Author Archives: Chef Randy King
On the long list of dumb things I have done in my life I often count my adventures rattlesnake hunting.
Most days don’t start off snake hunting, they just develop into it. This past year I only nabbed one snake and it was at the prompting of my sons. When I was younger however my snake hunting escapades were much more involved.
While out whistle pig hunting one day in the 90’s I encountered a rock bluff south of Boise that looked like it would give me ample elevation for shooting. My buddy Ryan and I gathered our 10/.22’s and headed out across the sage and hills. When we arrived took a seat, cracked a beer and began to look around. I then heard the rattle sound off next to me. On my right was a snake, not big but big enough.
I jumped up – not so much scared but not wanting to get bit either. Looking around I found a rock and a stick; both critical in a snake hunters arsenal. Sure I had a gun but I had no intention of firing a .22 bullet square into lava rock. Quickly I smashed the snake with the rock as close to his head as I could manage. This does double duty on snakes when hunting them. First it breaks there back, normally and this limits how far they can strike. Second hitting them with a rock most often causes them to run and not hold their ground. A snake on the run is much less dangerous than a snake on the defensive in a tight coil. I have never had a snake strike at me after I it with a rock – sounds odd but it seems to work for me.
With the snake on the run I used the stick to pin it to the ground right behind the head. With one quick motion I pulled out my pocket knife and severed the snakes head. I hooted a little and my buddy Ryan gave a quick mocking round of applause. I buried the snake head under a large rock to prevent it from causing harm to others in the future, legend says rattlesnake heads can hold there poison for months on end.
Often in the spring when you encounter one snake others are nearby as well. I have run across several dens of snakes in my adventures – and this was a particularly nasty type. (I found a 30 pound ball of garter snakes under a stump one spring, one of my boys still talks about it) Knowing snakes den up I began looking for more snakes, a.k.a trouble.Stratleing a small gully at one point Ryan pointed out that I had two snakes directly below me. Curled on themselves unaware that I was about to be hunting them. One of the snakes began to rattle, I smacked it with a rock. The other snake began to crawl off, I grabbed it by the tail and tossed it out of the rocks and into a sage brush.
With some of the best Wild West shooting I have ever seen Ryan proceeded to head shoot a moving rattler, still in the sagebrush, with one shot. Best part – we were hunting that day in Teva sandals, cut off blue jeans and no shirts. The other snake, now trying to escape, received a stick to his head and a quick cut on the neck. Three snakes down, a good day snake hunting.
Some years I get lucky and my truck tires do most of the work for me on rattler-snakes, I aim for the head. I have cast a bass gig into a crack in the rocks and hooked a rattlesnake before, he was a fine campfire meal. One especially stupid day gathering morel mushrooms in Riggins Idaho I watched a local redneck PULL, I shit you not, the rattle off a snake with one hand while distracting it with his other hand. Unreal. Stupid. Perfect stories for the grand-kids.
Luckily I have managed to get this far in my life without being bitten by a snake, but it is still questionable that I should have passed on my genetics. The jury is out, hopefully my boys take after their mother. To this day when I go out in the desert I wear long pants and boots. I have done burned up my snake killing karma in stupid gear.
How to Cook a Snake
Ok, so now the snake it dead. Just what the hell do you do with it? Start off my skinning a gutting the thing immediately! Why? Snakes piss when they die, that pee will get on everything that you own in a short manner of moments and the smell will never come out. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but snake pee stinks. Do yourself a favor and get it off the meat promptly.
Next, if you can, cool it down. Like any other meat heat is your enemy. On particularly hot days fishing I will soak the meat in a section of moving river water to cool it down. After the meat is cool store it somewhere out of the sunlight and cool. The shade of a tree or in a water proof bag in a river or stream.
To cook the snake I often employ the sausage rope method. With a few sticks I will roll the snake up into a tight concentric coil, see picture, and then skewer the meat into one big wheel. Why? It find this keeps the meat moister than not. Snakes do not have a huge amount of meat on them in the first place so I want to enjoy what I do get.
