I'm obsessed with using as many parts as possible from the birds I kill, so I came up with a filleting method earlier this year that uses ALL of the meat and skin, and is easy to eat, too. The first video shows you how to cut a duck into two boneless fillets, and the second shows you how to cook those fillets (though, conveniently, the technique is the same for cooking breasts alone).
If you watched the PBS Food/Original Fare video in which I took a newbie duck hunting then cooked up a pintail for her, this is the method I used.
As a woman who didn't take up hunting until the age of 41, I love helping fellow adults - especially women - go out and get their first hunting experiences. In the case of Kelly Cox, we shared her first duck hunt in front of a camera.
Kelly is the creator of Original Fare, a PBS Food video series, and as part of the series, she decided this year to try hunting for her food. Check out the video on our hunt, then keep scrolling - I'll have a bit more to say.
OK, so much to say, but the first thing is that a new survey this year finally validated what I've been saying for a few years now: "(O)btaining meat is an increasingly important motivation among American hunters to go afield. While there are several reasons for this growth in the segment of hunters who engage in hunting for utilitarian reasons, several of Responsive Management's new studies make clear that the trend is widespread and unmistakable."
Translation: People want high quality meat, and they're willing to hunt for it.
Kelly - a former vegetarian who still shuns factory-farmed meat - definitely falls into that category, and she's part of a group of people whom hunters should do everything possible to welcome into the fold. It was really exciting to be in a video that I knew was going to reach an audience that cares a LOT about where its food comes from, but isn't necessarily familiar with hunting. Opportunity!
Now, onto the details: Kelly was a fantastic shot. I think she hit her first eight or nine clays in that first session with Dale Tate. And the bird she got was the first bird she shot at. Woot!
Next: She fell in love with the marsh, despite what you can't see in the video: that a couple assholes set up really close to us and seriously marred our hunt. She took that in stride and focused on what so many of us love: the beauty of the birds that live in that world so few people see up close.
Next: A few days before the hunt, she mentioned that I'd be cooking something. I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to me - it is a food show - but I was a bit of a deer in the headlights. I'm not the star of my kitchen; Hank is! But Hank was on the road, promoting his new cookbook (with photos by me), Duck, Duck, Goose, so this was all on me. Gulp.
I quickly realized, though, that one of my favorite ways to eat duck is simply salting it, pan searing it, slicing it up, and maybe topping it with a squirt of lemon juice and some pepper. I can do that!
So I did, and the result was delicious. It didn't hurt that I had a couple pintails on hand, so Kelly and cinematographer Lucas Longacre's first taste of wild duck was as good as it gets.
We could barely speak as we ate.
Finally: When you surrender your actions to others, whether they're filmmakers, writers or photographers, you never know what you're going to get. In this case, I have to say what they produced is completely accurate - the only error in it is my own, and it's worth noting here:
When I was cooking, I said the biggest mistake people make cooking duck is not cooking it long enough. What I meant was that's the big mistake when they're pan searing duck, where you never seem to trust yourself to let it go long enough. For the most part, people tend to overcook duck, which is the worst thing you can do to a duck breast. My bad! As the politicians say, I misspoke.
All in all, this was a thoroughly wonderful experience. Kelly and Lucas are welcome in my home and my duck blind (such as it is) any time.
But "Duck, Duck, Goose" is special to me for several reasons. First and foremost, waterfowling is my passion, and one of the primary reasons I started hunting ducks was how incredibly good they taste.
And on a more personally gratifying level: This book is 100 percent in color, unlike "Hunt, Gather, Cook." Every single image is mine, right down to the duck silhouette motif you'll see throughout the book. And Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel's "Bizarre Foods" gave me a nice shout-out in his back-cover review of the book. Thanks, Andrew!
If you're not a hunter, this book still has plenty for you - Hank and I worked with both domestic and wild ducks. And if you are a hunter, this is an indispensable guide for getting the most out of your birds. Some of the dishes are super cheffy, but the book also devotes a lot of space to basic techniques that you'll appreciate even if you never try the high-wire stuff.
The recipes originate from all over the globe, so if you love ethnic food, you'll find lots of ethnicities represented here. And having eaten every single dish I photographed, I can tell you they're ridiculously delicious. Even though they sometimes got cold by the time I was done shooting them.
If you'd like to meet the master, Hank will be on book tour for the next several months, and most of his events are dinners at excellent restaurants with chefs the likes of Bryan Voltaggio and Anita Lo. These events are fun because you can get dinner and face time with Hank, not just hear a lecture and stand in line for an autograph. You can check out what cities he's visiting here.
Work prevents me from joining him on the whole tour, though I will go to a few stops with him, time permitting.
I hope you'll consider buying the book. If you do, enjoy!