There’s something special about teal. While they are neither the smallest of ducks (that would be the bufflehead), nor the tastiest (that would be a subject of great debate), green-winged and their rarer cousin the blue-winged teal are undisputedly among the tastiest ducks around. I may prefer mallards, she may prefer wood ducks and he may hold the canvasback above all others (haven’t eaten ours yet, so I will let you know if I fall into that group soon!), but we will all agree that the little teal is in our top three.
I am sad to say that you will never eat one unless you either hunt them yourself or know a waterfowler willing to part with a few. (As it happens, I was flush with the little birds last week so I gave three to my friend Elise. Here’s how she cooked them.) Teal are not farmed anywhere, and have been illegal to sell in the United States since World War I. Hunting is your only option. Can you substitute domestic duck in recipes for teal? Well yes…no. There really isn’t anything else like it.
But if you do get one, or several, follow this one fundamental rule: Don’t mess with them. Leave the fancy sauces and preparations for ducks who need a veil of spice and wine. Teal demand simplicity. This recipe from 1903 has the right idea.
Have 3 fat teal prepared for cooking, and take off the heads. Split into halves without completely dividing, and season with a salt-spoonsful of salt, half as much pepper, and a tablespoonful of olive-oil. Roll them well in the oil and broil over clear but not too hot fire, for ten minutes on each side.
This is then served with hotel butter with watercress on the side. Fantastic preparation; only thing I would change is broiling for less time. Teal must be served medium-to-rare. You need not split the ducks, though. I wrote a standard recipe for roasting ducks in the fall issue of Edible Sacramento, but it is not posted online. So I will repost it here.
The one condiment our forebears were never without when it came to wild game recipes was red currant jelly. I really want to try it with my next batch o’teal, and definitely with those canvasbacks. Sadly, I have not been able to locate this classic Victorian accoutrement, and currants are one of the few things that do not grow well in California’s Central Valley. Pity.