With the height of hunting season in November, now is the time to prepare some delicious wild game. Duck and venison are two of the most rewarding and healthy sources of protein. This table fare is gratifying because obtaining it requires so much more than just picking it up from the grocery store. Home chefs relive the hunt and all that went into that memorable experience while preparing and enjoying the meal. No meat is healthier than wild game, which is the ultimate in free range and organic. As a source of complete protein providing all the essential amino acids for muscles, red meat has it all — unlike other forms of protein. Once the duck or deer has been taken from the field, preparation is key to preserving the freshness and rich flavors these meats provide.
Ducks should be cleaned the morning of the hunt unless you have a walk-in cooler where you can hang them for a day or two. Picking the feathers off ducks can be tedious and time consuming, but if all the hunters chip in, it can be done quickly. Some hunters don’t pick the ducks at all and just cut the breast meat and legs out, leaving the skin with the feathers. This is definitely the fastest approach but at the loss of the delicious skin and fat that resides with it. Spend a little extra time picking the whole bird and thoroughly clean it, washing the bird inside and out.
Depending on the species of duck, two or three can fit in a large sealed freezer bag. After the ducks have been placed in the bag, fill it with water until the birds are completely covered. Make sure to push all the air out of the bag as you close it, check for leaks, and then place it in the freezer. When it is time to thaw out the ducks and cook them, decide whether to cook the whole bird or cut out the breast meat and legs for grilling.
With venison, the deer can be taken to a meat processor to be butchered. Most processors offer tenderloins, backstraps, cube steak, ground, steaks, roasts, jerky, and sausage (patty, link, and summer). With the ground meat, ask that it not be mixed with any extra fat. Some hunters have a certain percentage (5 to 10 percent) of pork fat mixed in to add flavor and hold the meat together. I haven’t had any trouble with the no-fat meat patties staying firm on the grill and would rather not have the additional fat, but that is a personal preference. Here are a few of my favorite duck and venison recipes.
Ginny’s Duck Gumbo
I was born and raised in Louisiana, where hunting and cooking ducks is deeply entwined within the culture. My sister, Ginny Peterson, makes the best duck gumbo of any that has passed my lips.
2 to 4 wild ducks (2 with big ducks, like mallards, and 4 with small ducks, like teal)
1 package Andouille sausage, cut into small round pieces
2 pints raw oysters
1 1/2 cups flour
2 cups onions, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell peppers, diced
1/4 cup garlic, minced
8 cups of chicken stock (this can be bought at store already prepared, or DIY)
10 chicken livers, or even better, use the livers from the ducks
2 cups green onions, diced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Tony Chachere seasoning, to taste
Cooked white rice for 12
The first step in most Louisiana cooking, including gumbo, is making a roux. Two methods are available — one using oil and one without. Since ducks are oily anyway, I prefer to make what is called a dry roux. In a skillet, preferably cast iron, pour in the flour and turn the stovetop to medium. Start stirring the flour with a wooden spoon continuously until it turns a dark brown, just a little lighter than chocolate. This can take as long as 30 minutes. Be careful not to burn the flour, or it is ruined and you have to start over again.
In a 2-gallon pot, mix in the roux with the chicken stock until the roux is thoroughly assimilated into the liquid. The roux gives the soup a thickness and heavier consistency than you would get without it. Add onions, celery, bell peppers, garlic, livers, sausage, and ducks. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover until the duck meat is falling off the bone. This may take a couple of hours depending on the size of the ducks. Pull the duck carcasses out and remove all the meat, putting it back into the pot. Discard the bones and carcasses. Add the oysters, green onions, and seasonings to taste, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Serve the gumbo in a bowl with a scoop of cooked rice. Yields 12 servings.
2 wild ducks, preferably mallards
Teriyaki or soy sauce
Once the ducks are thawed, debone the meat by cutting along the breast bone with a sharp knife, keeping the skin on the meat. Cut all the way down to the legs and through the hip joint and along the back until you get all the meat on one side. Repeat the same method on the other side. Cut the legs and thigh meat away from the breast meat so each duck will consist of two pieces of breast meat and two legs/thighs. The legs will still have the leg bone inside the meat. Place the meat into a sealed bag, and cover with the teriyaki or soy sauce. Marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator, but no more than half a day. If it marinates too long, the meat will be overpowered by the flavor of the marinade.
When the ducks are ready to cook, light up the grill and get it hot (500 degrees F). Take the ducks out of the bags and tenderize by cutting small hash marks into the meat side (not the skin side). Place ducks on the hot grill and cook about 3 to 4 minutes per side. If you cook
it too long, it will be tough. Take meat off the grill and eat while still hot.
Grilled Venison Tenderloin
Venison tenderloin straps
Barbecue sauce or Thai curry sauce
Take tenderloins and place in a sealed bag, covering them with your favorite bottled marinade sauce; or, make your own. When making my own marinade sauce, I use a hodgepodge of what is available in the kitchen: olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, teriyaki, Italian salad dressing, bay leaves, lemon juice, and a little red wine. A combination of all these items or just a few of them will work. Put the bag in refrigerator and let sit overnight.
Light up grill using soaked hickory chips for an added smoky flavor. Place meat off to the side so it is not directly over the coals or burners, depending on what type of grill you have. Pour your barbecue sauce of choice (I like a mustard base or the yellow Thai curry sauce from Trader Joe’s) onto the meat. Cover the grill so that the hickory smoke can permeate meat. Turn meat every few minutes and coat with the sauce to personal preference. Venison tenderloins are small and cook fast, so be careful not to cook too long, remembering that they will continue to cook a few minutes after removing from grill.
Grilled Venison Burgers
Ground venison is a wonderful, healthy substitute for ground beef for spaghetti, burgers, and everything in between. Since ground venison only has 25 percent of the fat found in ground beef, be careful not to overwork the patties so that they don’t fall apart. Adding an egg helps with this as well.
1 pound ground venison
Worcestershire or teriyaki sauce
Place defrosted ground venison in a mixing bowl. Crack the egg open on top of meat. Sprinkle sauce, Cavender’s, and cheese over meat and mix all together, kneading it with your hands. Make individual patties and place on the grill, then pour the barbecue sauce on top. When the patties are almost ready, put more cheese on top and let melt.