I have cut the snakes into one inch sections as well. These I often serve in a Thai style curry soup with sticky rice. Recipes for grilled snake coil and soup are below.
The Idiots Guide to Killing a Snake
No. 1: When I hear the rattling, I back away from the snake and find a big rock and a long, sturdy stick.
No. 2: I use the rock to crush the snake as close to its head as possible. This will break its back and shorten the distance that it will be able to strike at me.
No. 3: I use the stick to pin the snake down and then step on the snake right at the base of its head. I never leave any room behind the head or the snake will try to strike me.
No. 4: I cut off the snake’s head.
No. 5: I bury the head.
No. 6: I put the snake in a bag, put the bag in my pack and think about how glad I am to be taking something home for dinner.
Idaho does not have a season for snakes. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game lets a person take up to four rattlesnakes per day with no more than five in his or her possession.
Snake Fried Rice
Yeah, that’s right, snakes and rice. This recipe came out of a trip to Taiwan a few years back. I ate snake in a market after a few to many beers with the Consulate. It was served in a ricey-broth that was packed with ginger, mint and cilantro. It was amazing.
I can’t seem to ever get the broth right but I have managed to make a mean fried rice interpretation.
½ cup dried white rice
1 cup water
Add rice and water to a small sauce pan. Heat until boiling then turn to a simmer and cover. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked. Remove from heat, let stand. DO NOT STIR.
2 tablespoons cooking oil (I love using bear fat, but canola or sesame oil will work)
1 ea rattle snake cut into 1 inch sections (or 10oz chicken for the weak hearted)
3 tablespoons fine diced ham
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
½ cup sliced cabbage
¼ cup shredded carrot
1 cup cooked rice
1 tablespoon siracha
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup packed cilantro and mint leaves (50/50 of each)
2 tablespoons sliced green onions
A non-stick pan works best for this dish. Heat a medium sized sauté pan or wok if you have it, on medium. Add the oil and brown the snake sections. Remove snake from pan. Add the diced ham and brown. Next add the ginger and garlic, brown lightly. Slide all the goodies in the pan to one side and crack the egg into the pan and pop the yolk. Let the egg cook until almost set then scramble it with the other ingredients. Next add the cabbage, carrots and cooked rice. Toss all the ingredients together. Let the rice start to brown a little while cooking, about 3-5 minutes. Don’t stir very often.
Add the siracha and then gently pour in the soy sauce covering as much rice as possible. Add the snake back to the pan, and then add the cilantro, mint and green onions.
Toss all together and serve hot. (Note: the lack of salt and pepper, while I normally recommend their addition to most meals the soy sauce and siracha more than compensate)
I knew, somewhere in my mind, that I really should not be fishing right now. The wind was blowing the snow into drifts, then the drifts were being covered with sand and then snow, sand, snow. Creating this mesmerizing layer cake pattern as I punched holes into the drifts with my hip-wader boots. The slowly receding tide was freezing as it rolled out, the breaking ice caused crunching noises as I walked. But, I do not make it to the coast often, so I needed to take advantage of this surf perch fishing opportunity.
This boney little fish has become my nemesis in the Pacific Ocean. I wish it was a white whale, or a blue marlin or even a sail fish in Cabo San Lucas. But no, it’s a perch…but it’s not for a lack of trying.
Frankly, I am at a loss at why I cannot seem to land this bluegill of the sea. I watch people catch five gallon buckets full, tossing out little hunks of clam and sand shrimp that look no different from my bait. Fishing is one of my strong points as an outdoorsman; I know when to set the hook.
I have fished for surf perch during low tide, high tide, slack tide, hot weather, snow storms and rain storms. The one saving grace about my perch deficit is that I It seems that I can catch everything but surf perch. To date I have caught off the coast of Central Oregon and Northern California the following species – bream, grouper, mackerel, rockfish (like 10 types), lingcod, Dungeness crab, red crab, greenling and one ugly SOB I could not identify so I tossed it back.
