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Game Gourmet: One duck hunting dish that's worth all of the effort

 

There is one common ingredient to every successful duck hunt and subsequent meal: patience.

Duck hunters wake up hours before dawn in order to stalk reeds and shorelines in the pitch black and inundate their waters with decoys. Sometime later, after shivering in a blind from early morning cold and adrenaline, they might get a chance to blow on their calls, and maybe — just maybe — that flock might circle back.

An over-anxious trigger finger will quickly shoo any flock, push them out of range. Diligent hunters remain idle, wait for that moment when those wings lock and quacking bills flaunt their bellies to their plastic counterparts below.

Half a day later, another set of chores begins.

Every duck hunter owes it to himself or herself to pluck every dry, intact bird, since it is the skin and fat that provides the greatest amount of flavor.

There are many ways to pluck a duck. Hank Shaw, author of the cookbook "Duck Duck Goose," recommends rough plucking, then dunking ducks in a giant pot of steaming water and melted paraffin wax, followed by a few minutes in cold water before removing the wax (and feathers) and cleaning.

Some hunters prefer to rough pluck then singe remaining feathers with a blow torch. You have even put my ducks in the freezer for an hour then plucked them cold, as chilled, dry duck feathers rip out pretty easily.

Whatever plucking method you choose, your time will be savored with every bite.

Fillet breasts as you would with any other bird, ensuring skin remains attached to breasts.

As the season wears on, ducks will accumulate more fat — an added bonus of flavor for hunters willing to endure the bitter cold. Try saving all rendered fat and including it in some of your other favorite recipes.

Passionate denizen of the outdoors and former line cook, Jack Hennessy is the author of the blog "Braising the Wild." Follow him on Twitter @WildGameJack.

Seared duck breasts and lemon-ginger glaze

Makes two servings

  • 2 duck breasts, approximately 6 to 8 ounces, skin on.
  • Lemon-ginger glaze:
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup shallots (cut julienne)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons lemon curd
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Half lemon squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon duck fat

To make glaze: Start 20-30 minutes prior to cooking duck. Sautee shallots, garlic and ginger in 1 tablespoon of butter. Once soft, deglaze with white wine vinegar. Zest one lemon (should yield approximately 1-1/2 tablespoons). Add remaining ingredients except duck fat. Simmer until liquids equal one-third of original amount. Start cooking duck breasts. Before placing ducks in oven, drain liquid duck fat from pan and place in bowl. Strain glaze mix through sieve into new pot (should yield only a few tablespoons), add duck fat. Boil on high for two minutes then keep on very low heat. Stir often.

To cook duck: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Salt and pepper both sides of duck. Place breasts skin-side down in cold pan. Turn burner to medium heat and cook, allowing fat to seep out gradually. Flip once a nice sear appears on skin. Cook for 2 more minutes to seal breasts. Drain fat into bowl. Place pan in oven for 6 minutes. Turn oven up to 450 degrees and pull after 4 minutes. Skin should be golden brown and internal temperature should be 130-135 degrees.

To serve: Remove breasts from hot pan. Let sit and cool for 4 minutes. Cut breast diagonally into half-inch strips. Drizzle glaze atop. Pairs well with roasted fennel. Remnants in sieve serve as a great garnish.

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