image description July 4, 2013

5 Questions: Hank Shaw

5 Questions: Hank Shaw

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook

Hank Shaw’s James Beard award-winning blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, documents his adventures hunting, gathering and cooking with editorials and recipes that expound his admirable, back-to-nature philosophy – we need to take ownership of the food we eat by buying, hunting, foraging and consuming honest ingredients. The former line cook and political reporter is also the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast and the upcoming Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, due out in October. We chat with Hank about cooking wild Chinook salmon and cow parsnip, why ducks and geese are the “pigs of the air,” and how he’s solving the omnivore’s dilemma. Check out Hank’s blog for updates and recipes. How’d you get into hunting, fishing and foraging?

Hank Shaw: I’ve been fishing and foraging since I could walk, and probably before. Both my mom and dad fished a lot, and my mom and big sisters taught me how to pick berries and dig for clams. Foraging is part of our family’s culture. As for hunting, I came to it late; I never even met a real, live hunter until I was 24 years old. I started myself a few years later in 2002, when I moved to the Twin Cities to work for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. My best friend at the paper was Chris Niskanen, the paper’s then-outdoor writer, who nudged me along and mentored me – little did he know he’d created a monster! Now I probably am in the field 45 to 60 days a season. You call yourself “the omnivore who has solved his dilemma.” Explain.

HS: It’s a play off Michael Pollan’s book. His Omnivore’s Dilemma is the fact that as an omnivorous creature, humans must choose for themselves what is and is not food, and more specifically what is righteous food and what food is part of the problem. Those of us who have largely or completely unhitched ourselves from industrial agriculture are solving that dilemma. Do I still go to the supermarket? You bet. But I have not bought meat or fish for the home more than a handful of times since 2004, and I get about 20 to 50 percent of our produce from the wild, or my garden. What motivated you to live by this philosophy?

HS: There is no one reason. Part of it is because I always feel more alive when I am in nature seeking something good to eat, whether it’s a duck or a berry or a mushroom. I feel like a more complete human, doing what humans have been designed to do since before we were fully human. Another part is because I am, frankly, appalled at industrial agriculture: Beakless chickens, cows eating other cows, cities of genetically modified soy and corn — and the companies that harass those farmers unwilling to bow to this new standard. Our amoral food system is rapidly degenerating into an immoral one. Perhaps it is already there.

But I’ve found a relatively easy way to free yourself from this dismal loop: Take ownership of the food you feed yourself and your family by gardening, foraging, hunting, fishing – or by buying from those small farmers who care about the welfare of their animals and about the purity of their crops.

Even taking the small step of gardening or canning or foraging matters. At no point in human history have we been so separated from nature, and I fear this separation could easily become a divorce from which there is no reconciliation. And I do not want to live in a world where people fear nature, or worse, treat it as a museum to be looked at and not touched. Nature is not a museum. It is our home. What’s so appealing about the hunt?

HS: Hunting requires an intensity of mind that few other human pursuits can match. Hunting – real hunting – forces you to forget yourself entirely. You are no longer you. You are a set of eyes, a pair of ears. A quiet footfall and a lightning quick shot. Becoming this person demands practice and dedication, both with your rifle or bow, and to your surroundings. Hunters attuned to their particular patch of woods or fields or marsh get to see things in nature few others do: I’ve sat so still while duck hunting I’ve had marsh wrens land on my shoulder. I’ve seen mice and chipmunks talk to each other, and a doe preening her spotted fawn not 20 yards away from me. It’s magical.

And on a more earthy level, I just prefer the taste of wild game. Give me venison backstrap over filet mignon any day of the week and twice on Sunday. What wild ingredients are you inspired by this summer?

HS: This summer I’ve been working a lot with wild herbs and greens – and with salmon.

We’re having an epic Chinook salmon year here in California, and I’ve been eating them several times a week for two months now. Salmon and trout are a ton of fun to experiment with – they are truly a nose-to-tailfin animal. Almost every part of a salmon can be eaten in some way, shape or form. Even the livers and heads and bones have their uses. I’ve been having a blast playing around with them this summer.

Same goes with some of the more esoteric wild greens and herbs in our area. I’ve done some cool experiments with cow parsnip, coyote mint and sea beans in the past couple weeks. One of my favorite things to do is to put an ingredient through its paces, learn its secrets and unlock its potential in the kitchen. I made cannolis with the hollow stems of cow parsnip, for example: The flavor of cow parsnip is something similar to a sweetish lovage, with a little bit of celery – and a bit of skunk. Paired with mascarpone mixed with wildflower honey, it’s amazing. Tell us about your upcoming book Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild.

HS: My girlfriend Holly and I probably do more duck hunting than anything else; we eat duck or goose probably three or four times a week for the three months a year ducks are in season. Ducks and geese are the pigs of the air: Fatty, meaty, versatile. It’s a shame more Americans don’t cook with them, especially since domesticated duck is more easily available now than at any time in a generation.

My book hopes to demystify duck and goose cookery. To act as a guide, primer and source of inspiration both for curious home cooks and hunters – the book covers both wild and farmed birds. It is heavy on technique, because once you learn techniques you can come up with your own recipes. Of course there will be about 75 recipes, too, ranging from simple seared duck breast and roast duck to gonzo stuff like duck fat pie crust and crispy fried duck tongues. My hope is that everyone, from cooks who’ve never touched a duck before all the way up to professional chefs, will find something to enjoy in the book. What’s in your fridge?

HS: Right now? Beer, of course. And lots of fish. I just got back from Oregon, where I caught lingcod and rock cod, and I was also given some halibut and sablefish. Let’s see, I also have smoked salmon candy in there, and some fermenting trout. Yeah, that’s not a typo: It’s rakfisk, a Norwegian specialty. They ferment it for a year, but I am liking it at three months. Just a little funky is fine with me.

I think there is some goose leg prosciutto hanging around, as well as some American groundnuts, homemade kelp pickles, Chinese plum sauce I made with wild plums, homemade oil-cured olives, fermenting cranberries and a big bowl of blackberries I picked a couple days ago. You know, typical American fridge…

Check out Hanks’ recipe for Poached Dove with Roasted Peppers.

A former line cook and political reporter, Hank Shaw runs the James Beard Award-winning blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (, is the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast and the forthcoming Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated, scheduled for release in October by Ten Speed Press. His work has appeared in publications such as Food & Wine, Organic Gardening, Field & Stream, and The Art of Eating. He forages, fishes and hunts near Sacramento.



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