by Kate Heyhoe
"It tastes like chicken." Well, maybe some of it does, but in general, no, most wild game does not taste like chicken. Why not? Another saying is considerably more appropriate: "You are what you eat." It stands to reason that the flavorful juniper berries savored by ruffled grouse ultimately give the grouse its flavor, unobtainable from any other bush...A mallard's diet, like that of many ducks is diverse, creating a rich flavor. But a diving duck, such as a merganser, eats primarily fish, snails and clams and has an unpleasant, fishy taste.
So begins John Manikowski's introduction to his new Wild Fish & Game Cookbook. Besides destroying the "tastes like chicken" myth, John single-handedly breaks more stereotypes than any chef I've ever met. When I think of hunters, visions of badly produced TV segments on Sunday afternoons come to mind, with the camera pointed incessantly at an open field and Jimbo and Jethro whispering in the background, waiting for the opportunity to kill. Yes, this is a narrow, biased viewpoint and one to which I openly admit.
However, John Manikowski has shown me several other sides to the art of hunting and fishing. I say art because John approaches it that way. Himself an accomplished artist with a Zen-like, sophisticated style, John has a Masters Degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and exhibits in New York galleries. He is also a professional chef, another type of artist, who creates using game and fish as his paints, pastels and charcoals. His recipes do not simply call for slapping a bird on the grill and goin' "Yum-boy! Gonna be good!" but rather pull together the finest accouterments of a chef's pantry to produce 4-star dishes of complex flavors—yet, as with some of the world's best chefs, the recipes themselves are not overly complicated. Instead, they reach that quintessential quality sought by all chefs: balance and harmony.
I have a particular fondness for John, getting to know him as an eGG chat host for the past year on AOL. His sense of humor and ease won him quite a following, and it's easy to see in his prose that he is again another type of artist: a writer. His appreciation for all the arts manifests itself in everything he does, as this passage illustrates:
"Whenever I think trout I hear Chopin. An unconscious thread exists on the stream and in my head. Delicate, powerful, hesitant, forceful, the smooth surface of the creek shows little of its determination. Like a well crafted piano sonata... At home I case my rod, put on Chopin's piano sonata in B-flat minor, and sit down to close my eyes. The image of a quiet riffle on the Kinkapot meshes with flowing sound like the welcoming handshake of a dear friend."
I love this book. It takes me to places I have never been and will likely never go, giving me all the visual and literal imagery I need to almost be there. Whether you are hunter, fisher or, like me, a kitchen warrior, this book has a great deal to offer. You do not need to actually hunt the beasts, either, since many markets now carry certain game and the book itself lists some 40 sources of wild game available by mail order. To get you started, we've included a sampling of John's recipes and encourage you to take a trip with him down Nova Scotia's Magaree River, or the wilderness of the Catskills, or the waters of northern Minnesota, in this excellent new book, Wild Fish & Game Cookbook.
Wild Fish & Game Cookbook
by John Manikowski
Photography by Zeva Oelbaum
192 pages; October 1997
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