There was more to my recent move than just cleaning out drawers, closets, and the attic. The packing, sorting, discarding, and transporting was not limited to clothes, furniture, and appliances. Much of the heavy work was moving my canned goods, pots, pans, seasonings, and items in the freezer and refrigerator. The refrigerator part was simple. Most of what wasn’t consumed went to the trash. The freezer part was much more labor intensive. Rest assured, one can accumulate as much in the freezer as you can in the rest of your home.
I found tenderloins from several season’s past. There were tamales, doves, turkeys, sausage, and waterfowl. Thank goodness I purchased a vacuum sealer several years ago, for most of my bounty was in great condition and not freezer burned. Wild game and fish are wonderful table fare, and what a shame it is when we don’t use it and let it get old. With opportunity to fill our freezers just around the corner, what better time to get to cooking and make room for what hopefully arrives from the swamps in the coming weeks. So, what should I cook first?
The vacuum sealed mallards looked like they could be used in a magazine photograph. These weren’t your everyday fileted duck breasts. Seldom, if ever, do I filet ducks. My mother insisted the turkeys and ducks we harvested were picked, singed, and dressed to a “T.” When I finished “cleaning” our bounty, mom would inspect the birds, inside and out, to make sure they were “fit” for her kitchen. Old habits are hard to break, and to this day, I “pick” all waterfowl harvested. I’ll still filet wild turkeys for frying, but that’s for another discussion. With the fall migration beginning, I brought the old pot out and decided to cook ducks last Sunday. I thought you may be interested in the process, so here goes.
Baking wild ducks is not for those who are in a hurry to prepare Sunday dinner. Not only is the dressing of the bird labor intensive and time consuming, but this is only half the battle. Once in the kitchen, the real fun begins. I don’t use this as a cliché, it really is fun. So where did I begin last Sunday?
After removing the birds from the sealed package, I allowed them to soak in brine for an hour or so while I prepared my other ingredients. As a side note, if you happen to throw in a handful of doves, they will compliment the entire production very well. While they rested in the brine, I chopped my trinity, that being a sweet Vidalia onion, one green bell pepper, and three stalks of celery. On the other side of the kitchen, I filled my Dutch oven. It was actually a large crock pot, but doesn’t a “Dutch oven” sound much more romantic? Anyway, in the large pot I added cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, cream of celery soup, and chicken broth. No salt was added because there is enough sodium in the soups and the birds will retain some from the brine. Coarse ground black pepper was added in a liberal amount. I have no set amount of ingredients to add to the pot, it’s more of an art than a cookbook formula. Just bring your “gravy to be” level to about 1/2 to 2/3 of the pot’s capacity to leave room for the birds. Now, back to the other side of the kitchen.
In a pan, with a half stick of butter, I sauteed the chopped onions first. Celery and peppers take longer and by the time these are translucent and tender, the onions can become too dark and caramelized if prepared together. When the onions are tender, I transfer them to the pot with the other ingredients. I then sauteed the peppers and celery the same way and add them to the pot. By now, the kitchen is beginning to smell wonderful. Can you pick the aromas up by just reading? Are you thinking about a Bloody Mary by now? It’s ok to have candles burning to compliment what else is taking place in the kitchen as well. I would bet others are beginning to gather around to share in the process by now. Congratulations, you have stimulated their olfactory sense. The more the better, as long as they don’t get in your way. Now, back to the ducks.
Rinse the birds one more time for good measure. Pat dry with a paper towel and then rub just a bit of olive oil on them. Rub the birds with black pepper, the olive oil will help it stick to them. Of course, at this time you may wish to rub some of your other favorite seasonings on them as well. On medium to high heat, “brown” the ducks in the same pan you sauteed your trinity. When you get nice “color” to the skin, remove from the pan and stuff the cavities with 1/3 of a Honeycrisp apple. Place the birds, breast down, into the mixture, completely submerging them. If you have overfilled the pot, you can remove some of the excess “roux” to allow room for the gravy to grow.
Add a few more chopped apples to the pot, and you’re almost ready to enjoy the rest of your day watching football, making other treats, or practicing your duck calling. Place your temperature setting on low to medium heat for about and hour, then turn you setting on high for another hour, then bring your setting back down again to low for six to eight more hours. See there, I told you it wasn’t fast or easy, but oh how so good it’s going to be.
You’ll be able to tell when the birds are ready for the table by lightly sticking a fork into the breast or when a leg bone will easily slip from the bird. They won’t burn if you allow them to go a little longer. If you have added doves, they will have become part of the gravy, which is ok too. Make a big pot of rice, wild or original, add a baked potato, and anything else that you wish and get ready for the feast of your life. I must caution you, this dish may have side effects of uncontrollable desires for the blind. Also, you may experience impulses for filling the stringers with teal, wood ducks, and mallards. Remember, the limit is still six.
Is your freezer overflowing with lost specimens from the field? Take the time to inspect those lower shelves and utilize a perhaps forgotten bounty. Make a habit of getting folks in the kitchen to share stories, recipes, and good times. Will you make a mess in the kitchen? Of course, you will, that’s part of the experience. The kitchen will return to a sense of normalcy all in good time. Please be patient with one another, for some of our best memories of home are created in the kitchen.
The next three to four months will offer some of the best opportunities for good times in the kitchen, let me know how you fare. By the way, if you prepare a little extra, I’d love to try your specialties. Give me a call. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.