UPDATE 11/29/11: I’ve teamed up with the folks at Camp Chef to give away an Everest 2-burner camp stove for the holidays; this is what I use on the road and in the field, and I love the thing: Portable, plenty of space to cook and the burners get real hot, real fast. To win the stove, you need to go to my Facebook page AND to the Camp Chef site, “like” them, THEN leave a comment on my site telling me what you would most like to cook on your new stove. I will determine the winner (picked at random) in a week. Good luck!
Looking for gift ideas for the hunter, angler, forager or cook in your life? Here are my recommendations, updated for the 2011 Holiday Season! ~Hank
I get asked a lot about which this or that I use for whatever bizarre activity I happen to be doing at the time — sausage making, duck hunting, grating cheese, gathering mushrooms, etc. This being the holiday season, I figured I’d offer you a few recommendations of stuff I use on a daily basis. I own everything here, and in the case of books, I’ve read it or in the case of other things, I use them constantly. Some of the items are expensive, some cheap. Some are for hunters, some for cooks, some for everyone. Enjoy!
Every cook needs a good chef’s knife. Period. Which brand and country of origin is up to you, but for everyday use I like the German knives better than Japanese knives. German knives are easier to sharpen, have more heft and tend to have handles that are more comfortable to use over long periods. I use my knives a lot, and have worked with them for eight hours’ straight on occasion. The handle of the Wusthof Ikon series is the best I’ve yet held. I also prefer an 8″ knife because it is long enough to handle serious slicing but is still maneuverable; six-inch knives are too short, 10-inch too unwieldy.
Finally, the hollow ground blade (those are the dimples) decreases friction on the food and allows it to fall off the knife easily — ever cut an onion and have the slices stick to the other side of the knife? They then fall off into the path of where you are slicing, making you need to move them. It slows you down and it’s a pain. This happens a lot less with a hollow ground blade.
OK, maybe I am a little biased because the photographer is my girlfriend Holly, but if you peruse her photos of wild duck feathers you will see this is not the typical “hunter art.” But then, I would not expect “typical” anything from Holly. See these feathers to the right, the ones with the smiley faces? They’re real, untouched. They come from the breast of a drake gadwall duck. Trippy, eh? There are all sorts of cool images from the ducks we hunt. Funny how changing your focus can give you a new insight on a bird we think we know. If you are interested in a photo as a gift, Holly is running a special, too — 40 percent off the first $100 worth of photos you buy, good through this Thursday.
My workhorse. I use this frying pan on an almost daily basis. It heats up fast, has a heavy bottom that will not warp even under immense heat, cleans like a dream and makes it easy to flip things without a spatula. If you only have two pans in your house, have this one and its smaller cousin, the All Clad Stainless Steel 8-Inch Fry Pan.
I get asked about mushroom hunting more than any other topic. And the most asked question I get is, “what’s your favorite guidebook?” Well, that’s an easy one. No serious mushroomer should be without David Arora’s two books. First is the field guide to have in your backpack when you are out there looking: All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. Once you have your mushrooms at home, you will want Arora’s masterpiece, Mushrooms Demystified. This tome is the end-all, be-all of mushroom identification, especially if you are on the West Coast.
Other mushrooms books I like are: Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada by David Spahr, and 100 Edible Mushrooms by Michael Kuo.
God bless the SousVide Supreme. I never really thought I’d use this thing, which is essentially a precision water oven, quite as much as I actually do. But it’s earned a permanent place in our kitchen. Why? Because I can cook tough meats tender while keeping them pretty and pink (like my venison sauerbraten) or poach delicate meats like a pheasant breast perfectly. Vegetables stay vibrant and you can even compress fruits while poaching to get a firmer, more interesting texture. Every serious cook, and especially a wild game cook, should get one of these. I am not kidding when I say it will change your cooking forever.
You’ll need this if you get the Sous Vide Supreme, but even if you think that cooking food sous vide is too fancy for you, a vacuum sealer is an absolute must for any hunter, angler, gardener or forager. When you get a lot of something, you cannot eat it all before it goes bad. So you freeze it, whether it’s meat, fish or mushrooms or blanched greens. Yeah, you can use freezer bags, butcher paper, etc. — I’ve done it all — but nothing holds food like a vacuum sealer. It’s insane how long you can keep food fresh with this thing.