Almost all of these species are great eating. The only one that is questionable is mackerel, this is a fishy-fish. Some say that all mackerel is good for is cat food. I disagree; it also makes wonderful bait and exceptional sushi.
Over the years of not catching surf perch I have come up with a 3 golden rules, if I follow these rules (I nearly compulsively do) I can almost guarantee myself a deficit of surf perch.
Rule #1 – Fish Near the Rocks
Being an inland fisherman I have a habit of looking for structure when I fish. The idea of simply casting off the sand out into the surf is hard for me to swallow. I assume that fish want something to hide behind or near or whatever. Just like my lake fish and river trout.
But, as I have learned, surf perch have no fascination with this structure. They instead live in that little trough that is formed by the waves digging a small hole in the sandy bottom. This trough stirs up all sorts of critters and sends them floating into the deep blue sea. The surf perch eat the little crabs and clams that the ocean stirs up. For a fisherman then the goal, or so I am told, is to cast a hunk of meat into the trough and hope that a perch strikes.
If you want to pretend to be perch fishing than you should fish near rock out cropping’s or off jetties. What I do is cast out into the surf, simply guessing where the trough is, and with every intention that a surf perch will bite. Then I slowly retrieve my line towards the rocks. I feel more comfortable this way, even if it is totally wrong. Fishing this way and will almost certainly land you something other than a perch.
Rule #2 – Don’t Poke Pole
In a fit of boredom during low tide I started dropping my bait into deep looking holes in the Newport Jetty. Craziest part…I caught a bunch of fish. Only later did I find out that this is a honest to goodness technique, a less refined version at least, of “poke-polling”. The basics of this fishing method are simple – shove bait into the face of an otherwise unbothered fish. The real key to success is constant movement and hole selection. Basically if something doesn’t bite in the first few seconds switch locations. Just keep bumping down the jetty or rocks looking for a fish to bite. One morning I caught 7 in under an hour. I tossed all but one back but it was a great way to kill a little time wishing a perch would bite.
For better success only drop the bait into deep holes, specifically ones where the bottom cannot be seen. As far as set up is concerned I use the typical surf perch rig, drop shot with two hooks coming off the main line. I use clam, squid, shrimp or artificial night crawler. At the Newport Jetty the most common species caught poke polling will be greenling. I hear that along the coast of northern California you catch monkey faced eels. Not bad options when the Surf Perch refuse to bite.
Rule #3 – Don’t Judge the Man Fishing a Bobber
Look, bobbers and jigs work. Just not on surf perch. What I do is set up a ½ ounce head on one of those big red bobbers from Kmart, maybe about 4 feet of line between the two. Then I’ll cast along the rocks and slowly retrieve. I have nailed the heck out of some rockfish this way before. I have never heard of a surf perch caught in this fashion.
A bobber and a sabiki rig (one of those multiple hook jig contraptions) cast into the surf is a total and complete loss. Never ever do that – you end up with a ball of string and hooks. I have caught a whole bunch of bream with a sabiki and a bobber along the rocks, however.
How to Cook Bait
Some days you win big fishing, some days you do not. This recipe is for a day when you are forced to eat what most others call bait. It’s not halibut, salmon or lingcod – but this recipe will give you crispy skinned fish with great garlic and mustard flavors.
8 ea small “Bream” or other bait fish, cleaned and descaled
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon mustard seed powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
In a medium sized cast iron skillet (they hold heat better, but are not absolutely critical) add the oil and turn to “medium” heat. The goal is to get to about 350 degrees. Turn on the oven to “warm” or the lowest setting possible.
To check the temperature of the oil on the stove simply drop small clumps of batter into the oil filled pan. When the batter bubbles quickly and then floats the oil is close to the correct temperature. If the small scrap of batter browns or burns quickly than the oil is too hot.
Combine flour and all spices in a bowl. Wet the fish slightly and then dredge in flour. Wet again and re-dredge. This double batter will stick better than a single layer. Double batter all fish and reserve on a slightly flowered cookie sheet.
