1.26.2012

The Local Food Report: hunting ducks

When I was about Sally's size, my mother used to call me her puddle duck. I had no idea that this was a real term until the other day, when I started researching duck hunting.


(Photo courtesy Chris Benesh)

It's duck hunting season, and that up there is a black duck, a type of puddle duck. Puddle ducks are also called dabbling ducks, and they spend most of their time feeding in shallow water. They're also local hunters' favorite, because they're the best ducks for eating. 

The other kind of ducks you can hunt around here are sea ducks. Hunters don't like these as much. Why? They're divers, which means they eat lots of fish, and so their meat tastes fishy. My friend Dave Townsend, who's been hunting and eating ducks around here for years, says he's ruined a lot of perfectly good spices and herbs and sauces trying to mask the taste, and the sea birds just aren't worth cooking.

Not everyone agrees. Some people say they don't mind the taste of sea ducks. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that they shot the duck and therefore feel compelled to come up with a tasty way to eat it, but hey, I understand. Unsurprisingly, most sea duck recipes come from hunting websites (there are some good-looking ones over here and one hilariously titled Keith's Practically Edible Sea Duck over here), or chatrooms where experienced cooks and hunters share their tips (this thread on Chowhound is especially good).

When it comes to the better-tasting ducks—puddle ducks like blacks or mallards—the recipes sound much more appealing. Dave says he would soak his black duck breasts in milk before pan-searing them, which seems to be a common technique. Hank Shaw of Hunter/Angler/Gardener/Cook has a great basic tutorial for how to cook wild duck breasts, which you can find over here

But the best-looking recipe I've found is for duck breasts with orange sauce. Duck and orange are a traditional pairing—think Duck a 'lOrange from the sixties—and this recipe from ducks.org for Duck Breasts with Grand Marnier Sauce seems in line with the recommendations I've read. Most people who've cooked wild duck say to add plenty of fat (note the 3/4 cup butter) and to not to over-cook the meat (this recipe says to sear it medium rare). 

I've never shot a duck, but Alex has his license, and every year, he says he's going to go hunting. Shotgun season is over for the year—you can find the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife regulations for migratory bird hunting over here—but falconry season goes until February 9th. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days he and Fisher will bring home a bird.

1 comment :

Bethany said...

Sitting in the marsh is a nice break, but raising ducks ourselves also gives us the opportunity to control what they eat - no small concern in this area these days. And they are so incredibly easy to care for.

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