Following the success of his first two cookbooks, celebrated wild foods expert Hank Shaw is gearing up to release his next culinary treatise to the hunting world.
It's a safe bet that if you are a hunter or outdoorsman for whom wild foods - be they fish, fowl, furred or foraged - are frequently a part of your menu, you or someone you know has a copy of at least one of Hank Shaw's cookbooks.
Well, we all better make room on our kitchen shelves, because Shaw is less than a year away from releasing "Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques For Cooking Deer, Elk, Antelope, Moose and Other Antlered Things."
The new book is sure to be an even bigger success than his last publication, "Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild."
Hank was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new project, but first allow me to set the stage a bit.
Hank Shaw is a celebrated figure in outdoor sporting circles, as much for his work in elevating the culinary game of your average hunter/fisherman home cook, as for spreading the word to the non-sporting public about wild game as exceptional table fare.
Shaw reveals that he's "been a restaurant cook, a scholar and a journalist. Now I am a cookbook author and outdoors writer. I've been lucky enough to win the coveted James Beard Award for my website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, have been featured on many television shows including Steve Rinella's 'Meat Eater' and Andrew Zimmern's 'Bizarre Foods,' and have written two successful cookbooks published with traditional publishers, 'Hunt, Gather, Cook' and 'Duck, Duck, Goose.'"
He is financing "Buck, Buck, Moose" via a radically different route than his previous books. This time he has gone directly to his audience with a crowdfunded Kickstarter project.
I contacted Hank the other day as soon as I heard about his plans for "Buck, Buck, Moose." Here's our email and Facebook conversation:
What's was the timeline for this book? Compared to your other books how long has this one taken and what did you learn from the other two that you used for this one?
"We hope to have 'Buck, Buck, Moose' in print by late summer 2016, to coincide with the start of the earliest deer seasons in Canada, Alaska and California. As for the lead up, it's been a while. I've been working on this book for about 18 months, which is longer than the other books -- but then, those were with mainstream publishers. Doing things in-house has been quite the learning curve."
What is your process like - how do you come up with recipes and what is the process of deciding if they are worthy of inclusion?
"Most of the recipes are set, but we're still working on about 25% of them. Basically it's a balancing act: We want recipes from all over the world because, well, every culture in the world has a tradition with some form of venison. We want a mix of easy, weeknight recipes and challenging ones. We want a balance of cuts, too, so it's not all backstraps and jerky. As for whether they make it, taste is the final arbiter. Bottom line, if the recipe isn't fantastic, I am not going to ask someone else to make it."
What's in the book? How is the book content divvied up?
"It will be a lot like my last book 'Duck, Duck, Goose' (thus the name) in that I'll have a big basics section with lots of info on field care, storage, butchering, aging venison, etc. After that, I go to primal cuts, backstraps, roasts, ground meat, other cuts like shanks and flanks, then a whole section on the Fifth Quarter, i.e., the heart, liver, kidneys, etc. Finally, I wrap up with a long section sausage, curing, salami etc."
You indicate that 'Buck, Buck, Moose' basically follows the 'Duck, Duck, Goose' format (which is a great format, btw). Does BBM differ in any way from DDG other than the specific subject of waterfowl vs. antlered meat?
"I think the biggest difference in structure is the section on field care and butchery. It's not hard to take apart a duck, but people get lost when faced with a deer or elk. Other than that, if you like the duck book you'll love the venison book."
The photos in 'Duck, Duck, Goose,' as well as on your blogsite, are fantastic. Can you talk a little about that process and about the photography?
"I am lucky in that my partner Holly Heyser, who also happens to be a real-deal hunter, is also my photographer. This is a huge advantage: She not only understands the subject, but she lives with me, so we can shoot more photos than we could if I had a stranger shoot the images."
"We can also reshoot and tinker with the pictures, too. And we get to eat the food we shoot! 'Buck, Buck, Moose' will have way more photos than the duck cookbook, if for no other reason than well, we can do it."
'Duck, Duck, Goose' is, in my opinion, an essential resource for hunters and wild game cooks. I assume that 'Buck, Buck, Moose' will be equally valuable. But what exactly would you say makes it unique from many of the other great deer/elk/moose cookbooks out there?
