Cooking a duck isn’t easy, which is why we hear other hunters say these things:
“Do you eat the ducks you shoot?”
“Do you like duck?”
“We call them sky carp around here.”
“I quit hunting ducks because I couldn’t eat them.”
Or the joke we hear in Canadian bars every year- You know how you eat a duck? Put it on a board, roast it in the oven, take it out, throw the duck away and eat the board!
Whenever I hear comments like these it sounds more like a personal confession, something along the lines of “Help me, I don’t have any idea how to prepare a duck or goose.”
The main reason ducks and geese are tricky to prepare because it is so easy to overcook them. Here are a few tips to make your results turn out better.
First, you need to start out with the right duck. Both ducks and geese take on the flavor of the food they’ve been eating. As a rule, puddle ducks taste best. Mallards, teal, pintails, widgeon, wood ducks and so on generally taste better, or are more mild than other species. You can do yourself a favor by choosing which ducks to shoot while you are in the field. Here in Utah, I regularly pass on shooting gadwalls, shovelers, and all the diver duck species when I hunt because of their diet. I’ve eaten these birds in other states and they were fine, but I’m sure every state or region has its peculiarities. My personal favorite is Alberta mallards that have been eating wheat, peas, and corn for a couple of months! I haven’t prepared any sea ducks yet, but I’m sure the guys who hunt them can tell you which are the best.
Second, I like to make sure I clean my birds quickly. I know some people like to hang their birds so they can age, but I like to take care of mine as soon as I’m home- I think they taste better this way. I can age them in the refrigerator if I need to. Also, take the time to clean out the wounds, looking for shot, bone fragments, and feathers.
Third, when I cook a duck or goose I want to make sure I never overcook it! There is a fine line between a perfect piece of meat and one that is overcooked and ruined. I want my duck meat cooked medium rare, no more. This is a good rule for any duck roasted, grilled, or pan seared. Once it passes over to medium it loses a ton of flavor, becomes tougher, and starts to take on a liver taste. I like to sear most of my breasts in a hot pan and finish roasting them in the oven. This link is a great description on the simple technique of searing a duck breast, plus there are tons of other great recipes on this site, Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.
I like to compare the taste of game to store bought meat the same way I compare home-grown tomatoes to store bought. The flavor of game is intense and rich, and very much worth the effort The feast is as important as the hunt, after all it is the reason for the hunt!