“What’s your favorite way to cook duck?” I asked the old duck hunter who I had gotten to know casually over the years. He said, “Well, I put the duck breasts in a bowl and then I take a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon and pour enough to cover them and let them sit for a spell.” Being one of those old codgers that the story must be dragged out of, I pried, “And then?” He wasn’t able to control the grin that started to spread across his face as he said, “Then I pick the duck breasts out, throw them in the trash and drink the bourbon.”
Sadly enough that sentiment is rather common and it seems contributes more than anything to the lack of interest in duck hunting by otherwise rabid hunters. “Are you a duck hunter?” I’ll ask of a new hunting acquaintance, hoping to see the beaming smile that duck hunters the world over cannot control when the “sport of kings” is mentioned. “No,” the hunter will say, “I just don’t like to eat them.” Fair enough, if it isn’t a predator or a furbearer and you are not going to eat it, don’t kill it.
Perhaps the secret society of duck hunter cooks has been tight lipped, perhaps deliberately to keep competition to a minimum. Cooking ducks that taste good seems to many about the same odds as winning the lottery, or at least the Super Bowl pool at work. So if you really want to hunt ducks and really want to eat ducks here’s how it goes.
Opening day of duck season my hunting partner and I deliberately try to take four teal. I say that because many duck hunters consider teal “little” ducks that aren’t worth bothering with. We bring them to camp and my partner gets the fixings ready, which consist of wild rice, butter, and Cajun seasoning, while I breast out the teal (remove the breast meat from the breast bone) and slice them into bite-size chunks. My partner has the rice nearly cooked and smoking hot when the teal chunks are thrown into a very hot skillet and stir fried for roughly five minutes. Cool, serve and eat. Amongst the very best fresh wild game meals you can imagine. I always make sure the big ducks are either plucked or breasted and stashed for the trip home before preparing the teal. What you don’t want is a bloated stomach with twelve more ducks to clean. Timing works itself out over the years and it becomes second nature.
Overcooking of ducks is one of the reasons duck has such a bad reputation for eating. Cook a duck breast like a well done steak and it will taste like a cross between liver and a leather belt. Hot cooked quick in a fry pan duck is fine eating with just a bit of salt and pepper. Soaking ducks in various liquids is a common “cure” for the taste that seems offensive to many. Some soak duck breast in milk, wine, bourbon, salt water and probably a bunch of other stuff. For baking or crock pot cooking this does seem to keep the duck moist and tender through the process. As with most fresh meat, slow cooking demands a minimum of blood and thus the soaking helps in that regard. A plucked duck stuffed with cut up peppers, onions, and potatoes and baked at medium temperature for an hour or so is some fine eating. Being relatively small, the breast is always the main portion of the meal but once cooked, the meat from the wings, back, and legs flakes right off the bone and makes a great base for a crockpot stew.
Typically an avid waterfowler will take enough ducks in the course of the season that even all of the normal recipes began to grow old. Like anything, how many days a week do you really want to eat_______; fill in the blank. Duck lends itself well to processing into pepperoni or bratwurst. Fifteen pounds of duck breasts make enough of either to keep the average hunter happy until the next season. Alaska Custom Seafood Processing in Soldotna does a great job of this but ask around for processors in your local area, there are bound to be good ones near where you live. For regular duck meals, it is best to utilize breasts and whole plucked ducks relatively quickly. Like some of our fish species, long term freezing is not conducive to good eating in waterfowl.
Goose cooking is much thesame as duck, just a bigger bird with more stuffing options if you pluck and bake them. Some folks, even die hard waterfowl hunters, have a hard time gagging down Snow geese. I grew up eating snows and always thought they were about as good as any other goose. I’ve eaten brats made of snow geese and they were delicious.
If you wonder why an avid duck hunter is trying to recruit more duck hunters and hence, more competition, there are several very good reasons. The traditions and customs of waterfowl hunting are age old and so worth keeping in the modern world that oftentimes seems to overshadow all else. Times spent in duck blinds or traipsing the deltas that provide sustenance for these magnificent creatures is a virtual lesson in the astonishing amount of flora and fauna that you otherwise would never know existed. And perhaps more important, waterfowl hunters are the reason waterfowl still thrives. Waterfowler hunter dollars account for practically all of the habitat that has been conserved for breeding, without which we would have zoo and park ducks and that’s about it. Alaskans can buy a resident hunting license and pursue eight big game species without further cost.Waterfowl hunters must spend an additional $20 in federal and state duck stamps to pursue their beloved birds. Waterfowl hunters spend more money per capita than any other hunters in the country. It’s that good and bringing more hunters into the fold simply ensures future generations will be able to enjoy a part of life that it simply to amazing to put to words, you must live it…and eat it.