WHEN IT comes to a love of hunting, Uncle Si has nothing on the Quackhead.
The Quackhead (a/k/a Chuck Mangione), a roads-department worker in Atco, N.J., is an avid outdoorsman: a fisherman, hunter and member of the Outdoorsmen's Voice, a New Jersey hunting, fishing and social club. Mangione is also a crazy-good cook who makes use of every bit of meat from the game he kills - simmering pots of chili from venison, frying morsels of squirrel to coat in Buffalo wing sauce and baking local bluefish to serve his family of four. "I honestly live off the land," said Mangione, 49. "We grow our garden, raise chickens for eggs and eat everything I bring home. Our food doesn't come shrink-wrapped or full of additives and hormone injections. It's wild and natural."
Hunting is nothing new in America, a survival skill honed by native people and shared with European settlers as early as the late 1500s. Today, some 34 million hunters and anglers carry on the activity, according to Wonders of Wildlife, organizers of National Hunting and Fishing Day, celebrated this past Sept. 28. Although there will always be those who object to hunting, often based on a love of animals and promotion of a vegan lifestyle, hunting is more mainstream than ever. On the chef side, honoring meat animals with a snout-to-tail approach to cooking them is as common a concept as farm-to-table cuisine. Add in television shows like the Sportsman Channel's "Meat Eater with Steven Rinella," which takes a Brooklyn-based hunter out into the wild, and the hugely popular "Duck Dynasty," on A&E, and the line between game hunters and supermarket shoppers is blurring.
"I love those guys," Mangione said about the bearded Duck Dynasty gang. "They live to hunt, and they're a bunch of down-to-earth Southern guys. I can relate. Hunting is a huge part of my life, and I'd be lost without it."
For hunters like Mangione, who posts recipes as The Quackhead on http://theoutdoorsmensvoice. com/blog/eating-with-the-quackhead, hunting and loving animals are not mutually exclusive. "I am not a church person, but when I kill an animal I kneel down beside it and say a prayer of thanks. This is food for my family, and I won't waste a bit of it."
Hunting sustainably is a boon to conservation, generating some $1.75 billion in licenses and taxes that are used to manage natural resources, according to the organizers of National Hunting and Fishing Day. And, in the case of both the whitetail deer and the wild turkey, population figures have skyrocketed with deer numbers going from 500,000 to more than 30 million since 1900, and wild turkeys from 100,000 to more than 7 million.
"Even with a hunting season, deer are quite a problem in my area," said Jim Powers, a whiskered former plumber based in Glenside. "They don't have many predators left, and they're overpopulated," he said. Powers, who counted Georges Perrier as a former customer, hunts deer, and just about anything else, in Pennsylvania and upstate at his remote cabin near the New York border.
Hunting and fishing is what got Powers interested in cooking. "I used to be married and my wife couldn't cook," said Powers, who is retired and plays mandolin at local bars and coffeehouses. "I'm out there killing these poor things, so it was my job to make them as delicious as possible."
While there's something to hunt just about every day of the year - "except Sundays in Pennsylvania; you still can't hunt on Sundays" - Powers' favorite game is black ducks and venison. "The wildness in game is a spice that cannot be reproduced," he said. "If I wanted to eat something that tastes like it came from a Styrofoam package, I'd go to the supermarket. Most game is downright delicious, lean and really healthy for you. But you need to cook it right."
Although not a hunter himself, chef Kevin Cronin, of Atlantic City Bottle Co., grew up in western Pennsylvania with an uncle who supplied the family with wild game. Cronin, who frequently features farm-raised game on his menu, advises home cooks to compensate for the natural leanness found in most wild game. "Because these animals are super lean, you don't have the fat to work with while you're cooking," he said. "Low and slow is usually a good way to go, braising with liquid for hours at a time."
Calling game an environmentally sound alternative to industrially factory-farmed meat, Cronin believes in letting the flavor of the animal take center stage. "It's pointless to eat something new if you're going to try to neutralize its flavor, or make it taste like what you're used to," he said. "Personally, I don't want to live on chicken and beef for the rest of my life. Get out and try something new, stretch your boundaries."
If you don't hunt, chances are you know hunters who will be happy to share. In fact, hunters donated nearly 100,000 pounds of high-in-protein, low-in-fat venison to Pennsylvania food banks, soup kitchens and pantries last year, part of the ongoing Hunters Sharing the Harvest (http://www.sharedeer.org/) nonprofit program throughout the state.
There is also plenty of FDA approved farmed game available for sale, online and locally at D'Angelo Bros. (http://www.dangelobros.com/) in the Italian Market, where Sonny D'Angelo sells everything from goose and boar to venison and duck. D'Angelo is also the author of Are you Game? 216 Great Game Recipes for the Hunter or Gourmet Cook, covering everything from antelope to yak, for sale online or at the store for $19.95.