"First off it's going to be full color, heavily illustrated and, frankly, lush. It's going to have the look of a 'regular' cookbook, not a game book -- they often skimp on images and paper quality. Second, the recipes will be grounded in the human experience of eating venison: It's a global practice, and one so ingrained in us that many scientists believe that eating venison (or something like it) is one of the main things that made us fully human."
"You'll see recipes from six continents and everything from centuries-old classics to dishes I invented just for this book. Third, I am committed to nose-to-tail eating, so there will be recipes for pretty much every part of a deer. Finally, not a lot of venison books have more than a rudimentary section on sausage. 'Buck, Buck, Moose' will have a substantial section not only on regular sausages, but dry cured salami, whole cured cuts, and other preserved foods, like pate and rillettes."
Finally, is there anything in this book that was "brand new" to you as you were working on it. I don't necessarily mean in the way of cooking, although please share if there was anything new for you in that area, but rather, were there any new experiences that you'd care to share?
"LOL. Uh, yeah! Everything about publishing a book. This is a roller coaster. Doing it this way means we have complete control over the process, but that means actually learning about the process. But in terms of content, I needed to work with venison offal a lot more than I had been, and let's just say there were some early failures... I also got to work with a bunch of new species to me, like axis and fallow deer. I also has to scrounge a bit for moose bits to work on, so I could feel confident talking about it in the book."
"Then there's the great venison tripe experiment. Yes, tripe. As in the stomach of a ruminant. I shot a buck close to a farm and was able to gut, skin and process it with a hose nearby. As I flopped out the offal, I saw that great gray stomach, something I almost always leave for the buzzards. Not this time. With a hose at the ready, I carefully slit the first stomach open, releasing a tsunami of green mush. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't nearly as stinky as I'd expected, although it was no picnic."
"I hosed every bit of green out of the stomach(s) and was left with what looked like a terrycloth towel. Weird. I stuffed it into a bag and went home. In the kitchen, I scrubbed the 'terrycloth' clean and then soaked the stomach in a mild solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to kill any bacteria. And yep, it fizzed, just the way it does when you put H3O on an infected cut."
"An hour later, I rinsed off the stuff and then took a butter knife to the 'terrycloth,' which stripped off nicely, leaving me with the thin stomach lining of the buck. What now?"
"Neapolitan tripe, of course. I simmered the deer tripe in water with bay leaves until it was almost tender, then cut it into pieces and simmered it some more in a spicy tomato sauce. Damn good, if I say so myself. The texture is almost like pasta but you can tell it's meat. And there was only the vaguest hint of barnyard, which is kind of the point of eating tripe."
Shaw has met and surpassed the Kickstarter goal he set to get the first run of the book published. The project began Monday morning and by Monday afternoon his $30,000 goal had been crushed. At this writing he has raised well over $50,000 and updated the Kickstarter page to express his gratitude and surprise.
Floored. Astonished. Gobsmacked. In less than 13 hours, we made our initial goal - the one that determines whether 'Buck, Buck, Moose' will live or die. I am not an emotional man, but I gotta say I am genuinely choked up at the outpouring of support.
Your efforts are a loud and forceful message to anyone who cares to listen about where the real priorities of North American hunters lie: Our trophies are at the table. Food is why we hunt, and your support of this book can be no better affirmation of that fact. I salute you.
The crowdfunding project will continue through Nov. 9. You can still contribute and reserve an advance copy of the book. I contributed to the project myself but as I had already determined that I would purchase Hank's book, I instead chose the very cool hoodie design as my reward. There's a graphic of it on the site - go check it out.
I am confident that "Buck, Buck, Moose" will be as essential a resource in your kitchen and hunting life as are Shaw's last books. As a former chef and wild foods expert myself, I can tell you that I consider Hank Shaw's work to be absolutely essential reading. I've learned a great deal from his writings on the subject of wild foods, and have enjoyed his writing style immensely.
Visit the "Buck, Buck, Moose" Kickstarter site, watch the video, pick a contribution level and help support this, and by extension, other future projects of this kind.
Shaw could not make a more forceful or conservation-minded statement for the hunting lifestyle than his comment above about the "real priorities of North American hunters":
Our trophies are at the table.
Images from Buck, Buck, Moose Kickstarter