I’m in the midst of dotting the final “i”s and crossing the final “t”s for my next book, Girl Hunter, coming out this fall. It chronicles my journey as an omnivore and a chef, going through fields and over streams in search of the main course, and is chock full of wild-game recipes, stocks and sauces. Someone asked me recently what my favorite wild-game cookbook was and I realized that I couldn’t give a simple answer. There isn’t a ton of wild-game cookbooks being published these days, especially compared to cookbooks in other categories. Most of the wild-game cookbooks on my shelves were passed down from my great-grandfather. There were many charming and useful books on wild-game cookery back then, but unfortunately, most of them are out of print. Nevertheless, there are some books currently on the market that are useful tools in guiding you in your wild endeavors in the kitchen, and these are my top picks:
Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire, Revised, by Auguste Escoffier
This book is ancient—it was published in the 1890s—but has been updated many times since. Escoffier was the godfather of classic high-level cuisine, and cooked exotic dishes that most of us don’t dare to attempt today. If you want to challenge yourself to take those extra steps to make something truly standout, then this book is worthwhile. He teaches you the fundamentals of stocks, and the way to make a perfect sauce, which plays a big part in wild-game cooking. He also has a substantial section devoted to wild-game animals, though any of his meat techniques are fundamental to all meat. If you want to know how to cook a live trout, he’ll teach you that as well.
After the Hunt: Louisiana's Authoritative Collection of Wild Game & Game Fish Cookery by John D. Folse
When I first read John Folse’s book, I was impressed by both the content and the size. It is an 870 -age volume teeming with original recipes by a well-respected chef, aided by beautiful photography. This book is also full of history and folklore, particularly paying homage to Louisiana, the author’s home. It takes you through the tradition of hunting as well, dating back to Medieval and Renaissance Europe, and reminds us that it is the hunt itself that drives us, not just the amount of game we take.
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw
Hank Shaw is an extremely knowledgeable forager, angler and hunter, and has one of the few new books out on the art of being a self-sufficient eater. He showed me his book recently, hot off the presses, and it was filled with delicious-looking recipes, from cured wild boar loin to Sardinian hare stew. Just as he does on his popular blog, “Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook,” Shaw teaches you useful things about the wildlife around you, and challenges you to become a better, more sophisticated cook in the process of preparing that food for the dinner table.
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
Michael Ruhlman is a friend of mine, and I have seen him work magic many times over with pig parts. In this book, he and Chef Polcyn delve into the intricacies of making sausage, bacon, venison terrine and more. This book teaches you how to view the whole animal and all of its possibilities, and explains the science of it all in a fascinating and accessible way. They teach you that ultimately, cooking is all about technique, and with that proper technique mastered, any animal can be coaxed into tasting good.
Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Paul Bertolli understands meat on an artisanal level. After working in acclaimed restaurants in California where he frequently hosted “Whole Hog Dinners,” he began a business devoted to salumi and the curing of fine meats. His techniques are ones to aspire to and challenge yourself with, and his knowledge of sausage making and butchering is invaluable. If you want to taste the result of his artisanal approach, you should seek out the salumi he produces through his company Fra’ Mani.
The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson
St. John restaurant is one of my first stops whenever I cross the pond to London. Fergus Henderson has a particular appreciation and respect for animals that drives him to find ways to use every possible part, down to the “rolled pig’s spleen,” and “duck’s neck” and “roast woodcock” with the innards and head intact, all of which he puts on his menu. While some of these recipes are more inspirational than practical (not all of us have access to a quart of pig’s blood), Henderson’s philosophy is inspiring enough to force you into some experimental cooking. The chocolate ice cream recipe is good, too.
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall
Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall is another Englishman with a comprehensive knowledge of meat. He runs a farm called River Cottage in the British countryside where he raises and slaughters most everything that he sells. The book is broken down into sections; one on “understanding meat,” with a discussion on the various cuts, including stomach lining, lungs and brains, as well as rustic and intriguing recipes from pigeon pâté, to jugged hare and preserved goose legs.
Eat Like a Wild Man: 110 Years of Great Sports Afield Recipes by Rebecca Gray
For those looking for a book purely on wild game, and less on “chefy” technique, editor Rebecca Gray has compiled a book of recipes taken from 110 years of Sports Afield magazine. These recipes go beyond the campfire basics, but because of their history, also have some of the same classic flavor found in the books found on our great-grandfather’s shelves.
Wild about Game: 150 Recipes for Farm-Raised and Wild Game—From Alligator and Antelope to Venison and Wild Turkey by Janie Hibler
Hilber focuses on the true differences between farmed animals and wild ones, even offering side dishes that best compliment wild-game flavors. It is written from the perspective of a hunter’s wife, someone who has been cooking what her husband has brought home for decades, ensuring that the recipes are truly “field tested,” and accessible to any home cook.
And if you’re still hungry for more, you should consider checking out Girl Hunter, which is now available for pre-order. In many ways, I have spent my whole life working on this book. It chronicles the days of my youth catching my trout for breakfast, to my dalliance away from living off the land and in the corporate world, to my return to food as a professional chef where I had to kill a turkey for the kitchen with my bare hands. This is my road trip, my ride on the back of an ATV chasing wild hogs along the banks of the Mississippi, my dove hunt with beer and barbeque, my visit to the birthplace of the Delta Blues, a cigar and scotch at dusk, smoked hog and molasses, all in the name of knowing and understanding what it means to be an omnivore in this modern world that we live in.