Hank Shaw's Duck, Duck, Goose, our Cookbook of the Week

Duck, Duck, Goose books at Annisa in November
Duck, Duck, Goose books at Annisa in November
Photo by Hannah Palmer Egan

Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back every Tuesday for a new book.

Duck, Duck, Goose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Ducks and Geese, both Wild and Domesticated By Hank Shaw, 234 pages, Ten Speed Press, $24.99

When I was a girl, we kept labrador retrievers, among other pets. But, like most pets on our rural family farmstead, we kept these dogs for their born-and-bred purpose: as hunting dogs.

Labs are born to retrieve, bred for their soft mouths, which can snatch a downed bird from field or marsh and cradle it between their teeth without damaging its delicate carcass. My dad, see, hunted ducks and geese, and during hunting season he would return home, chocolate lab and a string of dead ducks in tow, and proudly present them to my mom, who, despite her prowess in the kitchen, would more often than not make STROGANOFF with them -- the duck serving as any generic meat may have, simmered well-done in Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup and served over egg noodles, perhaps with peas. I swear, this played no small factor in my parents' subsequent divorce. If only I could turn back time and give her this book...Alas.

But, as hunter-gatherer-gardner and cookbook author Hank Shaw shows in his new book, Duck, Duck, Goose; cooking with fowl needn't be super gourmet, either -- fowl can and should be approached with the same easy, liberated mindset we lend to more common meats like pork, beef, and chicken -- as a fun and flexible source of protein that anyone can do great things with.

Also, with winter upon us, Duck, Duck, Goose is tailor-made for cold-weather cooking--the book's unequivocal stars are the fowl themselves, but nary a page fails to summon winter grains and vegetables as supporting stars: Barley, celery root, wild mushrooms, pomegranate, cranberries, beans, and chestnuts all make regular appearances.

And from the first page, Shaw's message is clear, concise, and empowering: When it comes to cooking birds, Free thyself from the Tyranny of Chicken.

We chat with Shaw on ancient duck, fear of duck, and the merits of a diversified diet.  

Hank Shaw's Duck, Duck, Goose, our Cookbook of the Week
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What is the oldest recipe in this book and where did you come from? Oh man. I think fesenjan (duck with walnuts and pomegranate), which is a Persian recipe, a classic recipe from I don't even know when. It may be middle ages. You almost never see it with duck now because everyone wants it with chicken. But it's definitely older than the oldest recipe I have, which is [roast duck with fried hominy], on the cover of the book, and which I think predates the Civil War. If you look at the old menus, like from Delmonico's in New York, you'll see that exact recipe, [for canvasback duck and hominy]. This is what John D. Rockefeller would have eaten. They only ate canvasback one way, and it was this way.

If you could give one piece of advice on cooking fowl, what would it be? Don't get hung up on cooking whole birds, especially with waterfowl. The ideal temperature for a duck breast is somewhere between 130 and 145 [degrees Fahrenheit]. For wings it's close to 175, and that's a huge difference in temp. It's a much narrower for chicken or quail. So think about ducks and geese as two-part animals. You wouldn't cook a brisket the same way you would cook a steak would you? So you don't cook duck leg the same as you cook duck breast. I think people view the[se birds] as poultry, but really they should be viewed like beef. They share more similarity in flavors and how you cook the disparate parts.

I [also] think people need to lose their fear about cooking ducks. People are afraid of overcooked birds, fat catching on fire, etc. This is why I wrote the book -- it's not rocket science; they're really no harder to cook than chicken, so don't get hung up on the whole bird thing. And on a macro-level, it's important to me to promote a diet that reflects what people are designed to eat. Humans are designed to eat a little of a lot of different foods, not a lot of the same few foods. And if duck is part of that, then so be it.

What cook(s), living or dead, do you most admire and why? (Thinks long and hard). I don't know! I have to throw René Redzepi in there, and James Beard.

For Beard, he's the person who returned American food to prominence. In the 1800s and 1700s it was well known that there was really wonderful American food. At some point in the 1900s, someone decided that French food was better, American food got swept under the rug. But with Beard, his food is food on a plate. It's not tweezers or anything like that; it's very straightforward food.

With Redzepi, the food is very technical, but what he does better than anyone is to marry time and place and food onto a dish. His use of wild ingredients is really remarkable, and if you look at his food it's unapproachable, but that's as it should be, because you don't live in Denmark and that's the message. If you take the message that you can do your food in your time in your moment, it would be equally unapproachable for René to do it, because it's your food and your place. And that's powerful.

