The men in my family have always been hunters.I can remember back in high school and college having to defend hunting to a lot of meat-eating people, but nowadays people seem to understand that when done correctly (i.e., soberly and eating what you kill), hunting is actually a quite responsible, humane way of putting meat or fowl on the table. The animals are much more “free roaming” than anything we would get in the grocery store, and for many species it is the hunters who keep an animal population under control (as opposed to slowly starving to death, for example, as deer sometimes do in Ohio when they become too populous).Or maybe those reactionary teenagers have just grown up. Either way, I don’t find myself defending the hunters in my family much anymore, especially not to people who eat meat anyway.
When I was little my dad hunted deer.I think it involved a lot of sitting still and although I have never asked him I suspect he got a little bored of it.Around the same time he started using dogs to hunt woodland fowl, such as quail, pheasant and grouse, and working with the dogs seems to have really stuck.Then when my brother starting hunting, he preferred working with retriever breed dogs when hunting water fowl, so they added that to the mix.They haven’t hunted a deer to my knowledge since getting those dogs.
That brother recently got back from a trip to Louisiana where he was duck hunting with my uncle, and he brought the duck he got back with him.And he shared.Granted it is not exactly local since he had to bring it back on the plane with him, but I like to think that when I prepare this duck I am having the ultimate local, free range meat experience.The meat was never frozen—until I froze it to make the 2 hour drive from Columbus—and it made very few stops between the wilderness and our mouths.My brother also came back with wild game sausage, made of venison, pork and duck, although I am not sure if that duck is the same duck he hunted.And while I have no proof that it is Andouille (although we believe it has been smoked), I figure if it was made in Louisiana and accompanies Louisiana wild duck then it ought to go in a Cajun or Creole dish.
My brother also brought back shrimp.I should pause here and explain that shrimp and olives are my 2 dirty little foodie secrets—I don’t like ‘em.Never have, and despite my best efforts, I suspect I never will.But anyway my family had a shrimp boil while I was home this past week and I brought home the leftovers for my shrimp obsessed husband and decided I would make a jambalaya with the duck and sausage.Right before serving I could throw the cooked shrimp into John’s and Alex’s (she shows every sign of following her dad down the shrimp love affair lane).
Now it is disclaimer time: A. I have never cooked wild game before and B. I have never made jambalaya before, nor do I particularly like it.So I am not really sharing a recipe with you (although I will) so much as an experience. Why did I make jambalaya then, you ask?Well aside from the appropriateness of the ingredients, John loves jambalaya, so I decided to give it a shot.We decided it was ok—the girls loved the duck and Alex and John loved the shrimp (Sam did not have any; its somewhat rubbery consistency is one of those choking hurdles I need to get over with Sam and we are not there yet as she still gags on a lot of things).John had told me he wanted it on the dry side—well after I made it he decided that he was thinking of paella and that he really prefers a saucy jambalaya.C’est la vie.I discovered that while I love duck, I much prefer duck with a sweet, fruity sauce or chutney.John discovered that he does not like gamey sausage whereas I loved the sausage.A night of discoveries all around.
If anyone out there has any tried and true advice about cooking wild duck I would love to hear it.Some of the websites and recipes I found said to sear it as you would grocery store duck, period, end of story.Others said it needed to be soaked in saltwater and then in seasoned milk to remove the gaminess.Others called for just the saltwater.I finally decided to soak it for about 15-20 minutes in the saltwater, after which I soaked it in buttermilk for maybe 15 minutes.Why buttermilk?Well because I had some I wanted to use, unlike my milk which I needed, and I figure people soak chicken in buttermilk so I didn’t see what it would hurt.And I don’t think it did—the duck tasted very much like duck should to me.Although it was a little weird to not have that thick layer of fat on it.But I never eat the fat anyway.The duck was a little tough, probably because it was wild—maybe I should have tried longer with the buttermilk?Happily I still have duck in my freezer and next time it is getting something sweet and fruity…
A note on spices: I used leftover Emeril Creole seasoning that I had on hand, about one tablespoon, and about one tablespoon of Penzey’s Cajun seasoning.
Wild Duck and Wild Game Sausage Jambalaya with Boiled Shrimp
Adapted from multiple recipes, including several Emeril recipes
3 cups long grain rice
1 heapingT of chicken broth base or bouillon cubes
water for 4 qt pot
1 lbs wild duck breasts
olive oil for searing
olive oil for sautéing
2 onions, sliced
1 head of garlic, minced
2 sweet bell peppers, diced
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 28 oz can plus 1 15 oz can of whole, peeled tomatoes, drained (reserve some juice) and chopped
2 T Cajun or Creole seasoning of choice
1 t dried thyme
cayenne pepper to taste, optional
3 T tomato paste
1 lbs smoked, spicy sausage, such as Andouille
Boiled shrimp from a Shrimp Boil (or cooked however you might want to prepare it)
Chopped green onion for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 F.Boil the rice in the water with the soup base until mostly cooked but still quite firm, approximately 3-4 minutes.I devised this method because I was not using bone-in meat, so there was no advantage to cooking the rice with the bones, and this way I ensure that the rice is cooked evenly.It also sped the dish up for me.Think of it as weeknight jambalaya although it was not a weeknight.
Sear the duck breasts in the olive oil on medium high heat—remove when they are medium rare (pink, not red).The time for this very much depends on the thickness of the breast—unlike commercial duck breasts, these came in all sizes.Just watch them carefully and maybe slit and take a peek at a few.If they start to brown too much before getting pink inside, turn the heat down.
Cook the sausage in a small amount of olive oil until fat is rendered from the sausage and flavors the oil.Remove the sausage.Add the onions and celery and cook until softened.Add the peppers and garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes.Add the tomato paste and the spice mix and thyme and cook briefly to toast the spices and incorporate the tomato paste.Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Mix all of the above prepared dishes, including the sausage and boiled shrimp (sorry I have no instructions there as I did not cook them), in a large casserole dish.Make sure to include any accumulated juices from the duck and sausage.Add some of the reserved tomato juice if the rice seems too dry.Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.Remove from oven and garnish with the green onion.Serve with cayenne pepper on the side if you had to keep it mild for children.