Warming Recipes From Chef Michael Hunter’s Forage-and-Feast Cookbook

Roasted Wild Turkey

Michael Hunter says the recipes from his new cookbook — including his stuffed wild turkey pictured above — contain at least one ingredient that is hunted, fished or foraged. Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

“I am a hunter by name and by nature,” writes chef Michael Hunter,
in the introduction to his new cookbook, The Hunter Chef Cookbook:
Hunt, Fish, and Forage
in Over 100 Recipes. And as a chef, he muses,
it’s only natural that the two worlds would come together. “Food is
more than a passion for me. It’s a way of life.”

Knowing the provenance of the food on our plates is a given — locally sourced ingredients are key to the Canadian chef’s cooking at home and at Antler, Hunter’s Toronto restaurant. The good stuff grown or reared in its natural environment is also good for the environment, he believes. His rural Ontario upbringing and country inn training as a teenager didn’t hurt either and had him hunting, fishing and foraging for food from a young age.

 

The Hunter Chef

 

“Every recipe contains at least one ingredient that is hunted, fished or foraged (with suggestions for grocery-store substitutions),” he adds, allaying any at-home cook’s hesitancy. With the book, the chef encourages you to follow him into the woods and back to the kitchen, to learn how to live off the land from the “fruits of the forest.” And that may simply mean an empty basket and a willingness to venture into the forest and forage for mushrooms, juniper, wild mint, leeks … the list goes on.

Chef Michael Hunter is the owner of Antler, a Toronto restaurant with a focus on regional ingredients. Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

“Hunting, fishing, foraging and cooking fulfill a primal urge,” he says. “Sometimes, I feel I was born a hundred years too late.”

Or at exactly the right time, Mr. Hunter.

Here, the chef’s recipes, in his own words.

Cedar Sorbet

 

Cedar Sorbet
Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

Seeing deer eating green cedar leaves during the winter started me thinking about ways to cook with cedar. Cedar grows in abundance and is very easy to find and harvest, and I remembered learning in school that Indigenous people served cedar tea to the first settlers in Canada to cure their scurvy. Using this as inspiration, at Antler we started to incorporate cedar into our cocktails, and then I thought of creating a sweet tea and freezing it to make a cedar sorbet for dessert. The sorbet tastes incredibly refreshing – like the sweet smell of the forest.

2⅔ cups (650 mL) water

1 cup (250 mL) chopped green cedar      boughs, more for garnish

⅔ cup (150 mL) granulated sugar

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

In a medium saucepan, combine
water, cedar and sugar. Stir to combine, bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Let cool
to room temperature.

If using an ice-cream machine, cover and refrigerate the mixture until cold. Pour mixture into machine and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions until sorbet has a smooth frozen consistency. Depending on your machine, this could take up to 30 minutes. Scrape sorbet into an airtight container and freeze until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

If you do not have an ice-cream machine, after mixture has cooled to room temperature, place bowl in freezer for 30 minutes. Whisk the mixture, then return bowl to freezer. Continue to whisk every 30 minutes until mixture is completely frozen and ice is chunky, more like an iced granita. This can take several hours. At this point, cover and store sorbet in freezer until ready to serve.

Preheat the oven to 200 F (100 C).

Place a handful of cedar leaves on baking sheet and toast until dry, 15 to 20 minutes. Try not to let the leaves brown. Mince dried cedar leaves with a knife or, using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind leaves to a fine powder.

Divide cedar sorbet among chilled small bowls. Garnish with a sprinkle of the minced or ground cedar leaves and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Warm Wild Mushroom Salad

 

Warm Wild Mushroom Salad
Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

Foraging for mushrooms is one of my favourite things to do, and this salad is the best way to show off their distinctive flavours. You can use as many different types of mushrooms as you want or simply use your favourite ones. (For the salad in the photo, I used boletes, Amanita jacksonii and chanterelles.) I cut the mushrooms into similar sizes so they cook evenly all at the same time. I also recommend cooking the mushrooms at a very high heat to caramelize them and help seal in the flavourful moisture, rather than slowly cooking and rendering the liquid, which results in more of a stew-like appearance and taste.

4 tbsp (60 mL) olive oil, divided

2 lb (900 g) wild mushrooms, cut into      2-inch (5 cm) pieces, divided

1 bunch green onions (white parts only), thinly sliced, divided

1 tsp (5 mL) kosher salt, divided

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 tbsp (30 mL) vinaigrette, divided

Garnish

Fresh oregano leaves

Fresh wood sorrel leaves

Fresh sliced lemon balm leaves

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add 2 tbsp (30 mL) of the olive oil. Add half the mushrooms, half the green onions, ½ tsp (2 mL) of the salt, and pepper to taste. Sauté until caramelized and tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Deglaze with 1 tbsp (15 mL) of vinaigrette. Remove mushroom mixture from the pan.

Return pan to high heat, add remaining 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil and sauté remaining mushrooms and green onions, seasoning with remaining ½ tsp (2 mL) salt, and pepper to taste. Deglaze with the remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) vinaigrette.

Divide salad among plates or serve family-style in a large bowl. Scatter fresh oregano, wood sorrel and lemon balm on top. Serves 4 as an appetizer.

 

Wild Leek and Potato Soup With Caviar and Crème Fraîche

 

Leek and Potato Soup With Caviar
Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

Wild leeks, or ramps, have a sweet garlic and onion flavour that pairs nicely with the earthy flavour of potato. Enriched with crème fraîche and the salty hint of the caviar, this is a beautifully balanced and comforting soup that can be served hot or cold like a classic vichyssoise.

