Cooking from the Water's Edge

Want to eat more fish?

Check out Hank Shaw’s newest book to learn how to take your trout from the stream to the table.

Hank Shaw has made a name for himself as a hunter, angler, forager, and above all a chef and lover of good, honest food. As one of the trailblazers in the increasingly popular wild-game based cuisine genre, Shaw has been teaching people how to hunt, fish and create unique dishes from their forays in the field.

With four other cookbooks under his belt, “Hunt, Gather, Cook,” “Duck, Duck, Goose,” “Buck, Buck, Moose,” and “Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail,” Shaw recently released his newest cookbook, “Hook, Line, and Supper,” which focuses on fish and seafood. 

Q. “Hook, Line, and Supper” is your fifth cookbook. Talk a little bit about why you chose to focus on fish this time around? 

A. Primarily because it was going to be the hardest book to write. It has to be as useful to someone in Alaska as Maine or Montana. The question is how do you look at fish and seafood cooking from a universal perspective? You have to get away from individual species recipes. Don’t get hung up on one species. Interchangeability runs throughout the book so it’s useful no matter where you live and what you catch or find at the store. 

I have fished in 43 states and five provinces and in Mexico and to this point have caught cooked and or eaten damn close to 500 species. Which is another reason why this was the fifth book and not the first. 

Author, Hank Shaw

Q. You dedicate the book to your stepfather — tell us a little bit about him? 

A. Frank died at age 67. He was a classic Jersey boy, born not too far and grew up in the same neighborhood as Frank Sinatra. He lived his life outside the home — in delis and bars and interacting with people. His entire existence really revolved around interaction with people. I’m more of a situational extrovert. I need to recharge but enjoy interacting with others. 

He was emblematic of the fishing culture of New Jersey. There, fishing is religion. Everyone fishes. My first fish were all saltwater and I caught my first tuna before I was a teenager. 

Q. Talk about your evolution as an angler — what stage are you in now? 

A. That evolution doesn’t apply in saltwater and I’m primarly a saltwater angler. I’m a freshwater angler for social reasons but I’m rarely energized by a 12-inch trout. It’s nice to be out there, but I don’t catch and release — obviously to follow the law I do — but I fish to put trout on the table and I never won’t be that kind of angler.

That said, I’m very glad that I got an example of why the catch and release idea is important. 

A few years back I went to one of the greatest brook trout fisheries in the world. I don’t cast a fly line often but I landed 12 brook trout over four pounds. That’s unheard of. The biggest one I caught was 7.4 pounds.

That place would only exist with catch and release with barbless hooks.  

Q. I hear so many people say they don’t like the taste of trout — how do you counter that? 

If they don’t like trout it’s because they’re catching stocker rainbows. They’re such a drab fish. My favorite fish, combines the ethos of conservation with tablefare — look for wild fish not native to where they live. Go rope the lake trout in Yellowstone. Fish for brook trout where they are not native. Wild fish taste better. Period. Full stop. Stockers are fun to catch, but they are not developed in flavor and texture. As a rule, char are better than trout.  

Second, catch them when the water is cold. Many people like to fish in July and August, and the water is technically cold, but it’s much warmer than winter water. Trout can tolerate warmer water, but it hurts the quality of the eating. 

Q. Talk about butter poaching — why is everyone not flocking to this technique? 

A. Most people are freaked out by use of a plastic bag to seal the fish or the fact it requires a pound of butter. But you can reuse it three or four times. Keep it in the fridge – and be sure to mark it. You do not want this on your bagel. It’s an amazing technique to cook a flat fillet. If you reuse the butter for additional fish or seafood, it’s less wasteful. Who wants to buy pound of butter to cook one meal? 

Q. What’s next? 

My new project is going to take a little while. My best friend is from Mexico and we are going to jointly write a book that covers Northern Mexico. It will have lots of game and fish in it but will not exclusively be a game and fish book. I’ve been studying Spanish and am going to take some time to travel and research.  

Try it: BBQ Trout

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Need a good recipe for your holiday weekend? Check out this BBQ Trout that brings a low and slow approach to Japanese inspired flavors.

By Shauna Stephenson. 

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