I am not sure why the hunters I know will pay big bucks for a duck breast in a fancy restaurant but turn all the fowl they shoot into jerky. It has never made much sense to me. That is until I found out how they cooked duck. While a little “shake and bake” can make things taste good it is certainly not way to handle wild duck.
Additionally, all too often I see other hunters simply rip the top of the duck off and toss the legs into the trash. This, to me, is just plain wasteful. The duck died for food and I figure its whole body should be honored. Plus the best part of the whole animal is now in the trash!
To combat this issue I have made it a personal challenge to make hunters into wild duck fans. I normally give two simple rules for duck meat. One, cook the breast like it is a steak. Past medium and it starts to turn to shoe leather. Two, cook the legs until they are fall off the bone tender.
That said I do understand that most hunters find duck legs hard to eat. If a duck is roasted whole the legs are chewy and full of tendons. If the duck legs are fried up like chicken they are nearly uneatable. The problem with those styles of cooking is that they do not allow for enough time to break down the duck meat. What duck leg cooking requires most of all is time. It takes a while to break down the connective tissue in a ducks legs. I normally count on at least four hours but prefer more.
To cook a duck for that many hours takes a gentile cooking method and low heat. As long as the meat is being held above 140 degrees the connective tissue will degrade. A home crock pot is a great way to keep an eye on the temperature and slowly cook the meat. The “keep warm” setting normally operates in the 160-175 range and does a nice job slowly cooking duck legs.
Another issue that I typically hear about when dealing with duck is it’s “wild game” flavor profile. Hunters often say that duck breast tastes to “ducky” so they mask the flavors with smoke, sugar and spices in jerky. I agree that wild duck can be very flavorful, but most of that flavor comes out when the duck is overcooked. Much like a liver the bad tasting parts of duck meat become more pronounce the farther it is cooked.
I typically remove the “wildness” out of duck leg meat by preparing it confit style. Basically confit is an old school Egyptian preservation method for duck. It helps out a lot for those lacking refrigeration. To confit something you need to follow three basic steps. Cure the meat in salt, brown the meat then poach it in oil.
The reason that this cooking and preservation method works is because salt creates a hostile environment for microorganisms. Cooking the meat in the hot oil also kills most microbes. Top that off with a layer of microbe-inhibiting fat covering the meat and you can keep confit for up to six months in your cellar or fridge. Below is the basic method of cooking any type of meat confit style.
When curing the duck meat I clean the duck very well after the harvest. Then I will pat the meat dry with a paper towel while looking for any extra feathers, shot, or undesirable blood clots that need removed.
Then I will mix salt, pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl. I use about 1/8 cup Kosher, 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper and 1 tablespoon garlic powder per pound of duck meat. I then place the meat in a cake pan and cover with a towel in the fridge for 24 hours. I make sure to pour off any juice that accumulates on the tray.
After 24 hours I will rinse the duck off and pat it dry. Then I brown the duck meat in a couple of tablespoons of hot oil.
The next step is the hardest. Not technically hard but emotionally. The smells from the cooking duck will tempt you. Ignore the temptations and let the duck cook. If you snack on it through the whole cooking process it will not be the same!
After the meat is brown it needs to be poached in oil. Below is a list of ingredients for the oil poaching.
1 cup rendered bacon fat
Canola Oil – enough to barley cover the meat
8 cloves of garlic
16 ea black pepper corns
2 ea bay leaf
2 ea sprig of rosemary
4 ea sprigs of thyme
10 ea sage leafs
I pack the browned Duck into the bottom of a home style cake pan. Then I place on top of the duck the garlic, pepper corns, bay leafs, rosemary, thyme and sage leafs. Add the bacon fat and then pour enough canola oil to cover the duck meat. I tightly wrap the whole mess in tin foil and place it on a cookie sheet. I will then put the duck in a 350 oven for one hour then turn it down to the “keep warm” setting. I will let it cook for three more hours. Then I’ll turn off the oven and let the duck cool for one hour.
Then I’ll transfer the meat into mason jars and make sure to cover all the bones with fat. No part of the animal should be exposed. If meat is exposed it can turn faster than it should. I cool the jars in the refrigerator and when totally cooled I cap and store them in the back of the fridge. The confit can keep for up to six months.
I make sure to keep the oil from batch to batch of confit. It gains more and more flavor over time.
When I want to eat the confit I will remove the metal lid and microwave the jar for a minute or so. Just enough time to melt the fat but not heat up the meat. I then remove what I am going to eat and make sure to recover the meat in oil.
I use confit meat in a variety of ways. I have made pizzas, pastas, pot stickers, tacos and many other dishes from confit meat. I have even used this method for all sorts of animals, not just duck. I have made rockchuck and venison confit, to name a few. In all confit is a great way to keep your freezer free of odds and ends and it tastes great too. Besides, a duck is more than just a good set of breasts for jerky.