I did something cool that I think a lot of you would enjoy: I signed up for a hunting/cooking school with an award winning writer and chef, Hank Shaw. Dude runs an awesome blog, Hunter Angler Gardner Cook
, and chances are you've seen him on Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods or Steven Rinella's MeatEater. I honestly can't remember when I discovered him--but I can tell you why:
I'm sick of eating game chicken fried, in Campbell's mushroom soup, or wrapped with bacon and a slice of jalapeno. Some form of these constitute the cooking arsenal in most hunters kitchen, like it had mine.
So when he announced he was coming to my tiny gulf coast town to host a hunt and cooking school, I was in like a fat girl at the buffet line. As luck would have it, a couple of my friends signed up independently making my anticipation for the three day event sky rocket.
(Exactly how I found this coot)
There is a certain pride I think we all develop for our local hunting area. Where I live, Matagorda County, hunting and fishing can be epic. So I felt an awkward responsibility for the slow hunting and bad luck we experienced.
The first day found us hunting a Ducks Unlimited project pond. We saw a few flocks before sunrise, but they were travelling high and fast and didn't want to land in front of us. I did manage to kill my first Speckle-belly goose and I shot a coot which fell into tree like a tacky Cajun Christmas tree ornament. The second day, we made our way to the bay for some diver shooting. Despite the unseasonably early cold weather, the redheads simply hadn't made it South. It was a bust. Hank did show me the edible plants I've so often trudged through while fishing and hunting. I now know I can survive at the beach, and my sons are pumped about going back and grabbing some greens.
The final day, we'd planned on goose hunting, but the ATV broke down and sunk in the mud---right in the middle of 1500 snow goose decoys at 4:30 am. We switched spots and managed to scratch out a few more ducks and had a fun time jump shooting coots. I also finally nabbed a wigeon which had eluded me through the years.
The Cooking School
But really, I was there for the cooking school which was THE BOMB! If like me, you want to elevate your kitchen skills, you owe it to yourself to sign up for one of Hank's cooking schools. The lessons were clearly planned yet still kept an informal and extemporaneous feel. He encouraged us to interrupt him with questions and we went off on many tangents. It was a convivial atmosphere, more like hunting with a new friend who happened to be a talented chef than a dry lecture series.
We started with breaking down the birds. He explained which birds to pluck, and which to skin.
This one died happy.
We all took a bird, rough plucked it (basically plucked about 50-80% of all big feathers) and left the down. We dipped the birds in wax and finished plucking them.
He then had us cut up the birds, all the while discussing things like making stock and broth, rendering fat, sausage, etc. I've read quite a bit of his work, so it had a deja vu quality hearing him describe what I've seen in print.
I do love reading, but this cooking school proved hands on training is where it's at. Even if you've read most of his work, there is still lots he didn't cover in his books.
Straight up, I gained 12 pounds in 3 days. I've never eaten so much good food in such a short span of time. At first, I was bashful. Slow to get seconds, thirds and fourths. After the first dinner, it was on. My buddy Rob described it as a "food blur" because we had so many great dishes it was hard to keep track.
Each of us have been attempting to recreate the dishes back in real life, and while only at about 80% the awesomeness, still damn fine fair.
Many of the guides missed dinner while out scouting and we made sure to eat their portions.
Grilled quail with semolina gnocci, wildboar sausage and collards. Many of the dishes were new to me, or they were just so much awesome they might as well have been new. Appetizers like gulf shrimp tossed in olive oil, habanero, and cilantro. Wild boar this and that, venison smash burgers, Hungarian goulash, and some of the best cookies ever put in this mouth. Oh, and we of course snacked on wonderfully seared duck breast each evening.
Hank's Texas Duck Hunt Event combined the primal satisfaction of finding and killing your own food, the artistic pleasure of cooking well, and the camaraderie of friends in the field. Fun times. So if pursuing and acquiring wild food is your thing, go out and purchase Hunt Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. Also, check out his latest book Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, Both Wild and Domestic which is fantastic. Then sign up for one of his cooking school and hunts. Plus autographs!
This wasn't exactly verbatim from what I wrote at my blog, I have some videos of Hank showing how to cook a duck breast and how to cut up the duck once it's plucked I didn't know how to include. Turn your sound up because, well, I suck at video recording and didn't do it well. Still, pretty neat if you are interested. Check it out here: http://wp.me/p3bCKM-up