A Six-Pack Interview with Chef Charlie Palmer

Back in April, I clued you in on a new cookbook that's now out on the shelves titled "Remington Camp Cooking." The leather-clad book is more than beautiful; it's also inspiring and has quickly become one of my favorite go-to cookbooks for weekend barbecues, as evidenced by the ever-growing amount of smudges and stains from referencing the book while I cook. The man behind the book, chef Charlie Palmer, took a few moments out of his insanely busy schedule to answer a few questions about the collaboration with Remington and where he finds inspiration for his recipes.

DD: You're a successful restaurateur, a noted wine connoisseur, and now a hotelier. Why, of all things, a cookbook on camp cooking and why Remington?

CP: In addition to being those things you mention, I am also an outdoorsman and an avid hunter. In my family, we love hunting and fishing and sharing a meal outdoors. Remington has been a part of American culture for nearly 200 years, which still includes hunting for food. We're working on doing more together, including an outdoor food product line, but this was the perfect starting point. This book really helps the reader be prepared for cooking outdoors, what foods work best over a campfire, and what you can do in advance before you leave home.

DD: Of all your many endeavors, you're perhaps best known for developing a personal style known as Progressive American cooking. Can you explain what that is and how it fits in with cooking fish or wild game?

CP: I like to say that Progressive American cooking is really about the American ingenuity and a constantly evolving use of ingredients and techniques. This shows outdoorsmen (and women) how to bring a different level of cooking to the camp. They can do more than just heat a fish over a grill or a can over a fire. Camp Cooking still uses some of these techniques, but the results are a whole lot better.

DD: How does your experience as a sportsman influence not just your cooking, but your life in general?

CP: I enjoy hunting and fishing and the outdoors in general. I know this may sound cliche, but "getting close to nature is good for one's soul." I believe it's important to pass that down over generations, as it was to me, and always make sure our kids know it's their duty to protect our natural resources so they are always there for future generations.

DD: It's worth noting Remington Camp Cooking includes a wide-range of recipes covering more than just wild game. You also include some notes on cooking outdoors. What's your best tip for mastering the art of cooking over an open flame?

CP: Knowing your FIRE is paramount. Whether it's open pit, charcoal grill, or a simple Hibachi, regulating the heat for what you're cooking is key. That takes planning and forethought.

DD: When we had dinner at Aureole last year, you blew me away with the wine pairings, especially that Vogelzang Vigonier. Can you give some basic guidelines for pairing wine with game?

CP: A general rule of thumb would be to drink full-bodied whites with game birds or lighter Pinot Noir, say with duck or grouse. Heartier game like venison and wild boar require rich reds such as Cabernets and Syrahs. A favorite with venison for me is a big Cab like Silver Oak, or for a less expensive option, a Mauritson Family cabernet.

DD: Would you please share your favorite fish or game recipe from Remington Camp Cooking?

CP: My favorite fish recipe is Trout in Foil with Lemon-Sage Butter. It's so simple, yet packed with flavor and it's the best way to cook fresh caught trout. As for game, Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms & Asparagus is a very complete dish and great for a weekend dinner with family and friends.

Duck Breast with Wild Mushrooms & Asparagus

Ingredients
4 skinless duck breasts, skin on, about 1 ½ pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small new potatoes, halved
10 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
6 ounces mixed wild mushrooms (morels, shiitake caps, hen of the woods)
½ cup chopped red onion
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Score the skin of the duck in a crosshatch pattern to help release the maximum amount of fat during cooking. Season each breast with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper (much will fall off during the cooking process). Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and cook until the skin is well browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Baste the meat side of the breast with some of the released fat a few times during this process.

3. Transfer the duck to a plate and set aside. Add the potatoes, cut side down, to the hot fat in the skillet and transfer the skillet to the preheated oven. Roast until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes. Leave the oven on at 350 degrees.

4. Return the skillet to the stovetop over medium heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, re-seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Saute until the mushrooms begin to color and all of the ingredients are hot, 3 to 5 minutes.

5. Return the duck breasts, skin side up, to the skillet and pour in any juices left on the plate. Place the skillet in the preheated oven and roast all of the ingredients together for 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let sit for a few minutes to allow the duck breasts to rest before serving.