The Wild South Podcast

Episode 7: Andrew Zimmern, Chef and Wild Game Expert

The popular TV personality, chef, writer, and outdoorsman talks about his approach to finding, and preparing, the food he makes for himself and for others

A man holds a plate of cooked venison outside

Photo: Outdoor Channel

Andrew Zimmern fires up venison.

About Episode 7:

Dave and Eddie talk with Andrew Zimmern, who for years starred in the popular Travel Channel show Bizarre Foods, traveling the globe and sampling the most fascinating dishes he found along the way. He’s also spent years fishing and hunting close to home and perfecting the art of preparing freshly caught fish and game. Listen for Zimmern’s cooking tips, his favorite spices, his story about visiting James Beard’s home as a boy in New York City, and more. The Wild South is presented in partnership with Duck Camp.


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Sites mentioned in episode:

Zimmern’s Website

Zimmern’s Instagram: @chefaz

Zimmern’s YouTube: @AndrewZimmern

Zimmern’s X: @andrewzimmern

Zimmern’s TikTok: @andrew.zimmern

photo: courtesy of david dibenedetto
Dave and Andrew with a redfish near Charleston, South Carolina.


Transcript of episode 7:

Andrew Zimmern (00:00):

There’s whole generations of people here in the upper Midwest. They’re like, oh, I’m not really a big fan of fish. And I’m like, why? It’s, oh, growing up it was kind of fishy. And I’m like, right, because grandma and grandpa were making you eat old fish. Nobody wants to eat old fish. Let me tell you.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:26):

Welcome to the Wild South podcast. I am Dave DiBenedetto, editor-in-chief of Garden and Gun Magazine.

Eddie Nickens (00:34):

And I’m Eddie Nickens, contributing editor for Garden and Gun.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:38):

Together, we are talking with the most interesting outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen in the South and beyond.

Eddie Nickens (00:46):

Quail hunters and duck hunters, trout anglers and redfish fanatics, musicians, scientists, writers, wild game cooks, and frankly, a few wildcats we dig up along the way.

Dave DiBenedetto (00:57):

We’re talking to legends and legends in the making.

Eddie Nickens (01:01):

All with unforgettable stories of life way beyond the sidewalk.

Dave DiBenedetto (01:08):

So, T. Edward, I was on Instagram as I am prone to do at times. And I saw that you had a pretty interesting duck dinner, wood duck dinner just the other night.

Eddie Nickens (01:21):

Yeah, that was an experiment. I shot that duck late in the season and thought I’d try aging it longer than I normally age. My ducks, typically, I, every duck goes in the refrigerator’s, vegetable, crisper for three to four days. but this one was an eight day long aging process, and that was plucked ungutted. The bird came outta the bag straight into the refrigerator, vegetable crisper for eight days. And it was fabulous. You know, I mean, it was tender. It was this robust, just rich flavor. I’m gonna try it from now on, but it was an experiment. It was pushing the envelope for me anyway.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:01):

For you. But aging has been a proven technique, right?

Eddie Nickens (02:04):

Yeah, yeah. You know, and you look at the old texts in Europe, they would hang their pheasants by the neck until the head and body separated. That’s when they thought, okay, it’s aged enough to eat now. 

Dave DiBenedetto (02:16): 

So, so in other words, when the pheasant hit the dirt, that was time to eat?

Eddie Nickens (02:21):

Yeah, that’s the difference between aging and rotting, in my opinion.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:26):

Well, your dinner was better than mine. I was in between basketball practice, swim practice, and track. So I had a very lame chicken patty from the freezer. But I’m glad to see that the experiment worked.

Eddie Nickens (02:40):

Yeah, yeah. You know, and there’s nothing like caramelized baby bok choy to put you in your place, Dave. For sure.

Dave DiBenedetto (02:45):

T. Edward. Alright, so, talking about experimentation with food, our next guest, Andrew Zimmern, who’s been a friend of mine for a number of years, I call him AZ. He’s probably well known to many folks listening. He had a really, really popular TV show for about 10 years on the Travel Channel. It was called Bizarre Foods. And he went around the globe and ate some really crazy stuff, whether it crawled, whether it walked, whether it swam. I mean, just wild. But what’s great about Andrew is he’s also an outdoorsman and he’s an amazing, amazing chef.

Eddie Nickens (03:24):

Yeah. And if you are a beginner or even an expert game chef, you’re gonna learn a lot. I’d learned a lot, not only from Mr. Zimmern, I’m not his friend like you, so I can’t call him AZ but I actually learned something from Dave DiBenedetto about handling fish, saltwater fish, particularly. So kudos to you.

Dave DiBenedetto (03:45): 

What was that Eddie?

Eddie Nickens (03:46):

Well let’s just let our listeners figure that one out as they hear his conversation with Andrew Zimmern.

Dave DiBenedetto (03:52):

Yeah, let’s get to it. Andrew Zimmern, my friend, my buddy, welcome to the Wild South Podcast.

Andrew Zimmern (04:07): 

Thank you, sir. Great to be here.

Dave DiBenedetto (04:09):

Delighted to have you. I want to introduce you to my, other half of this show, T. Edward Nickens.

Andrew Zimmern (04:16):

Nice to meet you. I don’t like to know… I’m very, I’m a jealous man. David, I wanna, I don’t wanna know that there’s another, there’s another fella in your life that’s,

Dave DiBenedetto (04:26): 

It’s funny you say that ’cause when I was telling Eddie about you, he sensed this as well, and he said, wait, am I in your top 10?

