A first installment into an ongoing cooking series
Most of what I know about waterfowl was self-taught. My initiation into the sport wasn’t through a mentor or duck-hunting family member. Instead, it was through a group of young buddies who, like me, just love being in the outdoors.
For that reason, just about everything I know about the game came from trial and error, including hunting, shooting, cleaning, cooking and eating ducks and geese. Needless to say, lots of mistakes were made.
Evidently I wasn’t alone. In fact, the more I learn about our game of choice, the more I realize how little most hunters know and understand about various aspects of waterfowling. Sure, there’s vastly more resources available in today’s day and age than years ago. Still, many hunters simply lack knowledge of certain integral aspects.
Two categories immediately come to mind when I ponder most hunter’s struggles: effectively shooting ducks (rather than simply shooting at ducks), and cooking them.
As we’ve discussed here numerous times in the past, becoming a good shotgunner is really a learned behavior; believe me, it took me several years to get it down. It’s not the result of drills, or contemplating leads, or magic devices that fit on a gun. I relate basic, effective shooting to maintaining a good weight: sure, you can try fad diets and break-through pills, but the real key is to put down the fork and exercise more. Shotgunning is very similar.
When it comes to effectively cooking ducks and geese, however, there are indeed magic potions.
When I began cooking my kills, so to speak, I did so in the only way I knew how; through lousy, lazy marinades and stocks made with with store-bought dressings and soups. Big mistake. Later, I learned that the key to cooking wild game birds isn’t to attempt to cover up their taste, but to try to enhance their natural flavor, or possibly tone down any “gamey” character.
As we approach the upcoming waterfowl season, we’ll look into a few important ways to prepare birds. The goal: for all of us to use up our 2014 birds before firing the first shot of 2015, and enjoy the results.
Installment One: Duck or Goose Summer Sausage
I’ve prepared wild game birds a number of ways with the intention being mass quantity consumption. Deep fried ducks, basted in buffalo sauce, immediately come to mind. However, no method is as effective to “use up birds” as summer sausage.
When I first took on the task, the thought of making homemade sausage seemed fairly intimidating. This was a job for old men with infinite culinary experience and nothing but time on their hands, I thought. Thankfully, I was wrong.
I had received a smoker as a gift years ago, and a small, inexpensive grinder for my birthday, so I decided to give it a shot. Boy, I’m glad I did.
After a little internet research, I decided to take the advice of forum chat buddies and purchase a basic summer sausage kit from Cabela’s. In addition, I purchased a little high-temp hot pepper cheese there as well, and some ground pork right from my local grocery store. The sausage kit included all the skins, seasons and cures; I had everything I needed to begin. I spent one evening grinding up bulk duck breasts, combined them with ground pork, followed curing instructions, and stuffed and smoked my sausage the next day.
I admit, the process was a bit lengthy from start to finish, but extremely easy. It was really just something to do a few hours over a weekend that was otherwise spent on yardwork.
The end product was outstanding. My neighbors loved it. The Game and Fish guys who run my local duck-draw loved it. An old-timer I visit who hadn’t eaten ducks in decades loved it. Even my wife loved it.
The uses for summer sausage are endless, served hot or cold, and it makes a fantastic gift. Nearly everyone who sampled my first batch couldn’t believe I made it with ducks. A few offered recommendations: smoke a little more next time or add more spices, and I even froze a bunch.
If you’ve got a smoker and a grinder, or have a buddy who does, give summer sausage a try. You’ll likely clean out your freezer with this one.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.