I once found a vacuum-sealed hunk of antelope that had been sitting at the bottom of my box freezer for 18 months, thawed it out and cooked it. No damage. It tasted, more or less, like it was fresh. You totally need one of these. Seriously.
My new favorite ingredient. I’ve tasted truffle oils from all over, both black and white, and nothing beats this one, made by Jack Czarnecki up in Oregon. Oregon? Truffles? You bet. If you’ve not heard that the Pacific Northwest has truffles, you’re missing out. They are not the same as European truffles, but in some ways they are better. Plus, American truffles are more local, and far cheaper.
This oil is an infusion — Oregon white truffles and oil — which is unusual, because most truffle oils you buy are chemically created. Scientists have isolated much of what makes a European truffle smell the way it does and have put that into the oil. Frankly, I think they’ve failed miserably. Czarnecki’s oil, on the other hand, smells and tastes like real truffles, and somehow manages to be both floral and funky at the same time.
Maria Grammatico’s Estratto
I call it ‘strattu, my friend Scott calls it estratto, but whatever you call it, this is the world’s greatest tomato product. Estratto is essentially ultra concentrated tomato paste, more like tomato clay, really. It is the Black Hole of Tomatodom: I once heard it said that a black hole is so dense one teaspoon would weigh billions of tons. Well, estratto is os dense that one teaspoon of ‘strattu can impart a tomato flavor to a giant kettle of soup. It’s remarkable stuff, and I make my own most years. But this year I did not get around to it, so I got some of this from Scott. It’s, um, better than mine.
If you don’t already own one of these, you need one. I can’t tell you how often I use my fine-meshed sieve. Every day, when I am cooking. When I render duck fat I pour the hot fat through a paper towel set over this sieve into a jar. When I make stock I pour the stock through cheesecloth set in this strainer. When I make a sauce I push it through a fine-meshed sieve to remove lumps and smooth out any grittiness. When I make acorn flour I use this sieve to separate the grits from the flour. Suffice to say that if you follow the recipes on this site, you need a fine-meshed sieve.
If you do any hiking, foraging, hunting or fishing in cold weather, you know you need to dress in layers. I’ve always found that the most important layer is the one next to your skin, and I am sold on this SmartWool Sweater. It is light, thin and really, really warm. You can sweat in it and the sweater will not stink afterwards the way a lot of microfiber underlayers will. I’ve been soaked to the skin in cold rain, but this sweater kept me warm — wool is like that. On top of all of this, it looks cool. I have one in a kind of forest green with a zipper closure that goes halfway down the chest. On mild days, I can get away with just this sweater under my waders, or when walking for pheasants.
Deer Hunting Books
If you never grew up deer hunting, but you want to start, the whole process can be daunting, to say the least. I have a whole chapter on how to start deer hunting in my book, but there are several other sources for great information. My top two would be my friend Al Cambronne’s Gut It. Cut It. Cook It.: The Deer Hunter’s Guide to Processing & Preparing Venison. It is the best tutorial on what to do once your deer is on the ground. Al’s instructions on field dressing and processing deer are all you really need on the subject. For actually starting to hunt deer, go to Jackson Landers’ The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food. Jackson also has gutting and processing information, but the two books together (plus well, um, maybe mine for recipes, too) are a perfect package for the novice deer hunter.
Finally, no one can live without salt. And life is too short to use crappy salt. I am a recent convert to the Church of Fancy Salt, and I have to say that it really, really does make a difference. The addition of a good Fleur de Sel – a chunky French sea salt — on meat grilled medium-rare is pretty much the perfect food. It adds crunch, a burst of saltiness, and a little something else. Each fleur de sel is different, both in shape and in its idiosyncratic imperfections, so buy small jars until you find the one you love the most. Then buy a big jar and keep it around. After all, it’s salt. It doesn’t go bad.
Finally, I have to put in a plug for my book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. I know many of you have already bought a copy, and for that I am thankful. But if you haven’t, or if you know someone who might light a copy, now would be a great time to buy one. Here’s a bit more on what you will find in the pages, and here is the New York Times review of the book. I obviously am biased, but I think that if you like this website, you will love the book.
Happy Holidays, everyone!