Phez Fest Highlight: Hank Shaw

February 24, 2012 | By | Reply More

by Jay

Who’s Hank Shaw? I guess a couple ways to answer that. One is that he’s a guy who only eats wild meat, has for years. That’s meat he himself “harvests,” much of it birds.

Another way is that he’s a pro cook who started hunting because of the meat – meaning he came to game from “the other side.”

A third way to describe him is that he’s the guy who writes the excellent blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Not using that word “excellent” lightly: The recipes are great and the writing is truly stellar. No surprise his blog’s been nominated for a couple James Beard awards, a huge deal in the cooking world.

I guess the way I’d define Hank is a guy who knows more about how to prepare and cook wild birds than definitely all of us reading this, maybe anyone else on the planet.


Didn’t know that before hearing him speak – twice, out of a possible three times – at last weekend’s Pheasant Fest. Let me put that into context: I’m not a gourmand. I can’t talk truffles and whatnot. I don’t know wines. Don’t watch the foodie TV.

So I for darn sure don’t seek out talks, seminars, whatever you want to call ’em on cooking…although I do cook.

I sat down at Hank’s first Pheasant Fest lecture purely out of curiosity, having clambered around his blog a couple times and been impressed. Didn’t really know what to expect.

Found out that Hank was prepared, well-spoken, absolutely loves killing and cooking birds, and knows things we all should know. I’d truly love to reel off all the notes I took, but won’t dump ’em all here because I don’t want to get anything wrong, and because I don’t want to scoop (as if I could, but….) Hank’s current book and a possible bird book that he better freakin’ write!

Here’s his current book:

Here are a few tidbits from the Fest talks – bear in mind that I may not have them exactly right….

1. We should all be hanging our birds

Yep, like was done for centuries before it somehow became bad or allegedly dangerous – even though it’s still done routinely with big game. Believe Hank said he tried to research how bird-hanging fell out of favor, but couldn’t find a reason.

Hank: “Fresh pheasant is a boring chicken,” meaning it tastes like a garden-variety chicken. Hang that pheasant and it’s a different story. Completely different. (Aren’t you curious?)

But you have to hang it right. The right temperature, the right length of time, the right environment, and the right birds: Center-patterned birds don’t qualify (for ruffie hunters, not a problem…).

For me, this was a revelation and sort of an embarrassment. If you’re not in the latter category, it’s only because you haven’t heard Hank talk yet.

2. Pluck ’em

Plucking birds is a hassle, right? I feel that way…but have never done it. Plus everything’s a hassle if you haven’t done it enough times.

Hank kills and eats wild game for one reason only: the taste. To hear him talk about the mouth-watering flavors of hung/cured, skin-on gamebirds…well, you want to do it. I felt that way, anyway, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Basically, plucking – dry, wet, wet with wax – takes practice. Probably not a whole lot because I don’t see this on par with art restoration and Hank didn’t describe it that way. Also takes technique, which maybe I’ll ask him to describe here at some point.

We all know that skin is flavor. And flavor and sort of owing it to the bird – he said it more poetically – are themes he hit over and over. With a little work (like minutes more), you get there. I hope I remember that next season.

(Btw, don’t mess up the phrases “pheasant plucker” or “wax sets.” He didn’t, but came close!)

3. Eat the gizzards

This was a forehead-slapper to me. Every time I clean a bird there’s this big gizzard. I always want to think it’s the heart because it’s such a big muscle, but no, it’s the gizzard…and I toss it in the woods.

But every time I pause for a sec and look at it before tossing it. Now I know why: We’re supposed to eat it!

It’s a muscle – like the other parts of the bird we eat. In the case of big birds like geese, it’s a huge muscle.

As Hank said:

“I come from a restaurant background: meat is money. If you waste it, you’re just wasting money.”


“You killed a bird. It’s just a bird, but you’re still responsible for that bird’s life. Even if you grind it up and put it in sausage or feed it to your dog or make stock with it, somebody should eat it.”

(That in no way came across as a lecture, btw.)

What does he do with it? He cooks it long and slow, like corned beef. “It’s so tender you can squash it with a fork.”

Saving gizzards from now on….

All For Now

The above is in now way representative of Hank’s immense knowledge, just some highlights from my notes. Hope to chase Hank down for more info.


Category: Hank Shaw, Recipes

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