MINNEAPOLIS – A career as a political journalist led Hank Shaw to five newspapers across the country, including, in the early 2000s, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
His subsequent work as a gatherer, hunter, fisherman, and cookbook author has taken him across the world. He launched his award-winning James Beard blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (honest-food.net), in 2007, and his first cookbook debuted four years later. Shaw has just released its fifth title, “Hook, Line, and Supper” (H&H Books, $ 32.95), a user-friendly guide to preparing a wide variety of fish and seafood.
Now living in Sacramento, Calif., Shaw recently visited the Twin Cities and, in conversation, shared rock-solid gripping technique, explained the concept of interchangeability, and discussed the joys of fishing.
Q: Why do you recommend fishing as a hobby?
A: Because it’s the easiest way for what I would call a civilian to enter the world of securing their own protein. Hunting is difficult, there are a lot of obstacles in the hunt. But fishing? You can buy a day’s permit, get on a boat, and have your friend – or a guide or captain – show you what to do, and you can catch your own fish.
It is a universal truth that the food you buy yourself tastes better. Anyone who has ever grown tomatoes knows this.
Q: What is your advice for the first fishing trips?
A: Use bait on the lures. Baits will catch more fish than lures.
Q: What was your goal when you wrote this book?
A: To break down the barriers. When my duck book (“Duck, Duck, Goose”) came out in 2013, my evangelical goal was to teach people how to cook a duck breast well. In this book, my Gospel goal is to teach people how to cook a piece of fish well.
Q: How about a quick tutorial?
A: There are several ways to do this. There is the trigger method. Once you’ve learned how, you can do it in eight to 10 minutes.
You salted your piece of fish and wiped it dry. The pan gets hot, then you use a very high smoke point oil. I like grape seeds, but canola works too. Then the oil gets hot. When that oil has a trickle of smoke the fish goes into the pan, and the second it goes in you shake the pan, it’s almost a shake. The piece of fish will slide over this hot oil for a second, preventing it from cementing in the pan.
Then you invert the pan and pour the hot oil over the fish until the fish turns opaque. As soon as the side of the fish that touches the pan turns that nice pretty brown – you can see it around the edges – then you put in a knob of butter. You spill this over the fish and when the butter turns brown, you remove it from the heat. You flip the fish – crispy side up – add a little pepper and you’re done.
Q: You write a lot about the interchangeability of fish. What do you mean?
A: There are broad categories of fish and seafood that can be grouped together. For example, the vast majority of freshwater fish are lean and white, and they all act the same. Of course, there are functional differences between walleye and smallmouth bass, but you can swap them out in a recipe, that’s all good.
The differences exist but they are not that critical. I have a recipe in the book that sounds esoteric, but it’s not. This is for the Thai-style fried pomfret, a fish that can be found in the Pacific Ocean. But what if you used it with walleye instead of pomfret? It would still be a good recipe. How about using it with catfish or shrimp? It would still be a good recipe.
There are very few recipes that can’t literally use everything that looks good in the supermarket.
Q: For those of us who don’t catch fish, do you have any tips for buying fish?
A: It’s a bit counterintuitive, because in the supermarket you want to go straight to the freezer section, because they buy frozen fish and thaw it for their counter. It’s better for you to thaw the fish than for them to thaw the fish, because they could have thawed it three, four, or five days ago.
Q: The more than 120 recipes in the book take a holistic approach, a strategy that is obviously rooted in your own experiences. Why is travel important to you?
A: Because everyone does things differently, even in our own country. Traveling in the United States really shows you that there are amazing things about every state. Too many Americans think their little patch of woods is the only good place, and that the people across the hill somehow aren’t real Americans, or have a bad taste for fish. . Soup wars are real.
Q: When it comes to making chowders, stews and soups, is there a common mistake?
A: The biggest thing is to put everything in the pot at the same time. Period. I have a really long section in the book on how to make a good fish or seafood stew.
Q: Do you have any initial ideas for preparing fish and seafood?
A: If there’s one cooking tip I can give to anyone, it’s this: For God’s sake, you can always cook it more, but you can’t undo something. If you are afraid, if you are new, if you are afraid of ruining something, then don’t cook it enough. You test it and then if you need it you can cook it more. Don’t kill your seafood twice.
LAKE ERIE PERCH BOILER
Note: no perch? “Use any firm white fish,” said Hank Shaw, author of “Hook, Line, and Supper.”
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold or other waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
1 liter of fish or clam broth
2 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped marjoram
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds skinless perch fillets, cut into pieces
6 to 8 ounces of Polish kielbasa, sliced
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill or flat leaf parsley
1 cup sour cream, for garnish
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or other heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the butter stops frothing, add the onions and cook gently until tender and translucent; do not let them brown.
Add the potatoes and toss to coat them in the butter. Cook 1 to 2 minutes for the butter to absorb a little. Sprinkle everything with salt. Add the fish stock, water and marjoram, season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
Once the potatoes are tender, add the perch and kielbasa and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the dill (or parsley). Pour into bowls and let everyone add sour cream at the table. Serve with beer and crusty bread.