"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Wanna Cook A Duck?
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

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 the legs.

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 the neck.

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 wild rice.

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. 

Skillequing 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.

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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