Monday, February 18, 2013

Afield {Book Review}

In conjunction with the 2013 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks, the editors at Food52 put out a call for the community to review some cookbooks for their Community Picks portion of the fun and games. I ended up this this one: Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish by Jesse Griffiths.

Afield is part manifesto, part cookbook, and part coffee table book. And it is definitely not a book for people who want to believe that the meat they purchase comes - headless, legless - wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store and was never a living animal.

Broken down into ten chapters, Jesse guides the reader through prepping and cooking everything from snipes to wild boar and from crab to rabbit.  Each section includes step-by-step images of how-tos – pluck doves, clean catfish, filet flounder, pick crabs, field dress large game, butcher a deer – and a bevy of easy-to-follow recipes.

Given that my circle of friends includes hunters and fishermen, I often get emails with photos of successful kills held aloft next to proud grins. And I relish getting deliveries of homemade sausages, cuts of wild boar and venison, whole crabs, and more. But I have never had to deal with an entire animal, except for seafoods. So with Afield on my desk, and this review to pen, I made a few calls to get my hands on some wild boar and some fresh crabs.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Brookhouser
Brian, “the best killer in the family” according to my 9-yearold, took me to his game freezer; I toyed with making something with his wild boar sausages. But, in the end, I snagged a piece of wild boar backstrap and followed Jesse’s recipe for Wild Boar Rillettes. Before reading Afield, I had never heard of a rillettes, much less eaten one. Rillettes are savory meats or fish that have been braised or prepared as confit. As suggested, I served my rillettes with a hefty bread, grainy mustard, and homemade pickles. Jesse’s recipe was easy to do and resulted in a salty, creamy, satisfying dish.

Click for the Wild Boar Rillette recipe on my kitchen blog: 

Photo courtesy of Bret Boatman
Because my friend’s husband – my usual crab source – was out of town, she asked her co-worker if he would help me out. Bret called and hooked me up with two beauties that he had just pulled from Monterey Bay earlier in the day. Making a variation of Jesse’s Pasta with Crab, Basil, and Garlic was an easy dinner on a Sunday night. Well, easy for me. My husband had to pick the crabs clean which I really, really appreciated. I did pour him an oatmeal stout while he cracked and pulled.

The recipe was, as promised, a great way to stretch a few crabs into a filling dish with just a handful of other things. Jesse’s stories are written in a way that make you feel as if you have stepped into the scene. And his recipes, besides the fresh meat, utilize ingredients you have readily available in your pantry. Jody Horton’s accompanying photos are vivid; you feel as if you could reach right into the page and grab food from the plates.

Afield is an accessible, inspiring tome that helps you turn a carcass into a culinary masterpiece.

*Note: Several of us reviewed the same cookbooks. My review was, in the end, not used by Food52 during their Piglet.*

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