I wrote recently about a dinner party I cooked for in Napa, where I relied on known recipes, and by so doing got to be part of the party, not just the cook. But I also wrote about the competing desire of a cook to stretch, to create new dishes and to present them to an audience.
Last weekend was one of those meals. Holly and I invited six of our friends — all waterfowlers — to our home for our second Duck Hunter’s Dinner. Returning from last year’s Duck Hunter’s Dinner was Evan, whom I will now call Canada Goose Slayer (more on that in another post), as well as Pete Ottesen and his wife Lexie. New to the table were Bob McLandress of the California Waterfowl Association and his wife Ilsa, as well as our new friend Rebecca, who hunts ducks…with falcons. Cool, eh?
We hold these dinners to bring waterfowlers together to celebrate at the table the animals we spend so much time and money chasing. So many hunters rely on one or two recipes to cook their ducks and geese, and many of them are good. But my goal at these meals is to show people who eat a lot of duck something they may have never seen before.
I am posting this here because a great number of you who read this space also hunt ducks and geese. My hope is that you will try some of these recipes, links to which are all on this site. And for those of you who do not hunt, everything here can be done with domestic duck or goose. Here’s the menu:
- Salad of mixed greens dressed with warm wild duck fat and Meyer lemons, topped with snow goose “prosciutto”
- A shot glass full of the wild duck pho broth I made last week
- Duck heart tartare, puttanesca style
- Canada goose sugo over homemade rye tagliatelle
- Seared duck breast over green fava puree with Cumberland sauce
- Homemade maple ice cream with snowball cookies
I wanted to use all of the duck, and I managed pretty well. Feetwent into making the pho broth; legs and wingsfrom the Canada goose Evan shot went into the sugo, as did a pound or two of cleaned duck gizzards; I had a full pound of duck heartssaved up to make the tartare, and the breast meat was seared rare for the main course. I even put a tablespoon of wild duck fat into the snowball cookies, which added a faint ducky taste that you’d notice only if I told you it was there.
How’d it go? The salad was good, and I now have requests for my snow goose prosciutto recipe, which I’ll get to in another post. The pho broth was a nice little break — we all thought it’d be a perfect thing to put in a thermos and take into the duck blind on a cold winter’s morning.
But I think I am safe when I say the heart tartare was the hit of the night. I am a little surprised, because it was by far the most challenging of the dishes I made. It is, after all, raw wild duck hearts. I have to thank San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino for the inspiration here; he does a heart tartare puttanesca, too. I altered a few things, switched out beef (or pork) heart with duck hearts, and topped it all with a fried garlic chip for some texture.
I am really, really happy people liked it. I try very hard to avoid the trap of “macho” offal eating, where the dish tastes super strong or you need to chew it forever or whatever — but you still eat it to prove something. “I just ate coyote anal glands! Mmm…” Not at my table. I like offal, and I enjoy the challenge of making it accessible and tasty. This heart tartare proved to be both: The basic flavorings are capers, chopped olives, mint, shallots, roasted red peppers and olive oil. I added lemon juice right at service so nothing would turn olive drab from the acid. But as you can see, the dish is still about two-thirds chopped heart.
I can’t wait to make it again, but I can probably only do it one more time this year, as it takes a long time to collect enough hearts. I will try it with regular breast meat, too, which will be easy enough.
All in all, we had a great time, drank a lot of wine and swapped stories about ducks and geese and the strange things you see in the swamp. And the next morning, most of us got up and headed right back out into the marsh to chase ducks again. Our hunt was pretty special, as we had a brand-new hunter with us; Holly has that story here.
This will not be our only Duck Hunter’s Dinner this year; I have at least two more planned. We’d love to invite some new people, but this is the one meal we do where a seat must be earned with time spent in the swamps. Duck hunters only.