Hog Blog Book Review – Hank Shaw’s Duck, Duck, Goose

November 6, 2013

Duck Duck Goose coverYears ago, when I was barely a teenager, my best friend’s dad got us into waterfowl hunting.  It was perfect for us, living right on the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway.  We could hop in the canoe and hunt the salt marshes any time we wanted.  In an effort to keep us interested in the sport, my friend’s dad told us that the ducks with the big white patch on their heads were “buffleheads,” and were good to eat.  What we didn’t know at the time was that the birds were actually hooded mergansers, and that they rate right next to seagull (yes, I’ve tried both) on the table.  But for two kids new to the sport, they were beyond plentiful and they decoyed with abandon… and we shot lots of them.

That went on for a couple of years, until the day I decided to cook up one of those birds for myself.

But even after I’d learned to determine “good” birds from “trash”, I still found ducks lacking at the table.  My limited culinary expertise told me that chickens have to be thoroughly cooked to kill bacteria, so I applied the same tactic to my ducks (they’re both poultry, right?).  Anyone who has tried a well-done, wild duck can attest to the outcome.  It’s pretty bad… so bad, in fact, that I was near the point of abandoning duck hunting.  If I didn’t want to eat them, I sure didn’t see the point in killing them.

Fortunately, it was just about that time I discovered Justin Wilson (RIP) and an episode about cooking a duck.  Right after that, I delved into a couple of wild game cookbooks.  The error of my ways shone clear…

Years later, I’d moved to California which is a waterfowler’s paradise.  Not too long after that, I met Hank Shaw.  Among other things, Hank had just started a blog about cooking wild game.  I was immediately impressed by his writing, and while I’ve never been much on following recipes, I was intrigued by some of the things he wrote.  When I finally had the opportunity to sample his cooking, I knew this guy was going to do something special.  Hank has skills.

Since then, Hank has proven those skills several times over.  In addition to other awards and recognition, his blog, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook has been thrice nominated and once selected by the James Beard Foundation as Best Food Blog.  In 2011, he published his first book, Hunt Gather Cook, Finding the Forgotten Feast (my review of that one is here, on my old site).  And now, just in time for the holidays, he’s published his second work, Duck, Duck, Goose.

And by “just in time for the holidays”, I don’t mean the Christmas gift giving madness (although this book will make an awesome Christmas gift), but the holidays that accompany the prime waterfowl seasons across the U.S.  This book can, and should, be the impetus for everything from hearty meals at the duck club to a centerpiece for family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are how-tos and recipes in here for everything from the simplest, slow-roasted whole duck to fairly elaborate productions and charcuterie (goose prosciutto anyone?).

As with pretty much anything Hank does, Duck, Duck, Goose is not your average cook book.  First of all, Hank is all about the details.  Whether you’re an experienced chef or a neophyte, there’s nothing in this book that will leave you guessing.  From identification and understanding the difference between various ducks and geese – to plucking, dressing, and butchering birds for the table – to preparation styles based on the different qualities of the duck you have in your hand (all ducks are not cooked equally)… you’ll find pretty much anything you need to know.

Hank draws from, literally, an entire world of influences and styles… and these are all represented in Duck, Duck, Goose.  There are recipes for braunschweiger to bulgogi, confit to cassoulet, and tea-smoked duck to Thai duck curry.  If you never used another duck and goose cookbook, you wouldn’t ever be bored.  In fact, I didn’t count them all, but I’d say you could almost pick a different recipe for every day of the duck season and experience truly global cuisine from a South Carolina-style barbecue on the opener, to a hot bowl of duck pho after a frigid, season closer.

One other thing that sets this book (and Hank) apart is that it’s based on the principle of eating everything but the quack.  There’s more to cooking a duck than breasting it out and leaving the rest for the ‘coons.  Hank shows us not just how to cook the wings and legs, but the hearts, gizzards, livers, feet, and even the tongues.  Not satisfied to stop there, Duck, Duck, Goose includes recipes for rendering and cooking with duck and goose fat (there’s a hollandaise sauce in there that’s just screaming my name).

And, finally, there’s the photography.  The book is a beautiful package and worth the extra bulk of a hard-copy for the photos alone.  Hank’s long-time girlfriend, hunting buddy, and guinea pig, Holly Heyser combines a great eye for composition with a real passion for the subject matter (waterfowl and food) in order to pull together an incredible set of photos for Duck, Duck, Goose.

You can find a copy of Duck, Duck, Goose (or a bunch of copies… they’re great gifts) on Amazon in either hard back or Kindle e-book.  I highly recommend it, whether you’re a waterfowler looking for new ways to feed the family or an experienced chef.  Hell, even if you’re like me and refuse to follow a recipe, it’s a great source of diverse ideas and inspiration.


3 Responses to “Hog Blog Book Review – Hank Shaw’s Duck, Duck, Goose”

  1. JAC on November 6th, 2013 19:29

    Not only will I buy the new book, I’m going to see him when he is here in Scottsdale. That guy is a credit to hunters.

  2. Phillip on November 7th, 2013 09:22

    Careful, John. Buy the book, start waterfowl hunting… it’s a descent into madness from which you may never return!

    By the way, did you get his first book? That’s a real good read too.

  3. JAC on November 7th, 2013 11:15

    I bought Hunt, Gather, Cook some time ago. I used his venison heart recipe to prepare the elk heart I brought home. Like you, I sort of emulate recipes rather than follow them, but it turned out very well in spite of me.

    Presently the ducks and geese are safe from me. I got my 12 gauge in high school, well before steel shot was a thing. I sometimes peek at Maxus and Versa Max ads, but I look away quickly.