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Rabbit Hunters Take Note: Steps to Avoid Tularemia

February 25, 2013

Rabbit Hunters Take Note: Steps to Avoid Tularemia

Hello all, in the previous blog I indicated that I would talk about Toxoplasma gondii and Trichinella spp. in feral pigs. However, recently two rabbit hunters in eastern North Carolina tested positive for tularemia so I decided to address the current event first.

Rabbit hunting is a fantastic hunting experience and I fondly remember many days hunting rabbits with friends and family in northern Indiana. There are many reasons that I enjoy rabbit hunting. First, hunting rabbits can be as simple as walking a field, fencerow, or edge by yourself or with a friend or two. Second, you can wander through the field systematically or haphazardly. Third, you can increase the experience and excitement by working a thick briar patch with a pack of beagles and four or five close friends. Fourth, you can hunt rabbits anytime of the day–you do not have to get up at o’dark thirty. I am sure you have additional reasons that you enjoy rabbit hunting and I would love to hear them. Nevertheless, the excitement when a rabbit breaks cover is hard to beat.

Tularemia is often called rabbit fever, deer fly fever, meat-cutter’s disease, Ohara disease, and Francis disease. It is a zoonotic (can be passed from wildlife to humans) disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Francisella tularensis naturally occurs in the environment, can survive in water and soil for weeks, and is common in rabbits, hares, and rodents. In fact, tularemia has been documented in over 150 wildlife species and is responsible for killing large numbers of wild animals. Tularemia occurs primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and has been reported throughout North America, Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and recently a case was reported in Australia. In the United States, approximately 200 human cases are reported each year with reports from every state except Hawaii.

In rabbits, the symptoms include a white- or yellow-spotted liver and the liver and/or spleen may be a dark bluish-red and appear very swollen. Additionally, you may notice external ulcerations or infected areas where the animal was bitten by a tick or deer fly.

Humans most commonly become infected through skin contact with infected animals (e.g., rabbits), ticks, deer flies, bites from infected cats, eating improperly cooked meat, drinking contaminated water, or inhaling airborne bacteria. In the United States, rabbits are the source of infection in 90 percent of the cases, 70 percent of which comes from the cottontail rabbit genus Sylvilagus (16 species in this genus are recognized worldwide).

The incubation period for tularemia in humans is usually three to five days after exposure but can range from one to 14 days. The signs and symptoms depend on mode of exposure. Possible symptoms include skin ulcers and rashes, swollen and painful lymph nodes, inflamed eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, diarrhea, or pneumonia. If inhaled, symptoms can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, dry cough, and progressive weakness. People with pneumonia can develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, bloody sputum, and respiratory failure. Tularemia can be fatal if not treated with appropriate antibiotics.

Last week, I provided some simple recommendations for hunters who clean feral pigs. Many of the recommendations are the same for rabbits. Hunters should always wear long sleeves, gloves, and eye protection when cleaning any game animal. After cleaning the animal, clean and disinfect all knives, clothing, or cleaning surfaces and absolutely make sure to wash your hands and forearms frequently and carefully with soap and water. Additionally, avoid drinking unfiltered or unclean water from streams and rivers. Insect repellents containing DEET have been shown to help prevent tularemia.

Hunters should avoid eating rabbits that appear in the field to be “lazy” or do not act “normal.” During the cleaning process, be sure to wear gloves, and hunters should examine the external surfaces of the rabbit for any infected areas. ALWAYS check the liver for the appearance of white or yellow spots. Even if the liver appears bright, does not have spots, and the rabbit appeared healthy in the field, make sure to cook the meat thoroughly; F. tularensis are killed by heat above 160 F.

As always, as long as these proper precautions are taken there is no reason not to enjoy your favorite fried or braised rabbit or hasenpfeffer.

Read and join the discussion on Rabbit Hunters Take Note: Steps to Avoid Tularemia at OutdoorHub.com.

Field Care Critical for Tasty Venison

December 3, 2012

Field Care Critical for Tasty Venison

Everyone has heard someone say they didn’t like deer meat because of the “gamey” taste. But what is gamey? The truth is, venison is a lean, healthy source of protein that is equally palatable if the proper steps are taken, beginning immediately after the shot.

There’s really no trick to good-tasting deer meat; a lot of it is common sense, but it does take some effort. The most important step list is cooling the meat, and that means field dressing, or gutting, the carcass promptly. This should be done in the field soon after the shot. Remove the entrails and prop open the ribcage, letting air circulate in the body cavity. After field dressing, be sure to sign, date and affix your deer tag to the carcass, and move it to a location for processing, taking care to keep the meat clean. If you plan to use a commercial butcher/processer, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure they are open and can get your deer into the cooler.

If you plan to process the meat yourself, you’ll need a cool, clean place to hang the carcass, which should be skinned as quickly as possible unless temperatures are very cool. Prompt skinning is another important step in cooling the meat when temperatures are mild.

Through every step in this process be vigilant to keep the meat clean of debris and hair. Don’t get in a hurry. There are instructional videos available to help you butcher your deer, and doing it yourself will give you the peace of mind of knowing exactly how the meat was cared for. Large commercial processors may mix your deer meat with that brought in by other hunters. Do it yourself and you can make custom cuts and package sizes suited for your family.

