I don’t normally pluck the ducks I shoot.
Instead I skin them, remove the meat from the breasts and legs and cook them any number of ways from stir-frying to stewing.
But I was challenged recently by Hank Shaw’s website, honest-food.net, to put in the time to pluck. Shaw is a hunter, angler and wild food forager — as well as an author and blogger. He is followed by lifelong hunters like me looking to take their preparation of wild game to the next level; and newbies who have taken up hunting as a means to better control where their food comes from. In addition to his Web offerings, Shaw has written “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.”
Many of his recipes call for cooking duck or goose breasts with the skin on.
“There is a huge flavor difference; it’s a quantum difference,” he told me during an interview. “Fat equals flavor and so when you have a duck or a goose that has the skin on, sure the skin is nice and crispy and wonderful, but it is the fat underneath that skin that makes all the difference.”
So last weekend I started the time-consuming task of pulling the feathers out of several birds. It’s both tedious and a labor of love.
Shaw, by the way, has a couple of good videos on his website on how to pluck ducks and geese. He also has tips for plucking loose-skinned birds like pheasants and partridge that tend to rip when you pull out the feathers.
The results from my undertaking were wonderful. With my skin-on birds, I whipped up Shaw’s “Duck with Maple Bourbon Sauce,” and cooked a few lightly marinaded mallard breasts for other meals. I’m also in the midst of the weekslong process of making prosciutto out of a couple of goose breasts, via Shaw’s recipe. In short, I’m a plucking convert.
I did breast out a few of the birds and probably always will. Two of the three geese I recently shot were turned into jerky, a process that calls for trimming fat and skin but one that is new to me. Again, the results were fabulous. In the past, I might have used the breasts to make fajitas, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches or even slow cooked them into pulled-goose barbecue. I certainly won’t abandoned those recipes, but I look forward to trying more of Shaw’s.
Shaw also turned me on to Jesse Griffiths, a chef and author of “Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish.” Griffiths, like Shaw, took up hunting as an adult as a way to eat more local and natural food.
“I think mine and his are two of the best wild game cookbooks of the last couple of years,” Shaw said. “I think there is a huge yearning for the traditional hunting and fishing community to up their game, and books like mine and Jesse’s are helping fix that need. No longer are they wrapping bacon on it, putting a jalapeno in and tossing it on the grill. People are looking for something tastier.”