Did you know that the only way you can get a hold of wild duck in this country is by shooting it yourself, or having extraordinarily generous hunter friends who share their bounty? It’s the law. Certain migratory birds can be hunted in season, but not sold. We were the lucky recipients of some teal ducks recently from our hunting friends Hank and Holly. I’ve never eaten, let alone cooked wild duck, and let me tell you, it is an entirely different experience than working with ducks from the grocery store. What follows is a loose recipe and several notes on cooking wild duck, for my own benefit so I remember the next time, as well as for anyone else out there who may have the opportunity to cook wild duck. And for any of you who happened to be seasoned duck hunters, please feel free to offer cooking suggestions in the comments.
The first thing to note is that wild ducks aren’t like chickens or turkey that you have to cook until 170°F. Wild duck is best eaten rare. The juices run red, not clear, more like a beautiful juicy red steak. The meat itself is a deep garnet red. It is easy to overcook the meat, like overcooking a pork tenderloin. Except when you overcook duck, the meat tastes game-y, like liver.
The taste of wild duck is highly dependent on where that duck has been feeding. According to the Joy of Cooking, shallow water ducks feeding on local grains, like mallards, widgeons, and teal, can be very succulent, while diving ducks feed on fish, affecting their flavor. Wild ducks are much more flavorful than domesticated ducks, as their muscles are getting a constant work-out, which is also why their flesh is so red. The taste is closer to steak than to chicken.
I experimented with two recipes, one with rosemary in the cavity and a sherry cream sauce, and the other with orange rind in the cavity and an orange juice reduction sauce. We all agreed that the rosemary recipe was great and the orange recipe wasn’t worth repeating. So, here is the recipe we liked, note that there are no set amounts, this recipe is more of a loose guideline than anything else.
- Wild (not domesticated) whole duck(s), prepped (gutted, head and feet removed, plucked clean of feathers, shot and any bruised areas removed)
- Olive oil
- Coarse salt
- Whole Cloves
- Dry Sherry
1 Preheat oven to 450°F. Inspect duck to see if there are any remaining pin feathers, if so, remove them. Rinse the duck with water. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Lightly stuff duck with a sprig of rosemary, an apple slice with a few cloves poked in them to hold them in place, and a small wedge of onion.
2 Slather the duck inside and out with olive oil. Generously sprinkle all sides of the duck with coarse salt. Lay, breast up, on a roast rack in a roasting pan. Place in the middle rack of the oven. Immediately lower the heat to 425°F.
Cooking times depend on the variety of the duck. Teal ducks typically weigh less than a pound and cook in 10-15 minutes. According to the Joy of Cooking a mallard can take up to 25 minutes. Our duck was perfectly done at 13 minutes. Another duck we cooked for 17 minutes was slightly overdone. Meat thermometers are hardly useful with the small fowl because there isn't enough flesh to put the thermometer into. But if you have an instant read thermometer and can get a good read, my pal Hank suggests cooking until the duck reaches an internal temp of 135°F. If you error on the rare and underdone side, you can always put the bird back in the oven for a few more minutes if it isn't done enough.
If you aren't using a meat thermometer, to test for doneness you can take the bird out of the oven and cut a part of it with the tip of a sharp knife. Note that the juices will run red, and the meat will be quite red. You want the meat to be rare (wild duck only); it should look like a rare (not raw) steak. The more the meat is cooked beyond the rare stage, the more "livery" or gamey it will taste.
3 Remove the duck from the oven and remove to a separate rack or plate to rest, breast side down, for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the stuffing in the cavity before serving.
4 While the duck is resting, if there are drippings in the roasting pan, pour off the excess fat (save this wonderful fat for another recipe). Place the roasting pan on the stovetop, heat to medium, and deglaze with a little dry sherry or white wine. Scrape up the browned bits with a metal spatula. Use a metal whisk to break up the bits even further into the wine. Reduce and then add a little cream, (and a few juniper berries if you want an extra touch). Pour off into a gravy serving dish or little bowl.
Serve ducks with wild rice and gravy. Teal ducks are single serving ducks.
Note that you can get excellent stock from the duck carcass. Put the duck carcasses in a saucepan, cover with an inch of cold water, bring to a simmer, lower the heat to barely-a-bubble-simmer covered, and cook for 3 hours. Then strain the stock to a glass jar, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate. Use the duck stock in place of chicken stock for recipes.