Eddie Nickens (04:36):

No, I said, top 15. I would, I was stretching that.

Dave DiBenedetto (04:39): 

You did give yourself top 15.

Eddie Nickens (04:40):

We haven’t met, we haven’t met Andrew. But I can tell you that, you were a part of the family because my son would not quit watching you as a kid. And it caused many fights, many arguments, he was a big fan. Appreciate your, appreciate you raising the stress level in our home when I was trying to be a good daddy.

Andrew Zimmern (05:02):

That’s, that’s what I do, sir. I go into people’s homes and I raise the stress level.

Eddie Nickens (05:07):

No, he is a, he is a big fan. And I know a whole lot of our listeners are big fans. I think they’re gonna be surprised at hearing some of the new things that you’re doing. I do wanna talk about what I’ve seen as a change in the intersection between food and conservation in America. Even before the pandemic, there was this growing interest in the cuisine side of hunting and fishing, but certainly during the pandemic that just exploded. You know, for the first time we saw more hunting licenses being purchased rather than less, so many different ways of accessing the outdoors. I think this notion of bringing food into the conversation has helped recalibrate like the future. I mean, it’s sort of recalibrated and changed the conversation about hunting and fishing in a lot of ways. These are no longer quote unquote sports, right? I mean, they are lifestyles. They are, they are things that define people and how they choose to, I mean, intersect with the planet. And you’re, you’re right in the middle of all this. I mean, are, are you seeing that? Am I being overly hopeful? What do you think?

photo: Outdoor Channel
Fly fishing in Minnesota.

Andrew Zimmern (06:16):

No, I think you’re right. I mean, you know, the Covid pandemic was a hinge event, I think for so many different parts of our culture. I mean, I’ll just tell you my experience here in Minnesota, it’s end of March, beginning of April, 2020, and I had friends who were panicking about grocery store runs. But hunters and anglers, people who live in outdoors lifestyle had lots of meat in their freezers. I have a second refrigerator, a second freezer, and then a third big chest freezer in my garage. And, and it’s not there because I’m a chef. It’s there because I like to hunt and fish. But I do know that when friends were panicked, I wasn’t.

Eddie Nickens (07:02): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (07:03):

And part of it was because I knew that what we were looking at were wobbles in our food chain, they were disconnection points. And I knew that if all the lights went out and something really bad happened, I go in my backyard and shoot a squirrel. And I don’t care that they’re out of season if my family has to eat, I, you know, I have squirrel in my backyard. Right. And I think a lot of Americans realized that culturally we had detached from a place in our culture where we knew people everywhere that hunted at night for their meals the next day, or hunted in the morning for their meals that night. I think it retethered a lot of people to more traditional lifestyles. And I think that’s good because in my opinion, the people who are rooted to the land understand more about our climate, our biospheres. Sure, there’s some bad actors everywhere, but for the most part, people who hunt and fish are the best conservationists I know. Of everything, not just necessarily what they’re hunting and fishing, simply because they’re aware. And I think awareness is what had been missing for a long time.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:13):

Let’s talk about you for a minute. As a, as a hunter and a fisherman, you grew up in New York City, right?

Andrew Zimmern (08:19): 

Yep.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:20):

Yeah. When did you take up, or who taught you what was your, entree into these, into this, into the world of outdoor sporting?

Andrew Zimmern (08:28):

Well, I’ve always been a cliche buster. So as a born and raised Jewish kid from New York City, I should never have gotten involved with hunting and fishing. I should not have become an addict and an alcoholic. These are things that just never touch.

Dave DiBenedetto (08:43): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (08:44):

You know, my people and yet there I was just right outta the gate, blowing two of them out of the water when I was in high school, a friend of mine, their family bought a new house out in Long Island. They also bought the farm, the farmland, sorry, that was around it, because they didn’t want other people to build near them. And the farmers said, can we lease the land back from you? And they said, of course, we’d be delighted. And my friend and I, one fall saw one of the members of the family with a front loader out in the driveway, and they wanted to talk to my friend’s dad. And this gentleman’s request of him was, he wanted to dig out a hole in the ground that he would refill on the edge of this rye field because he wanted to go goose hunting. And we were so excited ’cause I loved eating goose. And we asked this fellow about it, and he said, well, I’ll take you. And here’s where you go get your gun training, your safety course. Here’s what you have to do if you wanna come hunting with me, but I’d love to teach you. And boy, the first time you see a bunch of goose come down and get up on their backside and stick their brakes on. And we popped out of this door and there’s, you know, five birds right in front of me. And a couple hours later I was grilling the breasts and curing the legs to confis and rendered fat. I was hooked. Now, I had been fishing and foraging since I was a little kid. That includes this, you know, crabbing and clamming.

Dave DiBenedetto (10:22): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (10:22):

And we went eeling, I mean, anything that we could harvest. And then I got to college, and I had some friends whose parents had a second home in Au Sable falls up in, northwestern New York. And I was invited to go deer hunting, and I was thrilled about that. Went up there and took my first buck. I guess that would’ve been 1980. And I continued to hunt and fish as much as I could until my addiction and alcoholism just interfered with everything in my life.

Dave DiBenedetto (10:55): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (10:56):

And I wound up getting sober in Minnesota. And that was 32 years ago. And I came to treatment in January of 92 to this wonderful community here. And I met a whole range of people I never would’ve socialized with under other circumstances and incredible people. Some of my best friends today who were local folks here who had a passion for hunting and fishing, it was a 12 month a year obsession.

