not only delicious but very high in nutrition,” he says.
Shaw knows some people will think he’s being didactic, trying to get them to follow his lifestyle, but he has another mission in mind.
“Make the outdoors and the enjoyment of the outdoors – whether it is foraging or fishing or hunting – something that is as important to you as turning on your computer in the morning,” he says. “If I’ve done that, I’ve won, because that keeps us at least partially connected to the earth on which we are designed to live on.”
If you go
What: Hank Shaw dinner
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Hotel Donaldson, 101 Broadway, N., Fargo
Info: $55 per person
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533