I apologize, but this column requires a trigger warning. If you’re not ready to think about Christmas shopping yet, stop reading now.
For those who like to get their holiday affairs in order early, however, here’s what I’m planning. I have five cookbooks on my desk and between now and Thanksgiving I will review each of them. Three were written specifically for hunters and anglers. Another has been adopted by the camo-clad crowd as if it was always meant for us.
I don’t yet know where the final title fits in for wild protein gatherers, but I’m sure it will round out your culinary education.
All will make fine Christmas presents.
I’ll start with the cookbook hunters have adopted like a buddy’s secret spot, the one we only visit with the hunter who first shared it — or when he’s out of town so we won’t be caught.
“Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing,” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, first published in 2005, is required reading for anyone who does more than just roast or pan sear game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is entry-level stuff.
“Charcuterie” comes with rather lofty recommendations. Thomas Keller — owner of the infamous French Laundry restaurant that caused California’s governor so much recent heartburn — writes the foreword. The back cover includes high praise from Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert and Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
For the outdoor crowd, the book’s bonafides are confirmed by the MeatEater himself, Steven Rinella. Most know Rinella as an author and host of one of the best hunting television programs ever. His MeatEater website features an interview with Ruhlman.
In it, Rinella jokes that even before he purchased the book, he’d received most of its contents in the form of photocopies shared by hunters recommending recipes.
Rinella then tells Ruhlman he’s “accidentally, the author of the best wild game cookbook ever written.”
Since “Charcuterie” was published, the term has gone from exotic to commonplace on restaurant menus. Charcuterie is French for cooked meat, but is now more synonymous with forms of preserved meat. Salt and smoke, originally employed in the time before refrigeration to keep meats edible and transportable, are flavors now sought in their own right.
“People forget the power of salt,” Ruhlman says. “Charcuterie helped us dominate the universe.”
Not quite the universe, I suppose. It was Tang that made that possible. The salience of his point remains; the techniques chronicled in “Charcuterie” were once utilized out of necessity.
We use them now because they create delicious food, such as duck confit, the recipe from “Charcuterie” I first accessed for free. If the book has survived on the shelves of the Kalispell library, those are my duck fat thumbprints that stain it.
There’s so much more here. Detailed recipes and deep-dive explanations on how to make dried and cured sausages that won’t give you food poisoning. There are recipes for hams, pickles, cured salmon and even salt cod, speaking of things we once ate out of necessity.
The recipes are designed with beef, pork and farm-raised poultry in mind, but most are easily adapted to their wild antecedents.
While “Charcuterie” wasn’t written with hunters in mind, Ruhlman appreciates the way it’s been adopted by hunters, telling Rinella, “It’s the hunters who are going to bring us back to using the whole animal, preserving the whole animal, because when you kill something, you know what a horrible waste it is to lose any of it.”
This whole-animal approach is part of the “continuum of humanity,” he insists.
That’s an ethic we can all embrace. The good news is that it tastes good too.
Rob Breeding writes and blogs at www.mthookandbullet.com.
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