Dave DiBenedetto (11:26): 

Right?

Andrew Zimmern (11:27):

And so I, very quickly, when I got out of my halfway house, started going away with them, doing everything from ice fishing in the winter to walleye fishing in the summer, to crayfish trapping, and hunting everything. And so it very quickly became for me, sort of like a yoga almost. I pursued it differently. Once I was sober, I was no longer frustrated by a day where I didn’t put the gun stock to my shoulder. The three or four best days I’ve ever had out in the field and stream, I’ve never put the gun to my shoulder or pulled a fish in ever.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:09): 

Yep.

Andrew Zimmern (12:09):

Now, at the time, I did not know that 13, 14, 15 years later, I would start traveling internationally and launching the show. That became Bizarre Foods. But when you’re in story meetings, making television and a producer says, oh, well they want you to go, you know, wild boar hunting in Hawaii, but they take the animals down with a long blade by hand.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:37): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (12:37):

And they’re like, so I guess that’s a pass. I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, That sounds really, that sounds really great.

Dave DiBenedetto (12:44):

Andrew. It’s so true. I, I was going back through a good chunk of that was a wild game eating show, you know, a hundred percent. I’m watching you eat the bloodline of a tuna. You’re in the P. Rhodes going out maybe it was Africa, I believe. I mean, just out into the ocean those guys had a paddle.

Andrew Zimmern (13:02): 

Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (13:02):

A paddle and a sail. Like, damn.

Andrew Zimmern (13:05):

Yeah. That was, that was really stupid. But you know, I mean, look, giant snakes, everything from giant snakes to little bugs in the Amazon in season one in Ecuador. That was our third episode. I think the rest of season one. I was in Balmoral hunting on the queen pheasant grounds. One of the most epic hunts to this day. I mean, I’ll never do it again. I’ll never experience anything like that. But to have 40 young men, some of them kids beating the grass, pushing these birds. You could see them jump up in the sky and come over hill after hill after hill until finally they’re in the berm in front of you. Hundreds and hundreds of birds, ’cause they push ’em up and they’d settle down, push ’em up and settle down. it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced in my life. Not as exciting as when I started the day at Balmoral, where you go into the Royal Armory and they’re are hundreds of guns. And of course, all British made stunning condition, most of them a hundred years old. But they have these little tags and placards next to all the guns. So you can see who used them before you. And the guy, it’s actually in the show, he hands me this shotgun and he looks at the tag and he says, do you wanna know who used this before you? And I said, yes. He says, the person who used this gun last was Fidel Castro. And before that it was, Mr. Churchill.

Eddie Nickens (14:37):

Hey, I’m curious, I’m curious about that gun collection. was there a Daisy Red Ryder anywhere, anywhere in the collection?

Andrew Zimmern (14:46):

There was, and I picked it first and they said, not on camera, but that’s her Majesty’s favorite, obviously.

Eddie Nickens (14:52):

So, it was a complete collection then. That, that’s what I’m hearing. I I wanted to go back real quickly to one thing you said earlier, back to the pandemic, only because I remember this with the freezers, right. Because I had a couple of freezers in the garage and, we were, we were starting to whittle down pretty good too. Right? Andrew and my wife was terrified about the possum backstraps that were on the, the lowest level in the back corner.

Andrew Zimmern (15:18): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (15:19):

That things were gonna get that grim. Did things get that grim with you? Was there,

Andrew Zimmern (15:23):

No, because I would save a lot of hunting. Like I, I was lucky enough to hunt for a lot of animals out of state, on TV for work with such frequency that I knew what not to put in my freezer And, and you know, possum is one of those animals, you know, I think I can make magic with any game that there is, there are two animals that I can’t do anything with. One of them is possum.

Eddie Nickens (15:56): 

Oh, that hurts me.

Andrew Zimmern (15:57):

Well, you can braise it. You can braise it all you want. You can make it tender all you want. To me, it’s not redeemable. There’s lots of other animals. I would rather braise it. I like raccoon.

Eddie Nickens (16:09): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (16:09): 

A lot.

Eddie Nickens (16:10): 

Raccoon’s good.

Andrew Zimmern (16:10):

I like nutria a lot. And the other one is gar.

Eddie Nickens (16:14):

Yeah. But I’m gonna, I’m gonna push back a little bit on the possum. Andrew, if you’ve not had classic possum and sweet potatoes, possum and sweet potatoes in the south, you’re missing out. You’re missing out.

Andrew Zimmern (16:26):

Well, I’m gonna, I’m gonna come and eat some with you one day then, because I’m always willing to be convinced I’m wrong.

Eddie Nickens (16:32): 

You do that.

Dave DiBenedetto (16:33):

I’ve never heard you talk about possum before, T. Edward.

Eddie Nickens (16:36):

Dude, I have an affinity for the possum.

Dave DiBenedetto (16:38): 

Really?

Eddie Nickens (16:39):

I, I once wrote a 6,000 word that will be of no surprise to you, no story on the, on the role of the possum and colonial American culture. It was called the wonder of the land animals, the a possum collected in North Carolina. I think it was 1709 was taken back to London. This is, I am telling the God’s honest truth, taking it back to London in a cage. It was the first marsupial that had ever been seen in Europe. And people lined the streets of London just to get a gander at what was called the wonder of the land animal. I’m a one man possum appreciation society. We’ll talk about this later.

