The lowly coot (Fulica americana) doesn’t draw much water in
the sea of Hoosier waterfowling, and even less, it would seem, with those
charged with maintaining its numbers.
Me? I like coots. I like to see flocks of coots scudding low over the
water from one part of a lake to another (more so when they fly in
range of my big Remington Model 1100 stuffed with big red firecrackers),
I like to see them pitter-patter [run] on the surface of the water when
they are trying to get airborne, and I like them even better when I am
looking at leg/thigh quarters and breasts baked in a nice onion/wine sauce
(with my feet firmly planted beneath the din-din table).
So I am someone to be sneered at by real and true duck hunters who look
with jaundiced eye upon both this magnificent little “chicken-billed” bird
and those who harvest them. So be it.
One day many years ago at Monroe Reservoir’s Stillwater Marsh I became
a believer in coots. I was sitting in a blind with a hunting buddy when
this dark bird crossed our blocks from left to right and I whacked it.
“I guess you know you just shot a coot,” sneered my aforementioned hunting
“So I did,” quoth I, “and if they keep coming I will keep shooting.”
Then I explained that I would like six or eight of that one’s friends
to do a random sampling of their eating qualities.
Well, to shorten an otherwise long story, I got the birds I wanted--not
to mention a mallard or two and a black.
Later (at home) I picked the ducks because I have always thought duck
skin (the skin of any bird, including chickens) makes said birds tastier
and juicier when cooked with skin on. But the coots were skinned (what
some waterfowlers shamefully refer to as “breasting.”). It was a rather
greasy mess, but I skinned out both breasts and leg-thigh quarters of their
dark, red meat.
A little later, I had some Canadian guests coming for a duck din-din
at our house. I baked the ducks (stuffed with chunks of onion, celery and
bacon, as usual). But unbeknown to the guests--or anybody else--I placed
the breasts and leg-thigh quarters of four coots around the ducks in the
bottom of the roaster pan. Of course, the ducks also were draped with strips
of bacon and both ducks and coot parts (covered with foil at 350 degrees)
were basted occasionally with a 50-50 mix of red wine and water with a
jigger of orange juice and finely chopped onion.
When the bacon strips on top of the ducks looked done, I uncovered the
pan and allowed the contents to brown, turned off the oven and stashed
the pan there to keep things warm. I dipped enough bacon/wine/duck fryings
into a flat baking dish to make a good base (roux, pronounced roooooooo,
by hoity-toity chefs). That, to a country boy, is a base for gravy or a
The so-called roux was combined over low heat with flour and some stock
I had in the frig from cooking veggies a few days earlier. When the sauce
was done, I stirred in a little more orange juice and red wine and added
a touch of brown sugar. The coot parts were placed in the saucepan and
drenched with the sauce before broiling for a few minutes for further browning
When the guests arrived I served chunks of duck breast and duck-thigh
quarters on a platter, the coot in its hot dish. They were side-by-side,
well within the reach of all diners. There were, of course, a salad and
some veggies (probably baked potato).
The kicker of my story: Unknowingly, my guests ate coot breast and leg-thigh
quarters with onion-wine sauce like they were going out of style.
There was duck left over for sandwiches later on thin slices of rye
bread with mayo and thin slices of onion.
I would hesitate to say coot is better on the table than wood duck (my
favorite), mallard, black, pintail, or teal, all of which depend heavily
on corn, other grains, and weed seed or small acorns for food. I would
not hesitate to say coot are better table fare than most of the diving
ducks which feed heavily on crustaceans, small fish and aquatic insects.
One time when I baked coot for a waggish friend he said: “Maybe it is
the sauce (Hic!) that makes it so good.”
There are, of course, other ways to prepare coot and ducks for the table.
For this production, you will not need a program to distinguish the
players. Although the coot resembles both purple and Florida gallinules,
the former is somewhat larger. The coot also has a white, chicken-like
bill, compared to a red chicken-like bill (yellow tip) on both of the gallinules.
And though both the coot and the gallinules move their heads forward
and back as they swim on water, the coot will display some white in the
trailing edge of its wings in flight and some white in the tail.
Both coots and gallinules use a running takeoff to get off the water.