Fry the fish for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the fish turns golden brown and delicious (GB&D). Transfer the cooked fish onto paper towel lined cookie sheet in the warmed oven.
The Green Stuff
To compensate for the fried food I always like a little sautéed super-food as accompaniment. Oh, and mustard greens taste great too.
1 tablespoon butter
1# Mustard Greens
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha
Salt and Pepper
In a medium sauté pan add the butter melt on medium heat. Next add the mustard greens and garlic cloves. Cook 2-3 minutes until wilted and tender. Taste – if to bitter add the sugar. If it has no flavor then add the Sriracha. Mustard greens vary from field to field and day to day on the spiciness level. Either way, season with salt and pepper.
Serve the greens over the top of the fried fish.
My world has changed. Most of my outdoor life has been with a gun, bow or fishing pole in my hand. I can remember being allowed to go pheasant hunting, alone, before I was 10. Hunting has always been a part of my life.
I always knew there was another side in the Hunter+Gatherer equation, a side I was missing. But I had never taken the time to learn how to properly forage. Sure I would pick blackberries. I definitely scoured burns for some morel mushrooms in the spring. But actually foraging, taking the time to view the plants under my feet, has never been on the top of my list.
But I like to learn, to stretch myself, and gain more skills as the years pass on. I find ways to learn things either form books, the internet or (preferably) from people. My new skill, my focus for years to come, is foraging.
Luckily I have found a trifecta mentor in Hank Shaw. His first book Hunter, Gather, Cook is a primer for all things wild. From his book I learned about sea peas, and those ornamental plums that are in my suburban neighborhood. Hank has his James Beard Award winning website as well www.honest-food.net, frequently I gather information on various “how to” gathering and cooking projects. But I have also had the pleasure of getting to forage with Hank.
Recently Hank and I stopped on a seemingly inconspicuous beach in Northern California. Immediately Hank was pointing out wild edibles. The curly dock, the sorrel, cow parsnip, the California bay, the New Zeeland Spinach were all new plants to me. Sure, I had seen many of them before but I did not know their names and would have never eaten them.
As Hank showed me each plant I would pick a section and taste it. Some tasted good; others made me want to gag. This prompted Hank to tell me “Foraging with chefs is like foraging with babies, all you chefs want to do is stick things in your mouth.” Valuable lesson, just because things are edible, they do not always taste good unprocessed.
We left the beach and proceeded into the hills of Northern California. We scoured the duff for mushrooms before hitting the mother lode, about 10 pounds of March “fall” porcinis. Unreal sized mushrooms with unforgettable flavor. Hank was flushing with glee. I struggled to share the same level of enthusiasm about mushrooms. It was only later that I realized just how special what we had just found was. It was like catching a steelhead on the first cast, it just never happens and when it does you count your blessings and go.
Upon returning to Idaho I began to see the newly sprouting greens around me differently. No longer was I just admiring the green coming back, I was admiring the variety of food all around me. I spotted wild mint growing on the hill next to my work. I gathered curly dock and dandelions from a park along the Boise River. I picked a patch of nettles by the canal near my house. I found salsify on the ignored side of my backyard fence. Lambs quarter in the rose beds, beggar’s purse in the garden.
Later that spring I furthered my skills with Darcy Williamson, from Mavens Haven in McCall Idaho. We teamed up for a foraging and cooking weekend. The deal was I would cook for the group, providing wild game meat from my larder, and we would all gather dinner together.
With Darcy I learned a TON about foraged food in my native Idaho. Plants that I have ignored for years – the flowers with edible bulbs, the wild garlic, the miners lettuce, the fiddlehead ferns and many others – became part of the menu. A menu we cooked on a ridgeline overlooking the Salmon and Snake Rivers.
With Darcy I hiked the elk woods near Riggins with my head looking down for morels, not up for game. It was an odd feeling, my focus so shifted. I was no longer looking out for the “big” score like an elk or a deer, but I was looking for multiple little scores. Each mushroom gave me a temporary moment of happiness, not as large as an elk or a deer but still a very real bump. I felt revitalized with each mushroom I found, every bulb I dug was a present from Mother Earth.