Daily News staff photographer Steven Falk has been a hunter for more than 18 years, shooting and bow hunting in Chester and Schuylkill counties, often with friends or one of his sons. "Two deer in my freezer feed my family of five for a year," said Falk, whose venison chili is a favorite around the newsroom. Like most hunters, Falk loves the outdoors and the physical side to the activity. While he does his own field dressing, the actual butchering is done professionally, with the average deer yielding at least 50 pounds of meat, cut into back straps (filets), chipped steak for cheesesteak, ground meat and roasts.
"People ask me why do I do it when it's easier just to go to the store and buy meat," said Falk. "Why? Because I'm out in the woods, sitting in a tree stand by 5:45 a.m., at least a half hour before I can shoot. I'm watching the sun come up, watching rabbits hopping around, fox chasing mice, it's a beautiful thing."
4 pounds ground venison
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons crushed garlic
2 envelopes mild McCormick's chili mix
2 cans kidney beans (1 dark, 1 white)
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
Hot sauce - to taste
Brown meat and garlic in the olive oil, set aside. Add all remaining ingredients to a slow cooker turned on high. Add half of browned meat, stir, add remaining, stir to incorporate. Depending on your taste, add more tomatoes (leftover spaghetti sauce works, too). Once ingredients start to bubble, turn down to low and cook about three hours.
Serve over elbow macaroni, or like sloppy Joes on good rolls. This chili tastes even better the second day. Serves 6 to 8.
SWEET AND SOUR QUACKERS
1 tablespoon oil
Additional oil for frying
3 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white vinegar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup water
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 can unsweetened pineapple chunks
1 cup trimmed fresh snow pea pods
¼ cup sliced green onion
½ cup pineapple juice
½ cup water
4 wood ducks cut into pieces
In a medium bowl, combine 1 egg, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
Add duck pieces, stirring to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In another medium bowl, combine 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup water, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking soda.
Stir duck pieces in flour mixture until well coated.
In a large frying pan, pour oil in pan to 1 inch. Heat oil over medium-high heat to 350 degrees.
Once all pieces are coated, cook half of duck pieces for 3 to 4 minutes or until light brown, turning pieces frequently. Drain pieces on paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining duck pieces.
Increase oil temperature to 375. Return all duck pieces to pan at once. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Turning frequently. Drain pieces on paper towel. Set duck aside and keep warm.
In 1 quart sauce pan, combine ½ cup packed brown sugar, 1/3 cup white vinegar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 teaspoons soy sauce.
Add pineapple liquid and water equaling 1 cup to pan and stir.
Cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbly.
Stir in 1 can unsweetened pineapple chunks and 1 cup trimmed fresh snow pea pods. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
In serving bowl, combine duck pieces and sauce mixture. Sprinkle with ¼ cup sliced green onions.
Serve over rice and enjoy with a cold Old Milwaukee. Serves 6 to 8.
1 pound venison leg/haunch, sliced into 1/8 inch strips
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
3-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon sriracha or Tabasco
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1½ tablespoons sesame oil
½ cup chopped peanuts
½ cup chopped cilantro
1-2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
½ pound cooked rice vermicelli
Mix soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, sriracha, pepper, honey, sesame seeds and sesame oil together. Marinate venison in mixture, refrigerated, for 3 to 6 hours.
Soak bamboo skewers in water.
When ready to cook, thread meat onto skewers, grill or broil 1 to 2 minutes on each side.
Serve with chopped peanuts, chopped cilantro, sliced cucumber and cooked rice vermicelli (rice sticks).
NUOC MAN DIPPING SAUCE:
½ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely or pressed
Mix all ingredients together well and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
1 goose carcass, with wings and legs, skinned
5 ribs of celery with leaves, chopped
5 carrots, sliced
1 20-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 medium onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cayenne or jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
12 ounces dry red wine
1½ cups fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ cups turnips or rutabagas, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
½ cup chopped parsley
5 bay leaves
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon thyme
Salt to taste
Boil the carcass in a large pot of water for 1 hour. Remove carcass from water. Let broth cool and skim as much fat off the surface as you can. Remove all meat from the bones.
Return meat to pot along with vegetables, wine and seasoning. Cook for 45 minutes, then add green beans, cook another 30 minutes. Season to taste. Serves 8.
8 whole quails rinsed and dried with paper towel
8 small garlic cloves
8 single sage leaves
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
Sprig of fresh rosemary, picked
½ cup organic chicken stock
¼ cup dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Preheat over to 400 degrees. Carefully lift the skin from around the breast meat, then insert garlic, sage, pinch of zest and pinch of rosemary into the bird and under the skin. Drizzle olive oil over quails and season with salt and pepper. Tie legs together with butcher's twine.
Line up quails in 2 rows of 4 in a small roasting pan place in preheated oven for about 30 minutes - check that the quail juice runs clear.
When finished, cover roasting pan with foil and rest for 10 minutes. When resting is complete, remove birds and place on serving plate. Heat the roasting pan on range over medium heat, then pour orange juice, wine and chicken stock into pan, bring to a boil while scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. After liquid had reduced by half, whisk in two pats of butter and pour into gravy boat. Serve with favorite sides - asparagus and roasted fingerling potatoes with smoked paprika work well. Serves 4.