ANYONE WHO has been in a water blind at sunrise on a bitter cold, blustery and sleety day, when the ducks come flying downwind, knows something about both misery and exhilaration. When the weather is miserable and the waterfowler is sure to be uncomfortable, the sport will be best, for that's when the mallards, black ducks, widgeons, gadwalls and teal are most likely to be moving.
A waterfowler will endure almost anything to be on the marshes or up the tributaries with comrades and the Labrador or Chesapeake Bay retriever when the ducks are flying and the season is in.
They're a sturdy crew, and will brave freezing weather in an open boat to reach the water blind, or struggle through mud and slush to reach marsh and shore blinds. Once camouflaged among the rushes of the blind, the gunner has time to appreciate the freezing temperature, the chilling wind and the waiting. Waiting for the ducks to fly keens the appetite and appreciation for well-prepared duck.
Ducks are migratory and are protected by stringent federal game laws. Seasons vary from state to state.
Wild ducks are delicious prepared many ways and are no more difficult to cook than chicken. But ducks, as any game, require a little special handling. First of all, even though duck-hunting weather is usually very cold, it is best to eviscerate and cool the birds as soon as possible after they are shot. It is not smart to stuff ducks into a game pocket or bag for extended periods.
Then there is the great debate about hanging ducks to age them properly. Some game cooks say that ducks are suitable for cooking only after they have been eviscerated but left in full feather and hung in a cool dry place at least a day or two. It is the contention of other cooks that birds should be eviscerated and plucked as soon as possible. Since most hunters have access to commercial pluckers, the latter is the more practical choice.
Ducks should be plucked with care being taken that all pinfeathers are removed. Before cooking, the birds should be thoroughly washed and dried, and any visible shot should be removed. If the cook is adamant about aging a bird, one trick is to put a duck in a brown paper bag, and then in a plastic bag, and put the bag, loosely closed, in the bottom of the refrigerator overnight. Adding a quartered lemon to the bag gives the duck a fresher odor.
The ducks mentioned earlier (mallards, blacks, etc.) are puddle ducks, and to most tastes the most flavorful. Diving ducks and sea ducks, such as eiders, buffleheads and scaup, because of a diet that may include fish or crustaceans, are considered less palatable by most cooks.
If a duck is quite large and so apt to be fairly tough, one trick is to soak it for several hours or overnight in soda water or onion water. (Just add quartered onions to the water.) While many cooks prefer to marinate ducks and cook them thoroughly--often with spices of fruits--there are some gourmets who swear by rare duck. In that case it is necessary to roast a medium-sized duck in a 350-degree oven for about one hour. Whenever wild ducks are to be roasted or baked, the addition of unpeeled, quartered apples and peeled quartered onions to the cavity is a good idea. Discard the apple and onion before serving.
Wild ducks may be prepared in a great variety of ways, ranging from simple roasting to exotic casseroles. Leftover duck may be used in soups, salads and souffle's. Bits of cooked duck, if ground or chopped fine, are an excellent addition to a liver pa te'. Thrifty cooks use bony parts and leftover meat to enrich game stock. Clean ducks may be frozen either whole, quartered, breasted or in pre-cooked recipes. Game stock freezes very well, and is handy for soups, cassoulet and sauces.
Since wild ducks are such a special treat, they deserve the cook's most special preparation and service. A centerpiece of decoys and service on fine game plates are fun and the appropriate flourish for such a delicacy. Here, from the game bag, are some recipes you may find worthy of this sporting duck.
CHARCOALED TEAL (1 serving) 1 to 2 teal Salt, pepper and herbs, to taste Melted butter
Clean, split and season teal well to taste with salt, pepper and herbs; and place on a grill three inches above hot charcoal. Baste frequently with melted butter. Teal should be done in about 30 minutes.