Dave DiBenedetto (17:21):

So they wanted to see it. They didn’t want to eat it.

Eddie Nickens (17:24):

We’re sort of going off on a tangent here, so maybe we ought to come back a little bit. Andrew, you know, your career path. I’m curious about this connection between sort of cooking and the outdoors and how that started. You started as a cook in a seafood restaurant.

Andrew Zimmern (17:40):

Yep. I took my first paycheck in the summer of 1975 at the Quiet Clam on the Montauk Highway, old Montauk Highway. And, you know, my father told me, you’re 14, there’s no more allowance, gotta get a job. And I wanted to be at the beach. I wanted to be around girls in the ocean. So I took a nighttime job in my godmother’s restaurant. And, you know, within 15 minutes of being in that restaurant, I knew that I was better than the person they had in that station because I could shuck clams and oysters faster. You know, my mother and I, I’d worked in her garden since I was a little kid. So I understood more about lettuce and greens than, than this fellow did. You know, I wound up having a very successful summer there. And I’ve, I’ve never stopped earning a paycheck from a restaurant in one form or, or another since. So that, that’s a pretty long streak.

photo: outdoor channel
Red wine braised duck with spinach and potato strings.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:35):

It’s interesting to me what I didn’t know, but even as a young kid, you were going to lunch at James Beard’s, like James Beard’s house, right?

Andrew Zimmern (18:45):

Yeah. My dad was friends with him.

Dave DiBenedetto (18:46):

Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s pretty amazing.

Andrew Zimmern (18:50):

It sounds like slightly more rarefied air than it actually is. Only in that in the sixties in New York City, if you lived downtown and you love food than you knew James Beard and Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey and, and all of these incredible people who were down there. So my father became friendly with Beard. And it’s no exaggeration to say that 47 Sundays a year, Jim Beard had an open door brunch at his house.

Dave DiBenedetto (19:20): 

Wow.

Eddie Nickens (19:21): 

Wow.

Andrew Zimmern (19:21):

It was not a morning brunch, it was a, an afternoon brunch. And, his home, which is where the old Beard Foundation was started, was about three blocks away from my father’s home. There were always big roasts that were sort of the centerpiece of these big tables. He had food on two floors. He always had a salmon of some kind, smoked, poached, baked. He always had a show off dish. You know, a trapezoidal shaped fish cooked in a turbo tierre. It was just people’s gustatory pleasure was what I took away as the big memory maker, because it took me another 20 years after that to hear people in a room oohing and ahhing about food again.

Dave DiBenedetto (20:04): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (20:04):

I mean, everyone who walked in that door wanted to talk about how you made that sauce, what was in that dish. And it was, it was a very exciting time for me, especially as someone who knew since birth that they wanted to be in the food business.

Eddie Nickens (20:16):

What changed that 20 years, Andrew?

Andrew Zimmern (20:18):

The food revolution in America, those folks in the sixties in the, in that house at that time, were the people that over the next couple of decades, literally birthed the American Food Revolution. You know, when I left to go to college, my father fought for reservations for lunch at fancy restaurants in Midtown. No one fought over dinner reservations. It wasn’t a thing.

Dave DiBenedetto (20:42): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (20:43):

By the time I graduated college in the early eighties, it was a thing. Some miraculous things happened. One of the biggest being import export laws with Italy were changed around so that people were bringing Italian goods into the United States in a way that had never been done before. There was no balsamic vinegar in America before that trade act. There was no aged Parmesan before that trade act. There were not 30 different kinds of olive oil. Right.

Eddie Nickens (21:13): 

Interesting.

Andrew Zimmern (21:13):

And so, consequently, a fire was lit amongst all the Italian chefs in America. And there were many that finally they could get these ingredients. 1974, I think what kickstarted everything in many ways in New York was Kissinger’s pursuit of detante with China at Nixon’s behest. And that trade accord brought Chinese chefs over to New York from other regions. All of these things sort of led to a real sea change in the eighties where food started to become the new rock, the eighties birth, the Food network, and then it was Katy bar the door.

Dave DiBenedetto (21:52):

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Eddie Nickens (22:37):

I didn’t hear that. What was that?

Dave DiBenedetto (22:41):

So Andrew, you’ve got two shows that are gonna be on this year about wild game cooking. You got the Wild Game Kitchen and Field to Fire, correct?

Andrew Zimmern (22:51): 

Yup, that is correct.

Dave DiBenedetto (22:52):

You talk about, I think it’s in the description or, or it’s said in the description of Field to Fire, that it’s about demystifying cooking wild food. And I’m curious what your take on what the mystery is.

Andrew Zimmern (23:08):

I think there’s several mysteries. What do I do with this leaner animal? What do I do with something that still has fur or hide or scales on it?

Dave DiBenedetto (23:18): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (23:19):

What do I do with something this fresh? And as you both know, certain fish need to come out of rigor before they’re, they’re really delicious. Certain animals are better cleaned a certain way and then hung to age for a day or two, or three or four or longer. Some animals need to be eaten right away.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:40): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (23:40):

In fact, with every passing second, I would argue crab and shrimp, for that matter, become less delicious.

