Cook Wild Duck Like a Real Chef (While Drinking Bourbon in Camp)

Create a restaurant-worthy dinner while you’re at duck camp

two greenhead mallards in the dirt.
You’ll need a few greenheads to make this delicious meal.Joe Genzel

For a long time, I thought the only way to cook duck was with a jalapeno, some cream cheese and lots of bacon. The popper is an old duck camp standby that gets a bit overdone. There’s plenty of room for it of course, but also a world of waterfowl cuisine that goes far beyond hot cream cheese and undercooked bacon. Don’t get me wrong, we still do our own version of the popper with wood ducks and teal during early season, but when it comes to mallards, there’s such a variety of opportunity that exists to make greenheads into phenomenal tablefare, it’s almost criminal not to take advantage.

The thing is, there are so many recipes to create a darn good duck meal, and we’ll be bringing you more of them from hunters and chefs across the flyways. We’re starting with my younger brother, Chef Carl—you can find him on Instagram @microwavespecialist. He came up with that IG handle after I incessantly needled him for reheating real chef’s food. He’s actually a trained chef and can cook just about anything you want him to: from steak for 500 to beef Wellington (an all-time favorite) at Christmas. His palate has turned a little high-falutin’ but he still thrives in the place where he cut his teeth: mom’s kitchen.

Every fall we hit the road for at least one trip to get the hell out Illinois and hunt a state with drivable roads, affordable gas, and ducks. This year, we headed to Kansas to chase greenheads and honkers with my buddy Drew Palmer. We stayed with his parents, and every ingredient you’ll find here, Carl found already stocked in the kitchen cabinets—or on a quick trip to Walmart.

duck hearts with toast
There were only a few duck hearts left by the time we got home from scouting.Joe Genzel

The Appetizer: Duck Hearts and Toast

First, we start with duck hearts and toast, which I will say, I have always been a bit skeptical of, because I’m not usually a big organ eater. But they were so good our hunting buddies devoured all but three by the time we were done scouting. You might think a heart would be chewy or have a rubber-like texture, but it’s an absolute delicacy when cooked right. It’s like biting into the most succulent piece of meat you have tasted, just as long as the temperature is on point. I’ve eaten plenty of deer heart that has been overdone and that’s more like chewing on a spare tire. It’s all about the cook time. You want high heat and fast cooking. Keeping it rare is the key.

Ingredients

  • Duck hearts
  • Hamburger buns
  • Butter
  • Chicken stock
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Bacon

Instructions

  1. Pluck the duck breasts, fillet them out and set aside. Then, make a cut at the bottom of the breastplate, stick your fingers in there and pull up. You can’t miss the heart. Pull it out and put it in a bowl with the others.
  2. Brine the hearts in saltwater, sugar, and water overnight. Carl just threw it all in a bowl, but if you want a measurement, he says 3 tablespoons of sugar and salt to every gallon of water.
  3. When you’re ready to cook, heat the pan on medium high heat and drop in a knob of butter (that’s 2 tablespoons). Knob is English. Carl used Chef Fergus Henderson’s cookbook “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail,” as a base for the recipe. It’s a great tool for any cook.
  4. Start cooking some bacon in a separate skillet too.
  5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. The butter should sizzle when it hits the pan for your duck hearts, so let it heat up for a few minutes.
  7. Brown the hearts in the pan.
  8. Add chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to the pan (enough to coat the hearts). There’s no measurement here, just make sure there is enough left in the pan for a reduction sauce, which sounds fancier than it is.
  9. Pull out the hearts and set them aside, allowing the juices left in the pan to “reduce.” That’s a chef’s complicated way of saying let the sauces in the pan cook, and thus thicken, so you have something to pour over your hearts.
  10. The bacon should be making plenty of grease by now. Soak a few hamburger buns in the grease, put them on a cookie sheet and throw them in the 350-degree oven for a few minutes until toasted.
  11. Cut the buns into pieces and put them on a plate or in a bowl. Place the hearts on top of the buns and drizzle on the “reduction” sauce.
duck breasts in a glaze
It may look like something you would eat in a restaurant, but this is actually a very easy meal to make.Joe Genzel

The Main Course: Duck Breast with Currant Glaze

We have been eating duck breasts this way for years, and it’s one of the easiest ways to do it. Why? Because it combines the rich taste of a corn-fed mallard with the sweetness of preserves. You can literally use any kind of preserve or jelly with this recipe. Carl and I have cooked it with everything from plum sauce to jalapeno-infused jams. The key is plucking the breasts so the layer of fat stays on. It crisps on the grill (or a cast iron skillet), and provides a nice crunch before you make it to the tender/rare meat. Carl’s most consistent tip for cooking duck is “if you think it needs a few more minutes on the grill, take it off.” The last thing you want to do is overcook it. We like it blood red, but you can get away with just a little pink in the middle. But don’t brown it all the way through. You don’t need to kill the bird twice.

Ingredients

  • Plucked duck breasts
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Dijon or spicy mustard
  • Worcester sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Pecan Bourbon
  • Can of currant preserves
  • Honey
  • White wine vinegar
  • 2 liter of cream soda

Instructions

  1. Brine the plucked duck breasts in sugar, salt and water overnight (same as the hearts).
  2. The Marinade: Combine brown sugar, mustard, Worcester sauce, soy sauce, bourbon (Carl used a $17 bottle of pecan bourbon from the gas station) and the breasts in a bowl. At this point you’ll want to pour three fingers of pecan bourbon into a glass with ice, add the cream soda, and start drinking it (you will need multiples).
  3. Make the Glaze: Combine the currant preserves, 1 tablespoon Worcester, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, dash of white wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons honey in a sauce pan.
  4. Reduce the glaze over medium heat on the stove top until the consistency thickens (think syrup).
  5. Get the grill hot (at least 400 degrees) and grill the breast skin side down for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Flip the breasts over and add the currant preserve reduction to the skin side.
  7. Cook the breasts for no more than 3-4 more minutes adding more currant sauce during that finishing grill time.
  8. Pull the breasts from the grill and allow them to rest for 10 minutes before serving.