There is a new movement in the culinary world with young chefs putting the spotlight onto wild game and organ meats in creative, sexy dishes. What was once poo-poo’d as disgusting and tossed into cheap dog food is now highly regarded as haute cuisine. Hank Shaw is no stranger to cooking beak to feet, not wasting anything. That is the difference between hunting for food and hunting for sport. But, hunting is only a small part of Hank’s natural way of life. He also plants, forages and fishes for the ingredients he uses in the dishes he creates and his readers anxiously await.
I sometimes find myself loitering around his blog Honest Food. His writing style is captivating, combining efficient use of language from his days in journalism and a frank, relaxed demeanor that transforms words on a page into coffee and conversation with an old friend. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Among many other achievements, Hank’s work earned him the reputable James Beard Foundation Best Food Blog Award in 2010. He routinely reads all comments posted onto his site and replies to his readers’ questions. Even if your kitchen is more for decoration than cooking, Hank’s writing promises to entertain and inspire. But, I’m warning you – this man is dangerous. He’s got city-folk like me thinking about making acorn flour, something you can’t just order online. (I checked already.) A man who wears so many hats has much to tell. It was easy to cook up questions for him and I am thrilled he answered.
Coco: Have you always been a foodie?
Coco: You weren’t raised a hunter. What prompted your career change?
We are big smoked salmon fans. Smoke my hiking boots and I am liable to take a big bite out of them, too. Weekend breakfasts of fresh lacy crepes, cream cheese, capers, dill, lemon and smoked fish are popular at the homestead. Shawn smokes the salmon for us the night before using shavings from his carpentry projects and his propane grill. He piles the sawdust into a disposable aluminum roasting pan, which sits over the low flames. A metal baking rack placed over the wood chips holds the fish which then cooks slowly, absorbing the smoldering smoke. The next morning, I make French crêpes, all the while, Daisy waits patiently, fighting the urge to drool. This is something you are going to want to try. Hank walks you through all the details to get you ready.
Homemade Smoked Salmon
Note: Hank’s original recipe calls for 5 pounds of fish, which would be perfect for a smoked fish cocktail party. (GREAT IDEA.) Here, I approximated the measurements for 1 pound of fish which is plenty for a small family.
1 lb wild-caught salmon
3/4 cup water
5 Tb salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tb maple syrup
4 cups wood chips (apple, cherry, maple, hickory – not mesquite)
6 cups water
disposable aluminum roasting pan
metal baking rack
Make brine bath with water, salt, brown sugar and maple syrup.
Soak salmon in the brine overnight, no more than 48 hours, otherwise the fish will be too salty.
Remove the fish from the bath and pat dry with a paper towel.
Chill it uncovered in the refrigerator to allow the excess moisture to evaporate, overnight.
Collect the wood chips (or sawdust, if you have some) into the roasting pan.
Light the wood and wait for the flames to die down.
Set the fish onto a metal baking rack, skin-side down.
Position the rack over the center of the grill, cover and wait 3-4 hours.
Make crepes from scratch. Serve along with cream cheese, capers, dill and lemon, if you can resist picking at it by hand.
Every morning, Milou darts out to do his business and he usually takes his time coming back inside, mostly because he gets distracted. Little lizards play hide-and-seek with him in the piles of dried leaves under the old sycamore tree and someone walking along the back alley warrants some vicious barking. This morning, I fumbled out the back patio with my coffee and found Milou sitting quietly under the fruit trees, looking up at the sky. There, hanging head-down from the neighbour’s palm tree was a little wide-eyed brown squirrel, tail fluffing over his head, taunting our pup with chirpy obscenities. Milou just sat there, nearly motionless except for the occasion ear twitch, probably thinking, “Wait til I catch you in my yard, Squirrel.” He is a hunter, after all. This little banter reminded me of Hank. He’s an inspiring man. His acorn shortbread cookies keep winking at me and now I am convinced even I can make acorn flour from scratch. The unfortunate truth is that I have the attention span of a gnat. The process here starts with gathering acorns, shelling them, leaching the tannins out in a solution, drying the nuts, grinding them into a flour and finally baking the cookies. While I may have some of the terminology to impress you, I have neither the stamina nor the skill to make it happen. But, I am excited about doing something different. That counts for a lot. Hank Shaw is fascinating and before you know it, you will find it difficult to tear yourself away from his blog. Who knows what he will have you doing next?