Dave DiBenedetto (23:48): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (23:49):

So I think there’s a lot of mystery involved in there for the home cook. I think even more so when you start to say, well, we’re just gonna cook it over open fire, which to me is the best way to cook anything. And the reason it’s tricky is we’ve all gotten spoiled by turning a dial and regulating temperature. But the minute you cook something wild, where every fish in the ice chest is gonna be a different size, different width and length. Right? Filets included. Each animal, depending what month you take it in, is going to taste different and cook differently because of what it’s been eating, how much fat it’s put on, what the temperature was like out, there are so many variables. And then you have the variable of heat and how to control that. That’s why I find it endlessly fascinating as a professional to cook because it’s, you know, I really have to think about it. It’s way, it’s way more pleasant to cook wild things over an open fire. And then I think that there’s a whole other mystery that’s laid in there that has more to do with bias.

Dave DiBenedetto (24:57): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (24:58):

And I’ll describe one to you that I bumped into here in Minnesota, someone takes a lot of walleye in the summer, they don’t wanna freeze it ’cause they want to eat off all this walleye for the next couple of days, but after two or three days, they realize, darn, I better filet these babies, get ’em out of the ice and freeze ’em. And then they do whatever their grandpa did. Right. Freeze ’em in a block of milk. Right? Or whatever the, whatever their family tradition is, then when it’s defrosted, six months later, maybe it has a little freezer burn on it, but it’s always a little less wholesome than the day it came out of the water. And so there’s, there’s whole generations of people here in the upper Midwest. They’re like, oh, I I’m not really a big fan of fish. And I’m like, why? It’s, oh, growing up it was kind of fishy.

Dave DiBenedetto (25:49): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (25:49):

And I’m like, right, because grandma and grandpa were making you eat old fish. nobody wants to eat old fish. Lemme tell you, so people have, you know, a recollection of, oh, when I was little, I think someone fed us black bear and it was really greasy and really gamey, or people think that certain critter somehow tastes less elegant than a really great piece of, of,

Eddie Nickens (26:17): 

Possum!

Andrew Zimmern (26:18):

Dry aged beef or possum. And I always use squirrel as the example. I happen to be a real squirrel lover.

Dave DiBenedetto (26:25):

Yeah, that makes you and T. Edward on this call, squirrel aficionados.

Andrew Zimmern (26:29):

I, I love it. I’d eat squirrel twice a week if I could. As human beings, we practice contempt prior to investigation because anybody who’s had fresh squirrel Yeah. I’d put that food up against absolutely anything.

Eddie Nickens (26:43):

Hey, before we get into some recipe questions, let’s go back to this notion of, of game care, Andrew, and taking care of fish and game, you know, way before it hits the plate or way before it hits the pot. I, I don’t think there’s gamey animals. I think there’s animals treated poorly after you get ’em home. I mean this is a little bit of a pedestal, you know, I’ll butcher all my deer on a laundry table beside the washing machine. All of my ducks are aged in the refrigerator. I bring ’em home from the swamp. If they’re gut shot, I’ll, I’ll gut ’em. But most of the time, I, I don’t, I don’t even gut ’em. They go in the vegetable crisper, which was an alarming moment for my mother-in-law the first time she came to the house. But I’ll age these things five or six days, you know, without thinking about it. And I know David’s the same way when he’s.

Dave DiBenedetto (27:38): 

Yeah, absolutely.

Eddie Nickens (27:39):

When he’s saltwater fishing, I mean, we’re crazy about taking care of a game before it ever, ever hits a stove top. Talk to us a little bit about that.

Andrew Zimmern (27:47):

Yeah. I think we have to acknowledge that there are certain animals that have a predilection to gaminess or spoilage on a faster calendar than other animals. Right.

Eddie Nickens (27:59): 

Okay.

Andrew Zimmern (28:00):

There just are. But the other great fact that people miss is that dealing with anything right away is the preferred way to do it. Right. Even if that right away is simply cleaning out the entrails and leaving it to hang inside a refrigerator or inside your garage if it’s the right temperature. But there are certain times of year I actually have a set of nails that is like, those are my duck nails in November.

Dave DiBenedetto (28:26): 

Yep.

Andrew Zimmern (28:26):

And because I know that my garage is like 48 to 50 degrees in November, that’s where I can hang ducks for three, four days. And it is just absolutely perfect. But I know there are people out there listening who are simply the recipients of meat, and no one wants to tell their uncle Jerry that he doesn’t clean an animal properly. But I will tell you, I’m glad that when I took my first raccoon, someone showed me how to clean it and take the glands. They’re pretty darn stinky out of parts of that animal. I’m glad that my first experience eating bear was with, a Cherokee family in North Carolina that taught me how to clean that animal. And the whole family helped out because they were so persnickety about the way that they cleaned it and butchered it. I think there are a lot of mysteries for people about how to cook game. I do think that the secret behind the success to my outdoor cooking shows is an idea we had literally on the set. I think the first thing that I was doing was elk chops or something very mundane. But I remember I had the thought, and it never came up in six months of pre-pro on this show. Well, what about the people out there watching the show that don’t have an elk chop in their drawer? And so I right away said, you know, saying the effect of, you know, today I’m cooking elk chops, and by the way, if you’re cooking lamb chops or a tomahawk ribeye, you’re gonna use the same technique and the same recipe that I’m using right here. And it just came outta my mouth. And we made sure that every recipe that if you didn’t have a wild bird, you could do it with a store-bought bird. If you didn’t have a sheep’s head that you took in the slews around Charleston, that you could do the same thing with another firm fleshed white fish from your local fishmonger. The recipes were inspirational as well as aspirational. And I think that helped bring a big crowd into our, under our tent that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

Eddie Nickens (30:40):

Hey, boss man. What’s your favorite fish to eat? I’m assuming it’s a saltwater fish. What’s your favorite?

