Delta Member to Myth Makers: Snow Geese Aren't 'Winged Liver'
Posted on 03/04/2009
Bismarck, N.D.—Beneath a gun-metal-hued South Dakota sky, as thousands of barking snow geese vectored over him power-line high, Scott Doheny wasn't thinking about transforming wild protein into a culinary tour de force, which, he says, is often the case.
In fact, he wasn't even thinking about slapping the trigger and putting some cold steel down range—the winged shock and awe above had pickled his brain.
Delta Waterfowl member Haakon Doheny, 15, is a 9th grader at New Prague High School (Minnesota). A passionate waterfowler, Haakon also moonlights as an amateur videographer. You can find the Stoup recipe below.
"I was mesmerized, stunned, frozen," said the 41-year-old Delta Waterfowl member from New Prague, Minnesota, recalling his first spring hunt for snows and blues in early 2000. "You see the photographs of those storm clouds of geese, but you can't comprehend what it's like until you see them in person. It's almost indescribable. The numbers. The deafening sound. Their wild flight patterns. It's amazing."
For the record, Doheny has sobered up from his snow goose-induced stupor and has been a regular participant in the spring season, killing enough light geese to test his rapidly expanding gastronomic skills. "The birds are still staging well short of South Dakota right now, but I have the itch," he says. "It's been a long, cold, snowy winter, and I can't wait for the birds to arrive."
Doheny isn't a preacher, but he has become something of an evangelist for snow geese, which he proudly calls "food for the soul." More importantly, Doheny says, he wants to shovel dirt on the "tired" myth that snow geese are the culinary equivalent of winged liver—or, as he says, "inedible for human consumption."
"Before I went on my first spring hunt, I heard the same propaganda over and over: Snow geese taste like winged liver, snow geese taste like winged liver," said Doheny, an avid waterfowler and wild game foodie. "I guess that wasn't a term of endearment, but the truth is I love liver, so I was intrigued about the possibility of harvesting enough snow geese to really test them out in the kitchen."
And test them he has, although calling Doheny merely a taste-tester wouldn't be completely accurate. He's more like a mad scientist—in how he cleans his snow geese, and how he prepares them. He's meticulous about everything (his wife says he's anal) and utilizes nearly every part of the goose. Bottom line: no cooking technique is off the table, no time too much to perfect his craft and the birds' taste.
Doheny, who someday would like to open his own butcher shop specializing in waterfowl and other wild game, says he occasionally takes wild-game cookery a little far. "Well, there was the time when I asked my wife if I could turn my side of the garage into a smoke house. She gave me The Look, and every married man knows The Look. I dropped the idea before she hired a divorce lawyer."
There is perhaps no better time for hunters to fill their freezers with snow geese and hone their waterfowl cooking skills. For example, the mid-continent population of light geese, which migrates throughout the Mississippi and Central Flyways, has climbed from its historic average of 1.5 million birds to an estimated 5 to 15 million today. Snow geese are so overpopulated they are destroying their fragile arctic breeding grounds, as well as their increasingly fragile wintering habitat.
In an effort to trim the expanding population, a spring "conservation order" was established by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999. For Doheny, the special season allows him to test his waterfowling skills against a notoriously wary bird while thinking up new and creative ways to prepare the birds. He relishes the challenge, and also takes pride in his role as hunter-conservationist.
"The idea behind the spring season is to bring some balance back to the snow goose population and reduce the destruction of the birds' habitat, which I believe is very, very important," Doheny said. "I also believe in the ethic that hunters must utilize their quarry. I teach my boys that when they kill something, whether it's a duck or a deer, they're going to prepare it and eat it. I tell them, ‘We eat what we kill, or we don't hunt at all.'"
Added Doheny: "I have absolutely no tolerance for wanton waste."
After his first spring snow goose hunt, Doheny decided to make a dish that would help tenderize the meat. What he came up with was his founding classic, Scottie's Snow Goose and Wild Rice Stoup. "Stoup falls somewhere between the consistency of a soup and a stew but utilizes basically the same ingredients," Doheny says. "I often make it for family Christmas parties or wild game dinners, and it goes so fast that I rarely get a chance to eat it myself."
Here's the recipe:
In a caste iron skillet, place:
Six strips bacon, cut into small pieces.
Cook until crisp, set aside, and leave two tablespoons bacon grease in pan.
In skillet, add:
Two cups snow goose breasts or thighs or both, cubed.
Season with salt and pepper and sauté until cooked. Set aside pieces on paper towel.
In same pan, sauté:
One cup fresh mushrooms until cooked.
In separate sauce pot, add:
One and a half cups snow goose stock (use chicken stock as substitute), ½ cup each diced onion and carrot, and two cloves minced garlic.
Cook until tender, then add:
One can (10 3/4 ounces) of cream of potato soup. (Note: Doheny also likes to add cubed day-old baked potatoes to the recipe).
Stir mixture, then add:
Two cups half and half, bacon, snow goose meat, mushrooms and one cup cooked wild rice (more if you like), and pepper to taste.