I started hunting ducks late in life, but they occasionally showed up on the dinner table when I was a boy, gifts from hunting relatives. I did not like the ducks my mother and grandmother prepared. Both women were wonderful cooks, but ducks weren’t common fare in our household, and apparently my mom and granny had no proper experience in their preparation. The birds they served were roasted for long periods with no enhancements. They tasted like liver and were dry and tough.
I remember well the first time I tasted good duck — a fat ricefield mallard cooked to perfection by Betty, a chef at Hartz’ Duck Camp near Stuttgart, AR. What a revelation! Could this succulent bird really be the same animal my mother and grandmother had prepared? Had I been so foolish as to turn my nose up at this incredibly delectable gamebird for all those years?
I soon discovered that duck can serve as the basis for a wide variety of mouth-watering recipes. The meat is dark and less moist than domestic duck, with a much more pronounced — and in my opinion, pleasing — flavor.
If you absolutely must have your meat cooked well-done, ducks can be covered in bacon, basted and cooked in a covered pan or slow cooker to add moisture that might otherwise be lost. It’s been my experience, however, that wild ducks should always be on the rare side if you want to enjoy the full flavor. Overcooking makes the meat dry, tough and unpalatable. When roasting, allow 20 minutes per pound maximum. When cooking by other methods, remove the ducks from heat while the meat still retains as much pinkness as you can stand.
Another important point about duck roasting is not to allow the fat to accumulate in the pan. As it melts, the fat should be spooned off and used to baste the bird, the more often the better. By so doing, you render the flesh more tender, and you return the flavor from the pan to the duck.
Here are some tried-and-true recipes from our family cookbook you’re sure to enjoy.
Stuttgart Betty’s Roast Ducks
Any number of ducks
Green bell peppers
Salt the ducks to taste, and rub with baking soda. Allow to sit 1 hour, then wash off the soda. Stuff the body cavity of each bird with small chunks of onion, bell pepper and celery, then rub each bird with flour. Place in a large roasting pan with enough water to half cover the ducks. Cook in a 350-degree oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until the birds are tender. Remove the vegetable stuffing and discard. Halve each bird lengthwise before serving. If desired, thicken the broth from the ducks with a milk and flour mixture to make gravy. Each duck serves 1 to 2.
See page 2 for more.
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup plum or crabapple jelly
Rub the cavity of ducks with salt, and place the birds on the rotisserie spit. Set the spit so the revolving birds just clear the fire. Roast and check for doneness in 1 1/2 hours. Brush ducks the last 15 minutes with a mixture of the butter, orange juice and jelly melted together in a pan. Serves 2 to 4.
Grilled Marinated Duck Breasts
3/4 cup Italian salad dressing
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 3 lemons
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pepper to taste
16 boneless duck breast fillets (2 from each duck)
16 slices bacon
Combine the first five ingredients, and pour the mixture over the duck breast fillets. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Remove duck breasts from marinade, and wrap each in a bacon slice; secure bacon with toothpicks. Grill over slow coals 7 minutes on each side or until bacon is done. Serves 4 to 8.
Papa Schuess’s Duck Roll Appetizers
10 boneless, skinless medium or large duck breast fillets
1/2 cup olive oil
2 (1.25-oz.) packages taco seasoning mix
5 fresh jalapenos, halved and seeded
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
10 green onions
20 bacon slices
Marinate duck breasts overnight in the refrigerator in a mixture of the olive oil and taco seasoning. Drain at time of preparation.
Fill each half of jalapeno with cream cheese and place a cut green onion on each. Place the cream cheese side of a jalapeno opposite the skin side of a duck breast. Roll-wrap each breast with 2 bacon slices to cover most of the meat. Secure bacon with toothpicks. Repeat with remaining duck breasts.
Grill 5 to 7 minutes per side over medium heat, just until the meat is medium rare. Transfer to a plate, cover with plastic wrap or foil, and cool in the refrigerator overnight. (Breasts also can be served as a main-course meat right off the grill.) Cut each bacon-wrapped breast crossways into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Arrange on a serving platter. Allow to stand until the pieces reach room temperature. Serve. Yield: about 36 to 48 pieces.
Duck, Sausage and Oyster Gumbo
1 pound sliced okra
1/4 cup bacon drippings
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 large white onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
7 cups water
Cubed breast meat from 2 cooked ducks
1 pound smoked sausage, cubed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 pint oysters
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Cook okra in 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings until tender; set aside. Make a roux by heating the remaining bacon grease and butter in a Dutch oven; stir in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the roux is a caramel color. Add the white onion, bell pepper and celery; cook until onion is clear. Add 3 cups water, the cooked okra, duck meat, sausage, salt, black pepper, green onions, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer for 2 hours. Add 4 more cups water with the oysters, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. Continue simmering 1 hour. Serve over cooked rice. Serves 8 to 12.