Dave DiBenedetto (30:45):

Yeah. I mean, I don’t think you can beat a gag grouper. I love a gag grouper. I know that doesn’t sound sexy, but right after that black sea bass to me are tremendous. I’ll take a black sea bass over, a nice black sea bass over a red snapper any day of the week.

Eddie Nickens (31:03):

What do you have trouble cooking? You you cook more fish than I do.

Dave DiBenedetto (31:07):

Yeah. Yeah. I, let me add this quickly to that preparation. One thing I’ve been, that I’ve been doing since I moved to Charleston is when I clean my fish, I don’t let them touch fresh water. Even at the filet table, Eddie, I’ll have a bucket of salt water and I’ll filet and then I’ll rinse ’em off in the salt water, and then I’ll put ’em, you know, in the cooler to take home. And then, and then when I get home, there’s a whole nother level of preparation. I’ll spray off the table with fresh water, but I try not to let fresh water hit the meat of that fish because it immediately starts taking away from the quality of the fish. Have you heard that, Andrew?

Eddie Nickens (31:44):

Really? You don’t hose ’em down with the mold and crusted 300 foot long hose that runs back to the, to the marina dock.

Dave DiBenedetto (31:52):

No. Nope. I see a lot of people do it.

Andrew Zimmern (31:55):

I wanna explain one thing to people. And by the way, ice that comes from an ice company that is in a bag comes from filtered water. Okay. So even that is better than water out of the hose because the water outta the hose at the dock Right. Is always city water. It oftentimes has a lot of chemicals in it, usually chlorine. And I always bring a box of salt with me. By the way, it, it’s even more important in a way for clams and oysters and shrimp and lobster. It’s just fresh water is the, can be the death of a lot of flavors.

Eddie Nickens (32:35): 

Wow.

Andrew Zimmern (32:35):

You know, with fish, to me it’s always about diet. Right?

Dave DiBenedetto (32:39):

Yep.

Andrew Zimmern (32:39):

I’ve probably tried mutton snapper, I don’t know, dozen times.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:44): 

Yep.

Andrew Zimmern (32:44): 

It’s fine. I like it.

Dave DiBenedetto (32:45): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (32:46):

We got a mutton snapper that had been taken from the water 24 hours before I broke it down. That fish had so much beautiful fat inside it. I sliced it and it was like eating Japanese yellowtail.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:04): 

Wow.

Andrew Zimmern (33:04):

I mean, it was extraordinary. Now the fish was also as fresh a snapper as I’ve ever seen.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:11): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (33:11):

This fish was still opalescent the meat sprang back when you pushed in from its scaly exterior bulging clear eyes, super clean smelling, bright red gills. I mean, it was just exquisite.

Eddie Nickens (33:25):

Well, the salt water, the bucket of salt water in the cooler. I’ll add that to the long list of what we call the DiBenedetto epiphanies.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:36):

Eddie, I didn’t answer your question, Eddie. The fish that are tougher for me. Certainly tougher for me to get the whole family to eat.

Eddie Nickens (33:42): 

Yeah.

Dave DiBenedetto (33:43):

You know, smoked bluefish, okay. That’s one way to do it. But yeah, I, that’s a tough one. You know, and when I think about, for me, I don’t want to be the only one in the house eating it, you know? I want everybody to enjoy it. So bluefish is tough in my house.

Andrew Zimmern (33:57):

Yep, I think it’s tough for everyone. Now that is a fish that has to be cleaned the right way.

Eddie Nickens (34:01): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (34:02):

Really, really benefits from being gutted really quickly tied to a line and troll it for a hundred yards backwards in, in the ocean to really purge that animal. Then the second thing that I do is I filet that fish right away. I mean, I’ll filet it on the boat. I will take out the bloodline and then you’re gonna have your best shot at creating something really lovely. Now, obviously smoked bluefish is epically delicious.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:31): 

Yes. Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (34:31): 

But I grew up on that.

Dave DiBenedetto (34:32): 

Right, right.

Andrew Zimmern (34:33):

But my father cleaned them really well, and then he would bake them Portuguese style. These days I do it en papillote Portuguese style. If I’m gonna put it in a pan and smother it with onions and tomatoes and olives and olive oil and minced garlic and lots of parsley and lemon juice and some orange zest and bake that. It’s probably better for me to do smaller pieces. Make the sauce first ’cause I want a lot of flavor in that sauce that I can’t get cooking at 10, 12 minutes in the oven because then the fish are overdone. Right? So I tend to make my sauce ahead of time and then I put it in a cartouche, a paper fold, seal it with egg wash, fold it around the edges and bake it that way. And it’s a dramatic presentation. It’s so easy to do and everyone loves it. And then halfway through they’re like, what fish is this?

Dave DiBenedetto (35:29): 

Right.

Andrew Zimmern (35:30):

I’m not trying to mask over flavors with the blue fish. The point is that there’s very few fish that can stand up to that, right?

Dave DiBenedetto (35:38): 

Right, right, right.

Andrew Zimmern (35:39):

I’ll put king mackerel.