2 tbsp (30 mL) unsalted butter

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

1½ cups (375 mL) sliced wild leek      bulbs

½ cup (125 mL) chopped white onion

1 cup (250 mL) chopped celery

2 tsp (10 mL) kosher salt

1 tbsp (15 mL) minced garlic

4 cups (1 L) peeled and chopped      white potato

½ cup (125 mL) dry white wine

4 cups (1 L) vegetable or light game bird      stock (or light chicken stock)

1 cup (250 mL) heavy (35%) cream

Garnish

¼ cup (60  mL) crème fraîche

1 tin (1 ounce/28 g) sturgeon caviar

½ cup (125 mL) thinly sliced wild leek      greens

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat, then add olive oil. Add leek bulbs, onion, celery and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and potatoes. Add white wine and stock. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until potatoes are very soft, 30 to 45 minutes.

Using an immersion blender or high-speed blender, purée the soup until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, pouring in cream in a slow, steady stream while blending. Strain soup back into the pot to remove any lumps or fibre. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.

Pour soup into warmed bowls and garnish with crème fraîche, caviar, wild leek greens and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Wild Turkey With Goat Cheese Morel Mushroom and Wild Leek Stuffing

Roasted Wild Turkey
Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

Morel mushrooms and wild leeks (ramps) grow in hardwood forests in the spring and pair beautifully. Wild leeks take a very long time to grow,  about seven years from a seedling to when the plant can produce its own seed, then take two years to germinate. When foraging for leeks, pick no more than five per cent of a patch and try to rotate your picking spots year to year. If you can’t find morels, feel free to use your favourite mushrooms from your grocery store or local market. You can stuff single breasts (as here) or the cavity of a whole bird.

Stuffed Wild Turkey

1 cup (250 mL) + 1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter, divided

½ cup (125 mL) minced white onion

¼ cup (60 mL) minced celery

½ lb (225 g) morel mushrooms, washed, patted dry and chopped

½ lb (225 g) wild leeks, white bulbs separated from green leaves and chopped

4 tsp (20 mL) minced garlic

1 lb (450 g) soft goat cheese, crumbled

3 cups (750 mL) cubed white sourdough or artisanal bread, crusts removed

2 boneless wild turkey breasts (about 1 lb/450 g each)

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive  oil

1 tsp (5 mL) kosher salt

Freshly ground  black pepper

Wild Spring Vegetables

1 tsp (5 mL) unsalted butter

1 tsp (5 mL) olive oil

¼ lb (115 g) morel mushrooms, washed, patted dry, and cut in half lengthwise

¼ lb (115 g) fiddleheads, washed and drained

1 lb (450 g) asparagus spears, trimmed

1 cup (250 mL) freshly shucked green peas

Kosher salt and pepper

Pickled wild leeks, for garnish (optional)

Stuff and Cook the Turkey

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 cup (250 mL) of the butter. Add onion, celery, morels, chopped leek bulbs and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add goat cheese, leek greens and cubed bread and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before stuffing the turkey breasts.

Using a boning knife, make a 2-inch (5 cm) cut along the fat end of each turkey breast and push the knife into the centre, making a pocket along the inside of the entire breast. Gently fill the breasts with stuffing.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and the remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter. Season breasts all over with salt and pepper and gently sear both sides. Transfer to oven and cook to an internal temperature of 165 F (74 C), 20 to 30 minutes. Let meat rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

Cook the Wild Spring Vegetables

While the turkey rests, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add morels, fiddleheads, asparagus and peas. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper and cook until vegetables are tender, 3 to 4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to toss vegetables so they cook evenly.

To serve, slice the turkey breasts and divide among plates along with the vegetables. Garnish with pickled wild leeks, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Wild Juniper Negroni

 

Wild Juniper Negroni
Photo: Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter

 

Juniper is in the pine family and grows all over North America, Europe and Asia. It is a primary flavouring in gin. By infusing store-bought gin with wild juniper, the clean notes of pine and hints of citrus really emerge. Juniper also has some homeopathic properties as an anti- inflammatory, diuretic, antiseptic, stomachic, antimicrobial and antirheumatic. I’ll drink to that.

Wild Jiniper-Infused Gin

(Makes enough for 20 cocktails)

1 cup (250 mL) juniper needles and      berries

2 cups (500 mL) dry gin

Cocktail

¾ oz (22 mL) Juniper-Infused Gin

¾ oz (22 mL) Campari

¾ oz (22 mL) sweet vermouth

3 ice cubes, for mixing

1 (2-inch/5 cm square) ice cube, for      serving

1 sprig wild juniper, for garnish

1 orange peel, for garnish

Make Juniper-Infused Gin

Place juniper needles and berries in a 1-quart (1 L) mason jar. Pour in gin, seal jar and let steep at room temperature for 4 days. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and return gin to mason jar. Infused
gin will keep indefinitely.

Prepare Cocktail

In a large mixing glass, combine juniper-infused gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Add 3 ice cubes. Stir for 15 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with sprig of juniper and orange peel. Serves 1.

Excerpted from The Hunter Chef Cookbook: Hunt, Fish, and Forage in Over 100 Recipes by Michael Hunter. Copyright © 2020 Michael Hunter. Photographs © 2020 Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher.
All rights reserved.

A version of this article appeared in the Nov 2020 issue with the headline, “In From the Wild,” p. 100. 

Excerpted from The Hunter Chef Cookbook: Hunt, Fish, and Forage in Over 100 Recipes by Michael Hunter. Copyright © 2020 Michael Hunter. Photographs © 2020 Jody Shaprio and Michael Hunter. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher.