In Virginia, and throughout the rest of the country, the only legal way to obtain wild duck is to go hunting or, if you're lucky enough, know someone who hunts and is willing to share — they can't be sold. Ducks in the wild get a lot of exercise, which makes for lean meat that's low in saturated fat and is also a good source of iron. Once you find a way to get your hands on such a bird, you'll discover that it has a richer, more pungent flavor than the domesticated variety — though the taste will depend on what sorts of things it might have been eating as it made its way along its migratory path.
Wild game must be aged before cooking, to allow the release of enzymes that tenderize the meat by breaking down some of its proteins. Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook, recommends hanging a duck for one to two days in the refrigerator, and then plucking, skinning and gutting it.
Humans undoubtedly have hunted duck since the first time someone saw one fly by and decided to chuck a rock at it. Depictions of wild ducks have been found in European cave paintings, Egyptian murals and Aztec art. At the turn of the century, overhunting and the loss of wetlands dramatically depleted the waterfowl population in the United States, sparking a conservation effort that led to the creation of specific hunting seasons, bag limits and duck stamps (similar to fishing licenses).
Coca-Cola Barbecued Tempura Duck Breast
Walter Bundy, an avid hunter and executive chef at Lemaire, shares his favorite way to prepare wild duck.
4 duck breasts cut into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square*
1 quart of buttermilk
Clean the breasts and remove any shot. Leaving the skin on is fine, but you can also peel back the skin and feathers and easily remove only the breast meat. Soak the meat in buttermilk for several hours or overnight.
BBQ Dipping sauce
4 pieces of bacon, cut into small pieces
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1 cup of apple cider vinegar
3 cans of Coca-Cola
1 cup of ketchup
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook gently for about 5 minutes (or until the bacon is cooked, but not crispy). Add the onion, celery, cumin, cayenne and paprika. Cook for another 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and the Coke, and reduce by two-thirds. Transfer the sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour the sauce back into the saucepan and stir in the ketchup. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
3 cups of cake flour (all-purpose can be substituted)
3/4 cup of cornstarch
2 teaspoons of baking soda
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
Sparkling water (beer can be substituted, for the diehards)
1/2 gallon of peanut or vegetable oil
You can fry the duck breasts a few different ways. You need to heat the oil to 350 degrees and hold it until you're ready to use it. An outdoor turkey fryer can be used, or a high-sided pot on the stove, but it may be a little messy. I prefer a small home fryer that maintains temperature and has a gauge as well as a basket. After cleaning, drain the duck breasts in a strainer placed in the sink. Then, lay the breasts on paper towels and pat them dry. Mix the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt together. Add sparkling water (or beer). I like a very thin coating, and I also keep my batter chilled until I'm ready to cook it up. Dip the breasts in the tempura batter and coat. Lift them out with a pair of grilling tongs and gently drop the individual pieces into the fryer and cook for about 2 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Drain the pieces on paper grocery bags. Skewer each piece with a toothpick and serve with the warm BBQ sauce. Enjoy!
*I prefer a large-breasted duck such as mallard; if you're serving teal or woodies, you'll need 8 breasts.