SALMI OF DUCK (4 to 6 servings) 2 finely chopped scallions 2 tablespoons butter 2 cups diced, cold boiled or roasted duck 3 1/2-ounce can sliced pitted ripe olives 10 3/4-ounces duck gravy or beef gravy Pinch each thyme and rosemary 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 quarter teaspoon pepper 1/2 cup sherry 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Saute' scallions in butter until transparent. Add duck, olives, gravy and seasonings. Simmer five to ten minutes. Add sherry and lemon juice and simmer 5 minutes more. Serve on rice or toast.
BAKED DUCKS AND PAN GRAVY (8 servings, if ducks are quartered) 2 mallard ducks, cleaned Salt and pepper to taste 1 large onion, chopped 2 ribs celery, chopped 4 slices bacon or salt pork 3 cups water 1 teaspoon herbs of choice (poultry seasoning will do) 2 chicken bouillon cubes
For Gravy: 1/2 cup flour 2 cups half-and-half (or water) 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Salt and pepper ducks, to taste. Place in baking pan. Add half of onion and half of celery; place other half in body cavity. Lay two slices of bacon across the breast of each bird. Add to water in pan the herbs and bouillon cubes. Place ducks in 300-degree oven and cook 3 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Smaller ducks will cook in about 2 hours. When ducks are done remove and wrap in aluminum foil to retain heat (or hold in warm oven).
To make pan gravy crumble bacon strips (from duck breast) into baking pan. Add flour and stir until the lumps disappear and flour turns almond color. Stir in half-and-half or water, add seasonings and let cook in hot oven for about 20 minutes, until gravy is medium thick. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if necessary.
WILD DUCK IN RED WINE (8 servings) 4 whole wild ducks Bacon drippings Salt and pepper to taste 2 onions, cut in wedges 1 apple, cut in quarters 4 ribs celery 4 bouillon cubes 1 cup red wine, divided 1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced 6 scallions, chopped 5-ounce can water chestnuts
Wash and dry ducks. Rub inside and out with bacon drippings. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a piece of onion, an apple quarter and a rib of celery inside each duck. Place ducks in a roaster pan and cover with water. Add bouillon cubes and 1/2 cup red wine. Cook over medium heat until half the water has evaporated. Add rest of wine. Cook until ducks are tender. Remove ducks from pan. To remaining liquid add mushrooms, scallions and water chestnuts. Cook until scallions and mushrooms are tender and about 1 1/2 cups of liquid remains. Halve the ducks. Place them on cooked rice. Spoon liquid over ducks and serve hot.
BREAST OF DUCK ON WILD RICE (4 to 6 servings) 4 to 6 whole breasts of wild duck 1 to 2 quartered unpeeled apples 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1 cup melted butter Cooked wild rice and cooked whole mushrooms for serving
Debone duck breasts by cutting along breastbone ridge. Simmer the bones and any remaining meat and use in other recipes. Place 1 whole duck breast on a square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place one quarter apple on top of duck. Season with salt and pepper. Pour melted butter over duck. Bring foil up and seal, using one tent per breast. Bake in 350-degree oven 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with wild rice and whole cooked mushrooms.
DUCK SALAD (6 servings) 4 cups cooked duck, cut in bite-sized pieces 1 cucumber, peeled and minced 1 green pepper, minced Hardy dash hot pepper sauce Salt and pepper to taste Mayonnaise (enough to bind salad lightly)
Combine all ingredients. Serve on lettuce.
WILD DUCK WITH SAUERKRAUT (8 servings) 2 wild ducks, cleaned 2 teaspoons paprika 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced 2 apples, quartered 2 onions, quartered 4 slices bacon or salt pork, uncooked 1/3 cup butter, melted 2 cups water 3 cups canned sauerkraut 1 teaspoon caraway seed 2 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
Season ducks with mixture of paprika, salt, pepper and garlic. Divide apples and onions and stuff half into cavities and place other half in bottom of baking pan. Cover breasts with uncooked bacon and place in baking pans with melted butter and water. Bake in 300-degree oven for 3 hours. Baste every 30 minutes. Combine sauerkraut, caraway seeds and crumbled bacon in casserole dish. Mix well. Place in oven 20 minutes before ducks are done. Serve quartered ducks on sauerkraut.