Dave DiBenedetto (35:40): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (35:40):

In that category, right? You know, fish that can sort of get away from the home cook and that the person who’s a an early adapter to eating seafood, you don’t start them out on blue fish or king mackerel. I mean, that is, that is for sure.

Eddie Nickens (35:54):

Yeah. Were does the cream of mushroom soup go in that, in that recipe? Well, see, this is the thing. Did you miss that one?

Andrew Zimmern (35:59):

I, I’m glad you brought that up. When we were talking about demystifying earlier, I got to Minnesota, this is going back 30, 31 years. I go pheasant hunting with my friends and we’ve cleaned the birds and he starts cracking open tins of cream of mushroom soup. And he goes to the garage and comes back with two crockpots. I’m like, what are you doing? And he’s like, dinner, we better get this on because it’s gonna need eight or nine hours. And I’m like, eight or nine hours? That’s a pheasant. I mean, the way you cook a pheasant is, you know, confis the legs and then take the breast meat and fly it through a warm kitchen. I mean, you just wanna barely cook that thing. And I was just stunned. I’m like, eight or nine hours. Then someone said to me, you know, and hopefully the bones all float to the bottom. And I’m just like, oh my God. You’re, you’re, you’re not cooking that. You’re incinerating it. Now look, I don’t want to yuck on anyone’s yum. And if, if someone’s grandmother, you know, made you pheasant in the crockpot with cream and mushroom soup and that’s your idea of comfort food

Dave DiBenedetto (37:10):

Right. Your tradition, if that’s your tradition, then so be it.

Andrew Zimmern (37:13):

That’s your thing, go for it. I just want the opportunity to show you what a pan-seared pheasant breast, de glazed with apple brandy, diced apples, apple cider and apple cider vinegar with shallots and tarragon and a little bit of rich poultry stock finished with a little hint of cream and do it in the classic style of Normandy, which is a region in France that has a lot of pheasants and a lot of apples. And, you know, I just want them to try my version and, and let me know what they think.

Eddie Nickens (37:47):

So a couple of, couple of straight up serious questions here for you. Andrew, say I just moved into my first home and my cupboards are bare. Okay. Well actually, as a freelance writer, my cupboards are skill bare. But for the sake of argument, tell me the top eight or 10 spices or condiments that I need specific to fish and game. And then I want you to tell me, maybe a half dozen top cooking implements.

Andrew Zimmern (38:17):

Wow. Things that I can’t cook, fish and game without. Great mustards, great oils. And you’re gonna have to have some, I mean, look, you know, I like olive oil, but that can go very bad over very high heat very quickly. And it can turn food bitter when it’s emulsified with too much water. So, you know, I like to have other oils on hand, especially with game. I’ve kind of become, a little bit addicted to certain nut oils to make sauces and things with like hazelnut oil, especially with game birds is just a wonderful, in the same way that Italians will finish a veal chop off the grill with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. If I’m taking grilled pigeon off of the grill, some salt and a little drizzle of toasted hazelnut oil is all I need. Maybe a few drops of sherry wine vinegar you don’t even need, you don’t need a sauce. Let that be the seasoning. I think classic Herbes de Provence mixture, heavy with rosemary and thyme is something that I definitely can’t live without.

Eddie Nickens (39:20): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (39:21):

Chilies, it doesn’t need to blow your mouth out, but so many meats take so well to being rubbed with salt and chilies and chilies go so well with so many red meats. You know, all the hoofed animals, you know, cooking equipment. First thing I take with me everywhere is the biggest cast iron skillet. I, I never said to anyone I could use a smaller cast iron skillet.

photo: outdoor channel
Andrew preps fried bison bites.

Eddie Nickens (39:46): 

Yeah.

Andrew Zimmern (39:46):

Those words have never escaped my lips. I’m addicted to meat hooks and chains to hang meat over a fire.

Eddie Nickens (39:54):

This is, this is a, this is a family podcast now, Andrew. What are we doing with meat hooks and chains buddy?

Andrew Zimmern (40:01):

Noted. Tripod grills, which are very European and African thing, they’re not really used here in the states, although they’re getting more and more popular. You can take a 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 inch section of chain, depends how hot your fire is, but something pretty small gauge, but can hold chops and animals that I can put a meat hook through and hook the other side on the bottom of that chain and roast it over an open fire. That to me is the easiest thing in the whole world to make, you know, keeping the bird or the meat or the fish far enough away from the fire so that it, it’s not the recipient of sooty flareups that are black and greasy, but close enough so that it still cooks and gets heat. I do think that certain types of baskets, especially for cooking over open fire. There’s so many variables when you’re cooking over open fire to put a five pound fish inside a big fish basket and clip it closed and be able just to turn it just by turning the basket and not have to worry about it sticking or what you’re gonna do with it. Because the most important thing is that that fish be in contact just the right amount of time with a lot of high heat so that those skin and scales char up and that smokiness permeates that flesh. Then when you open up the basket, who cares what sticks to the outside of it. I even cook whole game birds in fish baskets, you know, let ’em marinate for a day in soy sauce and lemon juice and wine and garlic and oil. Just line them up in that fish basket and just keep turning them until they’re done. I happen to think with a lot of food, not just wild foods, less is more. When I go deer hunting, I always carry a little bit of olive oil, salt, a lemon, and some rosemary sprigs because I like to eat the kidneys and the heart and the liver right away. And I like to grill them medium rare. I like to char my rosemary sprigs and crush it up with some salt. So I make a mixture that’s 15, 20% salt and the rest is charred rosemary, if you have thyme too, rosemary and thyme and use that to season it with a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil. I’d rather eat deer, kidneys and deer liver and deer heart that way than any other way there is.

