Cooking a duck starts with getting it out of its suit of feathers and
down. Some hunters skin their birds--some even breast them (take only the
breast meat). But if one expects to put his feet under a table that is
graced by well-cooked ducks, he must start by picking his birds (that means
leaving the skin intact).
Actually, I do a lot of rubbing when picking (cleaning) ducks. It is
more a matter of rubbing off the feathers with the outside surface and
heel of the thumb while you are holding the bird in the palm of the free
hand. You pick with index finger and thumb, but you rub off a lot of feathers
and down in the process.
To avoid being up to my eyeballs in duck feathers, I line a clean trash
can (a big one) with a plastic trash bag. This makes it possible to "clean"
birds in the kitchen (if you tell your wife I suggested such a gross maneuver,
I will steadfastly deny it).
Start by pulling out the big feathers of the wings and tail. Then (if
you are right-handed) hold the bird belly up in the left hand. Start at
the point where the neck joins the breast and just sorta pick-rub the feathers
and down off the breast and belly all the way to the tail. Then work on
the sides and back, always going fore to aft. If the skin breaks a few
places, pick gingerly around the breaks in order to keep the skin intact.
The skin is what makes your duck moist after being cooked.
There will be little pocket (wing pits, if you please) where the down
is tough to remove. Rub it off with your thumb. It's got to go. Same around
When you get to the wings, pick and pinch off the feathers of the first
joint, but discard the rest of the wings.
Pruning shears are handy for cutting through bones of wings, legs and
Once the feathers and down are removed, at the kitchen sink, or some
other area that offers running water, make a crosswise cut just behind
the breast. This will expose the gizzard, which should be saved. Then make
a cut back to the tail and remove the little heart-shaped tail with a cross
cut at the point where it joins the body.
Now you are ready to pull out the other organs, entrails, crop and larynx,
and wash out the interior of the bird with cold, running water.
The bird can then be allowed to drain before being frozen, or at least
refrigerated, in a leak-proof plastic bag or some other container. Little
ducks--even wood ducks--fit nicely in a large sandwich bag. Mallards, blacks
and many others will require larger bags.
Ducks may be frozen for later use, but once they are frozen they should
be wrapped in two or three pages of newspaper and taped tightly to avoid
freezer burn. I keep ducks in this manner for six months or longer.
To make the gizzard (the grinding mill of puddle ducks) edible, make
a lengthwise cut to expose the sandpaper-like interior and pull off this
tough surface under cold, running water. Hearts and liver may also be saved
for use in gravy, or just for munching.
Now, clean up your mess and we will cook the duck.
If frozen, allow it to thaw in the frig. But, if you are in a rush,
thawing a duck in a microwave (on defrost) will not make it unhappy.
When thawed--or nearly so--rub the exterior with olive oil. Then sprinkle
it well with salt and pepper, inside and out.
Then, with an iron skillet coated liberally with olive oil or bacon
fryings, sear the duck on all sides. This requires almost constant attention
as the duck is turned with tongs, but it tends to seal in natural moisture.
Set oven at 350 degrees, and while it is pre-heating core an apple (skin
on) and chop it into pieces. Skin an onion and chop it into pieces, and
cut a strip of bacon into small pieces. Mix apple-onion-bacon mixture and
salt and pepper it liberally. (Note: I like jowl bacon for this, but any
bacon will be fine).
Stuff duck with apple-onion-bacon mixture and place it breast up in
the skillet, or on a piece of foil large enough to seal the bird in the
foil with a strip of bacon across the breast. It is good to have a skillet
with cover, but a strip of foil will do the job of sealing in moisture.
It is possible to bake more than one bird in each skillet or foil package
if the package can be sealed to facilitate steam cooking.
Allow ducks to bake for 45 minutes or an hour (depending on size of
the birds). Then remove skillet cover or cut away foil to expose birds
to brown them under a broiler, or just in the oven, for a few minutes.
Allow birds to cool a few minutes before serving.
So there you have it--a well-cooked duck. But there is more.
When I cook any wild game or bird, I try to cook enough to have leftovers.
The excess meat is removed from the bones and stored in the frig, or
frozen, in plastic sandwich bags that can be closed tightly to keep out
air which tends to dry the meat.
Leftover meat can then be used for many dishes.
My favorites are duck fried rice or "skillequed" duck, both of which
retains--or even adds--moisture to the meat. I am not so sure I invented
duck fried rice, but I am quite certain that I authored "skillequing" leftover
wild game and birds.
The fried rice recipe is simple. Just chop the leftover duck meat finely
and use it as the meat in your favorite fried rice recipe. You can/should
improvise, of course, using other items of your choice, including some
Skillequing is more exact, but still open for
an individual's innovative notions.
I start by skinning an onion and coring (skin on) a good cooking apple
(an apple that does not become mush when exposed to heat). Both are sliced
with their thick parts being roughly ¼ (one-fourth) of an inch thick.
I coat the bottom of an iron skillet with olive oil or bacon fryings
(grease), add a cup of liquid (half wine, half water) and stir in the apple/onion
slices along with a handful of wild mushrooms (domestic mushrooms are OK,
fresh, frozen or dried).
After a few minutes I stir in good barbeque sauce (enough to suit my
fancy), add half a cup of brown sugar, and finally the slices of pre-cooked
duck (or any other game bird or animal . . . venison is excellent.
When the meat is hot it is time for din-din.
However, before I partake of this great dish, I usually remove it all
from the skillet. With flour and milk in the skillet, I make a pan of gravy
for a garnish (some nut meats, chopped green onions, or both, will kick
the gravy up a notch or two).
FINISHED? Almost, but not quite. We still must deal with those gizzards,
hearts, livers, and, in some cases, kidneys.
I keep a bag of these incidentals in the freezer. When I have enough
for a "fry," I thaw and cut them into bite-size pieces. They then are sprinkled
with salt and pepper, dredged in flour, and fried to a golden brown--to
be served on toast or biscuits with gravy--a scrumptious dinner in itself.
pre-cooked meats in my old iron skillet keeps the meat tender and tasty
. . . slices of onion and apple (skin on) make great companions when teamed
with slices of duck breast, venison and other wild game . . . a little
brown sugar will give it added zip.