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November 8, 2013

Call of the fowl

'Duck, Duck, Goose' the ultimate guide for cooking birds

Whether shotguns, swamps, dogs and duck-blinds are your thing, or if you only browse the packaged Muscovy breasts beside the chicken in the grocery store, “Duck, Duck, Goose,” by Hank Shaw, is a cookbook you should own.

Shaw’s first book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook,” took us fishing, hunting and foraging. “Duck, Duck, Goose,” is everything we need to know about hunting, buying, and cooking these fowl, wild and domestic. Shaw’s a serious hunter and cook, but he’s also a journalist. He can write a book that makes this cook, who will never step into a pair of waders, stay up late reading about how best to stock a duck blind. His writing sings of the outdoors and the kitchen.

I’ve learned more helpful lessons on exactly how to prepare a duck breast, with skin or without, how to render duck fat, why duck eggs are different than chicken eggs (larger, larger yolks, yolks stand higher when cracked, whites are stiffer) and what is the difference between a Moulard and a Muscovy with “Duck, Duck, Goose” as my bedside reading. My copy is already tattered, a sign of love and usefulness.

And I’ve learned things that I will most likely never need to know, like a solid roster of wild birds, how to hang, pluck and eviscerate them, or how to make goose neck sausages (the ultimate natural casing.) I’ve learned that we like to eat birds — even chicken — that feed on seeds because these fowl fatten well and don’t taste “off.” (We really like birds that have spent the day in a rice field.) Gadwalls, “a duck lover’s bird,” prefer stems and reeds to seeds; they stink when eviscerated.

Duck meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free.

I’ve learned that geese are one of our oldest domesticated animals, but they are traditionally difficult to raise, and fatten. To the former point, they only lay eggs once a year, while ducks and chickens lay year-round. To the latter point, it requires 7 pounds of feed to put on a pound of goose meat; geese grow slowly. Attempts to create breeds that grow faster are undermined by those short goose legs, which can’t support a quickly heaving breast. Still, Shaw quotes Jim Schlitz of Schlitz Goose Farm, “slow growing birds taste better.”

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