As amazing as foraging was I still found myself looking for game. Turkey season was still open when I went foraging with Darcy, but I purposefully left my gun at home. I had a sinking feeling just bringing access to the ability to hunt would distract me from my true mission – learning edible plants. But anytime I leave my gun behind game presents itself. So, of course, we saw a gobbler not 30 feet off the road while foraging. I smiled, knowing that if I would have brought my gun we could have had turkey for dinner. Instead, I found dinner growing out of the side of a spring, under a fallen pine and buried deep below a flowering bulb. I know what I foraged tasted just as good as any wild turkey.
Often when I make turkey ham the first question I get is…why? Why make a ham out of a turkey breast? Answer, because I want to enjoy a moist turkey breast. Let’s be honest, a traditional bake on a wild turkey is seldom satisfying. With this ham I can slice thin for sandwiches, thicker for breakfasts or even cube for soup. It is far more versatile than a traditional roasted turkey breast.
To be clear “ham” is not a thing but a process, ie to make a “ham” pig is not necessary. Ham either a wet cured or a dry cured meat. For this recipe I am wet curing a wild turkey breast. Technically you could dry cure a wild turkey but I have never done so (time to experiment).
The reason wet curing works is because of the diffusion process we all learned about in 8th grade science. Basically the salty water in the brine mix wants to diffuse (make even) the amount of salt it has with the lack of salt in the meat. The meat absorbs salt water and the salt water becomes less salty. This process has been used as long as man has been around to keep meat from rotting. Salt is an antimicrobial and a wonderful preservative. Salt is the only rock we need to stay alive.
Humans are actually hard wired to like salt. In fact so are most animals. That is why animals will often congregate in areas with high mineral contents and why salt licks are banned in many hunting areas. (Salt is the only rock animals need to stay alive, ironically it also keeps dead things edible longer)
There are also many different types of salt. Some are specifically used for curing meat. I use insta-cure #1 for almost everything. Why? It is a bacterial growth inhibitor. Specifically it stops botulism. Mmmm, botulism. Now this is important because some bugs actually thrive in nasty environments like salt brines, insta-cure kills most of them. It also gives meat that cool pink color. While you can skip the insta-cure #1 in most recipes I do not recommend it, you are putting yourself at risk. Plus the meat looks drab and grey without the cure.
Insta Cure #1 contains salt and sodium nitrite, NOT nitrate. So, I guess don’t freak out that you are going to get cancer when you use it. However, the bad rap for nitrate is akin to the bad rap on MSG. Both have been totally overblown and the tests were run with dose amounts that would be like freebasing with Jerry Garcia. And with a gratuitous Grateful Dead reference we move on to the recipe.
2 quarts hot water
½ cup salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar (or honey)
1 tablespoon insta-cure #1
¼ cup “aromatics”
2 ea turkey breasts (breast meat from one whole bird)
Add the hot water to a large container able to hold the turkey breast meat and the liquid. Next stir in the salt, sugar, brown sugar and insta-cure #1. All the solid particles should diffuse into the water. Next add the “aromatics” of your choice. This can be anything really. Orange zest, juniper berries, pickling spices. Really whatever you want to impart additional flavors into the ham with. Careful, but have fun.
Next add the turkey meat. It is best if the water is not scolding hot when the meat goes in. Let the meat soak for a week in the refrigerator. Make sure that all the meat is submerged.
After a week remove the turkey from the brine. Pat the turkey dry and let rest on the counter until room temperature. Then smoke the turkey for 4 hours or until it reaches 155 degrees. If you are not a smoked ham fan simply bake the ham at 375 degrees until 155 degrees at the thickest section. This is very important, the ham will “carry over” to 165 degrees and 165 is necessary for a “kill step” with bacteria.
See this recipe for more information on carryover cooking.
When cooked let the ham rest 30 minutes before cutting into it. This will help retain the moisture.
Eat and enjoy. The ham will last over a week in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer.