Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kitchen confessions of a huntress

Dinner is servedHave I mentioned that I’m terrified of cooking ducks?

You wouldn’t know it when you read here how much I love the great food that hunting puts on the dinner table. But here’s the deal: Boyfriend’s the one doing the cooking. And his game cookery is immaculate, so I eat well (see photo above).

It’s not that I can’t cook. Before Boyfriend started feeding me, I cooked all the time. And I can make some mean Mexican food, baby – homemade tortillas, fresh-ground spice mixes, intricate moles (that’s MOW-lay – the chili sauce with chocolate in it) and pretty much the best guacamole anyone has ever had.

But that’s stuff you make with storebought ingredients. Now I have this sacred bond with my meat. I saw it fly, I took it down, I watched it die, I plucked it and gutted it and I am terrified that I will dishonor it with incompetence in the kitchen.

Boyfriend has been gentle about this. He never nags me. He just informs me when there’s a teal I could cook, or lets me know when the kitchen will be free for a few hours here or there on a weekend. It reminds me of the time when I was a freshman in high school and my Mom came into my room to let me know the new Reader’s Digest was in, her index finger coincidentally underlining a headline about the dangers of marijuana. Hint hint hint.

And I usually respond to him the same way I responded to Mom: “Thanks.”

But this week I was forced to cook a duck.

We had some leftovers from our big duck hunters dinner earlier this month – some teal brought by one of our guests. We were going to eat them during the week, but we just got too busy, so Boyfriend put them in a brine to preserve them. Then we were supposed to eat them Sunday, but we were all pooped after sturgeon fishing.

On Wednesday, we were approaching a dangerous point: If it's wicked to dishonor a duck by cooking it badly, then it's undoubtedly a mortal sin to let it go to waste. Something had to be done.

So I did it. I set out to cook the duck, following Boyfriend's very simple, very foolproof recipe for roasted whole duck:

> Preheat oven to 450 or 500 degrees.
> Pat dry and salt a whole duck with skin on.
> Brown the duck in a cast iron pan, preferably using duck fat, but oil will do.
> Turn off the burner, then set two celery stalks in the pan and rest the duck on them, breast side up.
> Pop the whole shebang into the oven for at least 10 minutes (more for bigger birds, but we're talking teal here)
> Start checking it with a meat thermometer at 10 minutes. When it hits 135 degrees, pull it out of the oven.
> Serve, ideally with yummy green things. Or whatever.

I followed the recipe, except for the salt part. This duck didn't need any more of that. After the bird had been in the oven for 10 minutes, I dutifully poked it with the meat thermometer and watched it hit 165 degrees. Yikes! I pulled it out, let it rest for a few minutes, then plunked it on a plate to see how I'd done.

It sure wasn't as rare as I like it. And after all that time in brine, it was saltier than bacon. But it was actually good! I like salt anyway. And I was so emboldened by the experience that I cooked two more of them tonight, and they came out even better.

I'm feeling good about this!

OK, I'm feeling guilty that I couldn't work up the guts to cook a duck until it was someone else's duck that I might screw up, and there was a high likelihood it would taste funky anyway from its long soak in the brine. Talk about playing it safe!

But I did it. And I'm no longer afraid.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Albert A Rasch said...

Howdy Holly,

Would you be so kind as to indulge us with your Guacamole recipe? I love guac and though I too have a fool proof recipe, I would love to get yours.


Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

NorCal Cazadora said...

Albert, I'd be happy to. (And this may be the only time that I'll do a post that has nothing to do with hunting.) But it'll have to wait until later today - I'm running out of time this morning.

Blessed said...

Sometime next week I'll have to post my duck recipe it is yummy and anyone can do it! And do post the Gauc recipe that is one of my favorite foods!

Anonymous said...

I can understand you concern about cooking duck. I'm that way about roasting a chicken. I'm actually a very good cook, but I have yet to have a roast chicken turn out as I would like to to turn out. Since you conquered your fear, I'll have to try a chicken.

Anonymous said...

It took me several tries to get right with the venison steaks from the deer I shot this year (my first ever deer). I've made more than my share of booboo's and will likely make more. You are right about the specialness of the game that you have searched for, found, shot, and turned into food for your life. Made even better by the vegetables from your garden.

NorCal Cazadora said...

All right, Albert, that guac recipe is now posted!

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Now I have to show you how to debone a duck, then stuff it with a forcemeat made with antelope and pork fat, truss it and roast it hell, let's hit the grill next!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ok, honey, that sounds great. You do that, and I'll make the guac.