The famous TV chef, Andrew Zimmern, serves up his passion for the outdoors.
Fans of Andrew Zimmern have tagged along for years as he’s chased his endless fascination with flavorful foods from one end of the world to the other. These days they can see what the famous foodie loves about the incredible wild flavors closer to home. Perhaps more importantly, they can learn how to cook them like he does.
His new show, Wild Game Kitchen on the Outdoor Channel, shows a side of the popular chef, writer, and television personality that he’s rarely explored on the air—that of an active and avid outdoorsman. Usually cooking over an open fire with hardwood coals, he showcases his obviously expert skills on making the most of wild game and fish, often accompanied with side dishes of vegetables from his own garden. “It’s fun for me because these are the kinds of things I love to do at home,” says Zimmern.
It’s a down-to-earth departure for a guy who’s known to many for sampling the weirdest foods imaginable on shows such as Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World. After nearly two decades as a firmly established presence on the Travel Channel and the Food Network, he’s breaking new ground. That’s fun for him, too.
“Being on the Outdoor Channel, I’m new talent on a new network doing a new thing, and so that feels super-exciting, because I haven’t been ‘new’ anywhere in many years,” Zimmern says.
That doesn’t mean that hunting and fishing are new to him. The native New Yorker traces his earliest interest in the outdoors to when, as a boy, he accompanied his father harvesting mussels and clams off the shores of Long Island. He first got into bird hunting in his college years and embraced the outdoors even more fully after he relocated to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area 30 years ago.
On Wild Game Kitchen, Zimmern shares tips, techniques, and complete recipes that enhance the natural flavors of the game, fish, and vegetables. He wants home cooks to be less intimidated about cooking fish and game and hopefully break out of their comfort zones to become at least slightly more adventurous.
For perspective, he sees always grinding venison for chili or simply tossing fresh fowl into a crock-pot with a couple of cans of condensed soup as almost-tragic missed opportunities. He doesn’t insist that you stop making your favorite stand-bys but suggests aiming a bit higher to take wild flavors to the level they deserve.
And even though he’s a trained and experienced chef who first went to culinary school at age 14, viewers shouldn’t worry that Zimmern’s recipes are overly complicated or too sophisticated. As an example, he suggests braising goose legs in two cups of red wine with just onions, carrots, celery, and a bay leaf. “You don’t need anything else—just those six ingredients will change your life,” he says.
In an early episode devoted to one of his favorite proteins, duck, he makes a pot of gumbo that uses the entire bird, but in different ways. He braises the quarters in a stew flavored with roux while searing the breasts, skin side down, in an iron skillet over hot coals, leaving some parts crispy and others perfectly medium rare.
He realizes that many cooks find wild duck to be challenging, and he understands why—the leg quarters naturally have much more fat than the breasts. “It’s a mixed bag,” he says. “The dark quarters and the breast meat cook wildly differently, at much different temperatures, and with much different results, but that’s true of all wild game.”
He cautions that when searing a duck breast, you should take it easy with the heat. “You want to go lower and slower so the muscle doesn’t seize up, and the skin doesn’t shrink,” he says. “And the quarters almost exclusively have to be separated from the animal and roasted, braised, or cooked in some other low-and-slow methodology separate from the breast meat. That’s the problem with roasting a whole wild duck.”
ENJOYING A FULL EXPERIENCE
Throughout his professional career, Zimmern has studied different cultures as much as he has different culinary traditions and techniques. You could almost call him an ethnologist. A common thread he sees, here at home and abroad, is what happens “before and after” a hunt, including the almost ceremonial custom of sharing a meal. As he says, “The foods and hunting practices may be different, but the camaraderie and the joy is the same.”
On the show, he shares tips on properly cleaning, trimming, and butchering wild game, which some see as a major chore but to him is one of the most enjoyable aspects of hunting. “I don’t see it as work—I see it as a gift,” Zimmern says. “I ask people all the time what they would rather do, spend an extra 20 minutes cleaning a wild duck versus unwrapping it from plastic from a supermarket? I think that’s the easiest choice in the whole world.”
He continues: “Not only are you more connected to the world, but it’s almost a spiritual practice,” he says. “When you’re cleaning a duck or a deer or five pheasants, you’re focused on that and not thinking about all the other issues in your life.”
With his new show, Zimmern wants to lure many of his longtime fans closer to the outdoors and encourage even old pros to learn a few new tricks. “Hunting and fishing has widened my viewpoint,” he says. “Because I’m a professional chef and use different recipes and techniques, maybe people will adopt a technique or maybe a sauce or side dish that’s exciting for them. That’s the point, and that’s what I hope for.”
ROASTED DUCK recipe
2 large ducks
A few pieces of crushed cinnamon sticks
3 star anise buds
1 Tbsp. cloves
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1 orange, sliced
¼ cup chopped ginger
¼ cup honey, whisked together with ¾ cup dry white wine
½ cup hoisin sauce (see note)
1 large bunch scallions cut in 2-inch julienne
Prick skin as much as possible with a small needle or skewer. Do so at an angle to avoid piercing the meat, rather than just the skin. Grind the dry spices and rub all over the birds.
Stuff the cavities with the ginger and oranges. Roast for 90 minutes on a vertical roaster (these are wire racks that go up the cavity and have a large base so they don’t tip over, a similar idea to “beer can” roasting) placed in a pan to catch all the fat that is rendered, surrounded in an open fire by hot wood coals.
After an hour, drain and reserve the fat for another use. Drain again after 30 more minutes.
Use a cheap oven thermometer and hang it from a duck leg to check your heat at the source. Zimmern prefers his to be about 325 to 350 degrees but if it is 400 to 450 degrees, you might just have it cooked faster. You don’t want to burn the skin, and less heat is better.
Baste with honey thinned with white wine for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking time. Ninety minutes total cooking time should be perfect.
Let bird rest, and serve the duck sliced with scallions, sauce, and your favorite sides. Zimmern likes to make Chinese flatbreads or pancakes in which to roll the duck and condiments.
NOTE: For the most authentic sauce for this dish, you will want to use a water-thinned sweet bean paste or a cooked sauce using tian mian jiang, but hoisin is a fine substitute.