Dave DiBenedetto (42:32):

Alright fellas, this has been very, very fun. I hate to say that we’re coming to the end here and Andrew, I have a question for you that may help kind of bring this all together. I saw you have a new project coming up that’s close to my heart, close to the ethos of what we’re trying to do here at the Wild South and it’s called Hope in the Water. Will you tell us just quickly what that is and what that’s about?

Andrew Zimmern (42:56):

Sure. This project had its origin story about 10 years ago when I met a fish farmer named Dave. Dave, the fish farmer had actually gotten into the TV business so that he could have more time to fish. I found out later that Dave, the, the trout farmer was David E. Kelly, the TV producer.

Eddie Nickens (43:18): 

How about that?

Andrew Zimmern (43:19):

And he felt that water conservation of all types was the key to not only our planet’s health, but also held the key to our own wellness and was gonna be the only way that we could feed our planet. So we started talking and about three years ago we decided to make a documentary series called Hope in the Water, telling 20, 25 stories from around the world in first person, let the people who have, who are living the issue tell us their story and their solutions for how we can both protect our water and produce out of them at the same time. And it goes back to that same idea that we talked about earlier about people who hunt and fish being the best conservationists I know ’cause they understand.

Dave DiBenedetto (44:10): 

That’s right.

Andrew Zimmern (44:10):

The forest, they understand the field, they understand the weather, they understand the ocean. And so we set about to create this very special documentary. I think it is one of the finest pieces of work I’ve ever done. I’m just thrilled about it. Premieres June 19th on PBS nationally carried everywhere. It comes with a massive multi, multimillion dollar impact campaign so that we can show people in supermarkets courtesy of the little blue sticker, what a blue food truly is, what a sustainable blue food is, as well as being able to put curriculum into schools to teach people about our oceans and waterways. And I’m just so proud of it. We’ve been making this for four or five years now.

Dave DiBenedetto (44:53): 

Wow.

Andrew Zimmern (44:54):
And shot on five continents. So, it’s an ambitious project.

Dave DiBenedetto (44:57):

Well, I can’t wait for one that, that sounds terrific. Interesting. And like something we need. And I also just want to say it was so darn nice to have you on this podcast, AZ.

Andrew Zimmern (45:09): 

Oh, thank you. 

Dave DiBenedetto (45:10):

It just makes me want to get, either, sit around a table with you or more importantly, maybe get you out on a boat again. So, come to Charleston soon.

Andrew Zimmern (45:18):

Yes. I was thinking the same thing. You know how much I love spending time with you and I gotta come down there ’cause I gotta check out, that possum and tatters.

Eddie Nickens (45:28):

Lemme tell you, lemme tell you since we brought up the blue fish, you know, bluefish and bluefish and possum is kinda like the, it’s the freelance writer’s surf and turf buddy. So I’ll put it, I’ll put it on the table for you.

Andrew Zimmern (45:40):

I love that. I’ll cook the bluefish. You cook the possum.

Eddie Nickens (45:44):

Awfully good to meet you, Andrew.

Dave DiBenedetto (45:46):

All right. This has been fun. Thank you AZ.

Andrew Zimmern (45:49):

Thank you my friend. I appreciate it. Great to talk to you guys.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:01):

So I finally figured out what the T. in T. Edward Nickens stands for. Stands for Possum and Taters.

Eddie Nickens (46:09):

The mystery is revealed and it warms my heart that my friend Dave is the one who figured it all out. Tater Edward Nickens, we’ll go with that. And what a great conversation, right? That we just had with Andrew Zimmern.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:28): 

Yeah.

Eddie Nickens (46:28):

And I’m stoked about this three-part docuseries this three episodes on PBS Hope in the Water. Folks ought to really tune in to this. More about food security, more about the nexus between the environment and how we get our food. This guy, you know, he pushed the envelope 15 years ago. Andrew is still out there pushing the envelope.

Dave DiBenedetto (46:51):

Absolutely. You know, we’ve said this about a number of our guests this season, which is, which is pretty cool that it’s so great to have these type of folks on the front lines, right? Really pushing for the environment that we love and spreading the word about what can be done and what needs to be done.

Eddie Nickens (47:08):

Yeah. So you guys check it out. It’s on PBS right now. Hope in the Water, it’s gonna really make you think.

Dave DiBenedetto (47:17):

Alright, the Wild South comes to you from Garden and Gun Magazine. This episode was produced and edited by Christine Fennessy with music by our long time friends, Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan. You can find us wherever you get your shows

Eddie Nickens (47:33):

And wherever you get your shows. Please leave us a review we’re a little bit of the new kids on the block here. We’d love to hear what you think.

Dave DiBenedetto (47:42):

Yeah. As long as it’s positive, just positive. No, I’m kidding. Alright. Here from Charleston, South Carolina, I’m Dave DiBenedetto.

Eddie Nickens (47:49):

And here in Raleigh, North Carolina, Eddie Nickens. We’ll see you next time on the Wild South. 

Also see:

Books by Andrew

Hope in the Water

Fed by Blue


Wild South credits:

Producer and editor: Christine Fennessy
Music: Woody Platt and Bennett Sullivan
Artwork: Lars Leetaru
Transcripts editor: Katherine Jarvis


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