What is your go-to seasonal ingredient right now for cooking birds? Obviously, there's salt, pepper, whatever. But the two key flavors I go for are tart fruits like cranberries and currants, and Madiera or Marsala wine. Sweet fruits and tart wine are the go-to when the weather gets cold; they work so well with turkeys and ducks and geese. For Thanksgiving, if I do a turkey, I make a cranberry sauce (I hate the canned stuff; it's disgusting), and I put Madeira wine in the gravy.

What's one unusual or unexpected recipe in the book? One that surprises most people is the crispy fried duck tongues. That's a dish I first encountered in Kansas City. I first saw that dish at Michael Smith's restaurant Extra Virgin a few years ago when I ate there, and I was just blown away not only by how good they were, but that you could get that at a restaurant in Kansas City. You eat it and it's fatty, salty, meaty, crispy. It's the perfect bar snack. That was as surprising to me as anything I've ever seen. You can get big bags of duck tongues at Asian markets, and they're actually very cheap.

Need more inspiration? A few weeks ago, we caught up with Shaw at Annisa (13 Barrow Street, 212-741-6699), where chef Anita Lo personally prepared a beautiful coursed dinner inspired by Shaw's recipes.

Check out a slideshow from that dinner, and Click to the next page for a recipe fit for a Rockefeller.  

The dish
The dish
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Roast Wild Duck with Fried Hominy Serves 4

Ingredients: Fried hominy: 10 c water Kosher salt 2 c grits 2 eggs 1 1/2 c dried bread crumbs 3 T duck fat or unsalted butter

2 canvasback or other large wild ducks 2 T duck fat or unsalted butter, softened Kosher salt 1 large shallot, minced (about 1/4 c) 1/2 c red currant jelly or syrup 2 T Worcestershire 1/2 c Duck Glace de Viande OR 1 1/2 c basic duck stock, reduced to 1/2 c Dash hot pepper sauce

Preparation: To cook the hominy, in a saucepan, combine the water and about one tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Start stirring the water with a wooden spoon and then pour in the grits in a slow, steady stream, continuing to stir to prevent lumps. Turn the heat to low and cook, uncovered, stirring often, for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour, until the grits have thickened and the water is absorbed. The longer you cook the grits, the smoother and softer they will get. Taste for salt midway through the cooking to to be sure the seasoning is to your liking and adjust if needed. Turn out the grits into a loaf pan or other small, deep container and let cool for at least an hour.

Turn on the oven to 500 degrees F or its highest setting. Let it preheat for a full 30 minutes. Pat the ducks dry with a paper towel. Smear the duck fat evenly over the outside of the birds, then salt them well inside and out. Let the birds sit at room temperature while the oven heats.

Meanwhile, turn the cooled hominy out onto a cutting board and slice off the side that was exposed to the air (the breading will not stick to any part of the hominy exposed to the air). Cut the rest of the hominy into shapes of your choice; I like to use a four-inch circle mold or biscuit cutter. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Put the breadcrumbs in a second shallow bowl.

Put the ducks in a cast-iron frying pan or other heavy, ovenproof pan and slip them into the hot oven. Set the timer for 18 minutes.

To fry the hominy, put the duck fat in a large frying pan and place over medium-high heat. As soon as the fat is hot, one at a time, dip the the hominy pieces in the eggs and then in the bread crumbs and add to the pan. Fry, turning once, for about three minutes on each side, until golden. Set aside on a cooling rack or paper towels to drain.

At the ten-minute mark of roasting, baste the ducks with any duck fat that has rendered off the birds. When the ducks are done to your liking, take the pan out of the oven, immediately transfer the ducks to a cutting board, and tent them loosely with aluminum foil. A medium-rare duck will be done in about 18 minutes and a medium duck in 20-22 minutes. Do not go past 25 minutes, unless the duck is really fatty. Look for an internal temperature in the breast of 135-140 degrees, fahrenheit.

As the duck rests, make sure you have at least two tablespoons of fat in the pan you roasted the birds in. If you have more, spoon it off. Set this on the stovetop over medium heat. Be careful, as the pan will be hot. Add the shallot and saute for two minutes, until it begins to brown. Add the jelly, Worcestershire, glace de viande and hot-pepper sauce and bring to a rolling boil. Let the mixture cook down until a wooden spoon dragged through it leaves a noticeable trail. You want a thick consistency but not as thick as a syrup or gravy. Taste and season with salt.

Carve the ducks and stir any juices from the cutting board into the sauce. Pour some sauce on each dinner plate, add a hominy cake or two and top with a portion of duck. Serve at once.

Check out our Cookbook of the Week archives for more like this.

And, as always, please find me on Twitter! @findthathannah

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