Monday, January 2, 2012

Video: How to pluck a duck

If there's one thing that makes killing ducks look easy, it's plucking them - especially if you like to eat them skin-on, roasted whole. Getting that down off can be a real pain in the butt.

But a few years back, Hank hunted with a friend at a duck club that had a totally sweet operation for processing ducks, and the key feature was the wax pot.

After plucking off maybe two-thirds of the top feathers, hunters at this club would dip their birds in a cauldron of hot melted wax, then put them in a barrel of cool water to set the wax. After that, all they had to do was peel off the wax and voila! The down was all gone, revealing pretty skin, suitable for roasting whole.

We adapted this operation to work in our garage, and at long last, we've made a video that shows how to do it.

I wouldn't say it makes plucking ducks easy - it still takes time. But it does leave you with some really beautiful ducks to eat, and that's the whole point.

Some additional notes about what you see in the video:

The pot: It's a cheap aluminum tamale pot from a Mexican market. Cheap is important, because this thing will get grimy, and you probably won't want to use it for food in the kitchen anymore after you use it for waxing ducks.

The burner: Ours is a totally lame portable electric burner. We keep talking about switching to a turkey deep fryer with a powerful gas burner and thermostat, but we haven't gotten around to it yet. Maybe there will be some on sale, now that the season of eating whole turkeys has passed.

Heating the water: We give the wax pot a head start by filling it out of a faucet right next to the water heater, so the water comes out blazing hot. It really does take a while to heat up, because it's two-thirds full. If I plan to pluck when I get home, I'll call Hank and ask him to get the pot started so it's nice and hot when I arrive 75 minutes later.

The mess: Yeah, it's super messy, which is why we do it in the garage. But it's way easier sweeping up clumps of wax than chasing tufts of down.

Got anymore questions? Comment here or on the video itself and we'll answer the best we can.

© Holly A. Heyser 2012


Peebs said...

Exclent video don't use wax myself but have always wondered how it works.

Mike Dwyer said...

I was just talking about this with a friend while dove hunting Saturday morning. These videos are awesome. It's so nice to get a good step-by-step tutorial on this stuff.

If I may be so bold, you should do one on how to get the fat out of waterfowl for rendering. I never feel like I am doing it right.

Keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

Simply amazing. Thank you for sharing. We will try it today with the three hens we brought home this morning.

Holly Heyser said...

Peebs, thanks! I spent easily 15 hours on this (I'm told the standard for people who are good at it is one hour per minute of video, or less than half as long as it took me).

Outfitterlife: Awesome! Hope it works well for you.

Mike, I've thought about doing a rendering video too, but I'm trying to figure how to get around the whole problem of putting my expensive camera over a pan full of cooking fat. I might just have to use the old Flip video for that one - no expensive glass on that thing.

But you probably want an answer sooner, so here's the short version: When we get a corpulent little duck, we get most of the fat out of the pope's nose (butt), but if it's a real porker, there's also fat around the gizzard and elsewhere in the body cavity.

To prepare the butt, obviously, you want to clean it out. I cut out the vent and any remaining intestine leading to it, rinse it well with cold water, then cut the butt in at least four pieces. We've done rendering with and without the oil glands in place with no noticeable difference, so you can remove them if you want, but we don't see the need.

Then you put it in a frying pan, bring it to a simmer, then turn it on low to cook out. When the fat goes from cloudy to clear, it's done. (Once I stopped too early and actually got a layer of gelatin in the fat jar.)

Let the fat cool, then pour it through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or paper towel into a jar. We always keep one jar in the fridge for cooking, and as many more as we can make in the freezer. We have a lot of jars this season already - we've been killing lots of fatties.

Bpaul said...

What's the problem with quickly burning off the unplucked down with a propane torch? He mentioned how it was bad to cook the skin, and I'm sure this process cooks the skin a bit... why is that bad?

Thanks ahead of time,


Anonymous said...

Do you ever reprocess the wax? I am thinking of putting the waxed feathers back in the pot. Let the wax melt off the feathers. Push the feathers down to the bottom of the pot with a wire screen. Let the pot cool.

Feathers go in the compost. Wax is re-useable.

Would this work?


Holly Heyser said...

Bpaul, I think you have more risk of prematurely cooking the skin that way, but that is how lots of people do it happily.

Jean, I know some people do. We tried, but the wax got incredibly gummy and gunky - partly because of the bits of feathers and down in it, but I think more because of what's IN the feathers. I think you need to filter it (which we didn't do), but I'm not sure how.

We should figure it out, though: When you buy wax in those one-pound boxes at the supermarket, it's pretty expensive. When you order huge 5- and 10-pound blocks, the shipping costs kill you.

ingrid said...

Holly, I wouldn't use the one-hour/one-minute standard as a measure of your aptitude with video. Creative video editors obviously have different parameters than news editors. One of my experienced editor friends told me he's spent 10 to 12 hours editing a one-minute video, in a production setting, particularly when other effects are employed, where a script is lacking, etc.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence! But I really am pretty new at it. One of my former students is doing video professionally now and one of these days I'm going to watch him put something together so I can tighten up my workflow. Since I plan to remain pretty specialized - video is awesome for instructional stuff, but lame for story-telling - I can stay pretty focused.

(OK, video is fine for story-telling, but I can write a substantial blog post in 2-4 hours and telling the same story via video would be a 2-month production.)

ingrid said...

Where's the LIKE button? :)

Arnold said...

Just a great job of how-to, and thanks. I tried once,years and years ago,a nd the results - like my wine making - were so disastrous that I never tried again. I don't get that many ducks any more, but I may be tempted to try this method.
As to Bpaul's remark about using a propane torch to singe off down and other small feathers, I do that all the time with no bad results at all. You do have to do it pretty fast, and you see the skin shrink a little, but never any burning or other damage like the fatr sputtering off.
Great too meeting Hank in the flesh for lunch last week!

Holly Heyser said...

It definitely takes practice. Funny thing is I'm doing it much better since I made this video.

Hank's the one who taught me in the first place, but filming this video was the first time I looked closely at every aspect from start to finish.

As for torching: Hank's the cook, so I defer to his preferences, and he is definitely not a fan of torching. (In fact, I got him a little creme brulee torch two Christmases ago and I don't think he's used it even once, not even in cooking.)

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