A request came through the system last week for a wild duck. It had to be wild and it had to be whole. It was for a particular English gentleman and the Prince of Wales obviously had a hankering for some wild duck while visiting Auckland. We were happy to oblige.
You cannot sell such ducks, just as you may not sell wild pheasants or trout. But you can give them away.
What was interesting was the way the wild duck was going to be served. "It will be roasted, and served cold in the traditional European fashion," said the go-between. This involves side dishes of Russian origin including a beetroot salad made with dill, shallots and spring onions; a potato salad; and tarragon mayonnaise with the duck meat.
This is a lot different from how we cook our ducks in this part of the world. They are usually roasted in an oven bag along with various marinades involving soy sauce, oil and other sauces.
Wild duck is a lot different from the domestic farmed variety. It doesn't have as much fat and is thinner through the breast, so the potential for the breast meat to be overcooked while the thighs are still being transformed from red raw to succulent is real. One chef involved in the special dish for our esteemed visitor explained that one solution was to remove the breast when it was cooked to perfection and still retained juices, leaving the thighs and legs to continue cooking.
What does go well with wild duck, and in fact all game birds, is fruit.
The famous duck l'orange is an obvious endorsement. A cup of fruit juice in the oven bag, reinforced with a splosh of port, always helps.
Another method is to joint the bird and casserole it, which removes the possibility of meat drying out. Again, fruit juice is a good accompaniment, and it can be boosted by chopped apples and oranges.
Professional chefs would no doubt shudder at the suggestion that a packet of soup mix adds flavour, colour and thickening. A favourite is rich red tomato soup. But we are in the business of feeding family and mates, not discerning diners. And complaints are rare. Some duck shooters like to breast their birds. When there is a large bag of game, this is a practical option, but the breasts, which are like a pair of fillets, contain no fat. The fat lies under the skin and has been removed. One successful method of cooking the breasts developed by a game chef of renown is to rub them with a mixture of dried herbs and spices, and bake them in a very hot oven. The flavourings can be determined by personal taste. A little oil rubbed on first will help in the process, and the cooking time is quite short - maybe 10 minutes depending on the temperature. More heat and less time is the key. Then the two fillets are left to sit for 15 minutes before being sliced thinly across the grain and served with a sauce. This chef uses a cherry sauce which has been reduced and is thick and creamy, but any fruit-based topping will do just fine.
Another treatment which was once offered involved breasts of paradise duck, which is actually a native shelduck, which means it fits halfway between a duck and a goose. In other words, a big duck. And size can often mean toughness when it comes to converting the meat to dinner.
The best parries, as shooters call them, for the table are the young birds. These will be yearlings, and the identification test involves bending the upper beak. If it is supple, it is a young bird. If hard and unyielding it is past the use-by date and these go to sausages and salamis.
The treatment for parry breasts is to beat them flat, as if they were paua. This tenderises the meat. Grill them on a barbecue, which adds flavour and seals both sides, then cut the meat into strips and add the juice from a can of mandarins, half a cup of water and a pre-packaged stir-fry sachet of Asian origin. Season with salt and pepper and simmer or casserole for two hours. Thicken with cornflour and milk and add the mandarin slices.
Wild ducks may be carriers of nasty things such as salmonella, so the flesh should be cooked sufficiently to kill any bugs. In other words, no rare and bloody steaks.