Duck, Duck, Goose, a new guide to cooking waterfowl from hunter, writer and cook Hank Shaw, could be read as a variation on Wallace Stevens' famous poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," save that Shaw's ode flows through more than 200 pages of prose, and the object of his affections always ends up on a plate.
Shaw is probably less known for his first cookbook, Hunt, Gather, Cook, than for his colorful blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, a recipe blog dedicated to wild game and other peripheral mediums (think cardoons, salsify and cicerchia), illustrated, as his cookbooks are, by the vibrant photographs of his partner -- writer, food photographer and journalist Holly A. Heyser.
"Cooking a duck or a goose in today's world is an act of expression. It is a way to find that forgotten feast we Americans once enjoyed, to free ourselves from the Tyranny of the Chicken and shake our fists at the notion that fat is our enemy," his introduction begins (insert poem line breaks), and the chapters that follow provide an education in the diverse spectrum of waterfowl and the broad capacity of their expressions. Though Shaw's subject is niche, he's sensitive to readers who haven't ventured beyond domesticated fowl.
The book begins with an outline of duck and goose breeds as well as a guide to cleaning, breaking down, hanging and processing. If you linger long enough, Shaw will teach you how to master sous-vide and confit and he'll tell you that an off-dry German Riesling or Gewurztraminer will pair well with your Laotian duck salad. A grid in the right margin of each recipe reports difficulty level, serving size, prep time and cook time. Some recipes will take half a day to prep, others half an hour.
Shaw believes we're in the midst of a duck renaissance, and the romantic tone of his book makes you want to hide out in the hunting blind with him and smother barbecued duck with Chinese char siu sauce. A recipe for duck jerky might seem crass next to goose prosciutto, but Shaw argues that it belongs in a hunter's lunch pail just as much as it does on a charcuterie plate.
And the jerky, dusted with porcini powder, may be cured in your car in the summertime if you don't have a proper dehydrator but happen to live in a place as hot as Sacramento, where Shaw and Heyser reside, and where extreme temperatures provide the ideal conditions for back-seat drying.
Shaw takes us on a world waterfowl tour: Sichuan tea-smoked duck, German-style goose meatballs, French duck-wing soup, duck-heart tartare puttanesca. The difference between the duck recipes from South Carolina versus Southern Mexico is the sauce they wear -- mustardy sweet-and-sour instead of green mole -- and the company they keep -- potato salad and corn on the cob rather than sautéed white rice, cilantro and lime.
Needless to say, this is not a book for vegetarians but for readers who might like to fold duck into everything they cook. Recipes for duck fat hollandaise, duck fat pie dough, duck egg pasta and Chinese duck stock suggest that, if one wants, it is possible to never be without duck.
Consider the poetic possibilities had William Carlos Williams seen coots or mallards instead of white chickens beside his "Red Wheelbarrow." Hank Shaw sees duck breast glazed with maraschino liquor beside 20 pitted cherries, and you'll want to see it (and eat it) too.
Turn the page for Shaw's duck jerky recipe ...