Looking for a great duck recipe? Perfect, you’re in the right place!
I was visiting our friends Dale and Bet the other day, and Bet mentioned that they had several ducks in the freezer that weren’t very tasty. And that’s being very very kind. In the three attempts they’d made to cook them, the third was the worst—in fact causing their adult son, who was cooking them, to toss his cookies, the smell was so bad. And yes, they had marinated them, all of them.
It didn’t take long to find out they were diving ducks, the problem child of the waterfowl world, and birds I make a point of not shooting. Unless there’s a puppy.
As I said I personally steer clear of diving ducks and their habitat and don’t hunt with people who smoke. (Nothing personal, but smokers tend to tolerate, or even love the taste of divers, and will invite you to their secret hunting spot just to stick you in a diving duck blind, to prove to you that divers are tasty.)
But years ago, we had a new bird dog, Keith, and were shooting any legal bird that would volunteer. I was out alone with Keith one morning, on a small backwater of the Missouri River, and along came a lesser scaup. And despite the fact that I’m not the greatest wingshooter in the world, I shot and the bird went down. Keith galumphed into the water, galumphed the bird back and I stuck it in my bird vest.
I’d done a quick draw in the field, but as soon as I got home I finished the job and rinsed the body cavity until the water ran clear. Normally, I would have then dropped it into a plastic bag and aged it in the fridge for 7-9 days, until it was easy to pluck, again. (Feathers are easiest to pluck right after the kill, but again after several days of aging. In fact it’s a sign the bird has aged enough to actually be tender: we had a mature pheasant recently that took 10 days to again pluck easily, and he was very tender in a quick-cooking skillet dish that evening.)
But this bird was going to be skinned and taken apart before being eaten. Then I’d cook it and put it in the food processor, to completely shred the meat. I didn’t need a marinade or a brine to tenderize it, but this diving bird wasn’t exactly the sweetest apple on the tree. It still needed flavor help. Lots of people do red wine marinades with duck and goose, but I prefer Mike’s Hard Apple Cider. It’s not as acidic as wine, so takes a bit longer to tenderize the meat, but that wasn’t a factor here. What I like about hard apple cider is that it adds a slightly sweet taste, and subtracts from the ‘red’ flavor of waterfowl rather than adding to it.
The duck recipe I was going to use was one my friend Rob developed from a mistake. He’d overcooked some ducks, which makes even the best culinary waterfowl taste strong and gamy. So he ad libbed from there, grabbing ingredients from the fridge and throwing them together until they tasted pretty darned good. Since then he’s found the recipe works for the divingest, fishiest and ugliest tasting waterfowl, but it also works for good tasting dabblers and grain-fed geese!
One more thing: if the duck you’re going to paté is a diver, or you’re just more fond of milder tasting game meats, I would marinate it before cooking. (Marinade instructions are in step 2 of the preparation, below.) If you have a grain fed teal, and love the flavor of teal, I’d skip the marinade. It’s up to your taste buds, and hunting preferences. And of course if it’s goose that’s lurking in your freezer, there’s no reason not to turn this into a wild goose recipe. Just weigh the breasted goose meat, and mutliply the rest of the ingredients accordingly.
Here’s his duck recipe:
Hide-Away Duck Paté
- 4 ounces duck breast meat
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 ounces softened cream cheese
- 4 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- Check out the photo that introduced this duck recipe: to take the leg from the bird’s carcass, hold the carcass firmly and press the thigh bone (femur) out and back from the body until the thigh bone pops out of the hip socket. (That white spot in the photo, sitting on the left side of the knife, mid length, is the top of the femur.) Cut down from there through the top of the thigh meat. Freeze the legs for later, I’ll post something soon. Now, breast the bird.
- Now breast the bird and drop it into a re-sealable bag with enough hard apple cider to float the breast. Press the air out of the bag, seal and refrigerate for 3-4 days (turning it daily), depending on the original flavor, and how mild you like your wild game. When you’re ready to cook, drain off the marinade and toss it.
- Dry the breasts in paper towels and let them sit while you heat the skillet. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, sauté the duck breasts in the oil over medium high heat, until well done, 170⁰F on a meat thermometer. Cool, then purée the meat in a food processor until finely shredded.
- Add the softened cream cheese, onion powder, garlic salt and white pepper to the pureed duck breast and process until blended. Serve on pumpernickel cocktail bread, toast cut into triangles or crackers.
This duck recipe was published in my Duck & Goose Cookery book which is no longer in print. But there are many waterfowl recipes in Rifle Loony News, and in Stalking the Wild Jerky, Tenderize the Wild and Sausage Season.