Once the meat is cooled, butchered, packaged and frozen, you can enjoy many great meals. Venison is very lean, so adding a strip of bacon to steaks or mixing beef tallow or sausage to the burger helps with flavor and cooking. The only “trick” to cooking tasty venison, is not overcooking it. Venison, and all wild game, should be carefully cooked to medium or medium rare. There is a fine line between just right and an overcooked, dry, livery-tasting (gamey) deer steak. When properly cared for and cooked correctly, venison can be as tasty and tender as beef.

Read and join the discussion on Field Care Critical for Tasty Venison at OutdoorHub.com.

Sportsman Channel Continues Exclusive Mini-Series from MeatEater on a Journey Through New Zealand

October 19, 2012

Sportsman Channel Continues Exclusive Mini-Series from MeatEater on a Journey Through New Zealand

Chat LIVE with Steven Rinella This Sunday Beginning at 9 pm ET

The next installment of the four-part mini-series on New Zealand hunting on MeatEater with Steven Rinella is a tried and true Wild Boar hunt. Rinella will take audiences on a quest through the South Island of New Zealand to hunt Red Stag, Wild Boar and the elusive Himalayan Tahr – and he will prepare a meal from his hunt that same day. The special mini-series continues exclusively on Sportsman Channel this Sunday, October 21 at 9pm ET/PT and continues every Sunday night at 9pm ET/PT through Nov. 4.

Viewers will have a unique opportunity to ask Rinella questions during a live Facebook chat on Sunday, October 21 beginning at 9 pm ET. Viewers can log onto Sportsman Channel’s Facebook page (http://facebook.com/sportsmanchannel) at 9pm ET to ask their questions while simultaneously watching the show.

This New Zealand episode has Rinella taking on something that falls outside of his comfort zone: hunting wild boar with dogs and just a knife as his weapon. Rinella quickly learns to keep a sharp eye and keen ear as he tracks the invasive animals. “It’s up close, it’s personal, it’s very visceral and it’s the one kind of hunt that makes me a little uneasy because you are breathing the breath of the animal that you are going to kill,” Rinella shares during the show.

Wild boar is an invasive species with no natural predators in New Zealand. They’ve been on the island since the mid-18th century when Captain Cook brought them over on a voyage to the South Pacific. Since then, they’ve been referred to as “Cook’s Pigs.”

Rinella had guidance from Darren Moore, an experienced pig hunter and dog trainer. Moore and Rinella accomplish well the task of keeping an eye on the dogs’ GPS signals while interpreting their movements and listening for the sounds of pigs in the forest. The dogs quickly stick on a sow and Rinella moves in during the confusing hustle to cleanly make the kill. But that’s not the end of their pig hunting adventures. Soon, Moore and Rinella come across something neither of them ever expected that made Rinella say to the camera, “It’s a little bit surreal.”

Steven Rinella is an avid outdoorsman, writer, and television personality best known for his ability to translate the hunting lifestyle to a wide variety of audiences. He is the author of recently released book, “MeatEater: Adventures of the Life of an American Hunter.” Other books include: “The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine” and the award-winning “American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon.” Rinella’s writing has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Glamour, Men’s Journal, Outside, New Yorker and more traditional hunting and fishing publications like Field and Stream. He is a columnist for Petersen’s HUNTING, has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, CNN’s American Morning and Fox News’ Fox and Friends.

Read and join the discussion on Sportsman Channel Continues Exclusive Mini-Series from MeatEater on a Journey Through New Zealand at OutdoorHub.com.

Wild Pork Need Not Be Gamey

August 13, 2012

Wild Pork Need Not Be Gamey

I’ve gotten some good emails about my pig article in Slate magazine and I think I ought to address some of the points and questions that people have been raising.

First of all, wild pork does not necessarily taste ‘gamey.’ Most often it is bad or delayed butchering that causes gaminess. I have butchered wild pigs and domestic pigs and most of the meat tasted identical. There are two major differences. The wild pigs have less and leaner bacon, while the hams from the wild pigs taste much better.

If you kill a wild pig and butcher it within a few weeks of when the acorns drop from the oak trees in your area, then the hams are outstanding. All that I did was give them a a quick two day salt rub (with some bay leaves and other stuff in there as well) and then I did a hot smoke out back in a single afternoon. Not very complicated, but the flavor and appearance was very much like the famous Iberian ham.

You know what Iberian pigs and ham are? About 3,000 years ago a bunch of domestic pigs were crossed with Eurasian wild boars. These hybrids are allowed to run around freely in huge meadows and oak forests where they gorge themselves on acorns right before slaughter. The resulting meat, properly handled and cured, is hailed as among the finest pork in the world.

Does that sound familiar? This is pretty much the same situation that we have with most wild pigs in the US. Wild/domestic hybrids that get a lot of exercise and stuff themselves on acorns. The meat from most wild pigs is excellent. The sloppy DIY butchering, often delayed by hours while the corpse sits in the hot sun, not so excellent.

The next point that I would like to address is the question of whether I have ever actually killed a pig. Yes, absolutely. In fact, you can watch me on a successful pig hunt in Helenah Swedberg’s film about me (watch the trailer here).

This article orginally appeared on Jackson Landers’ blog, rule 303.

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A No Plucking Way to Dress Out a Whole Turkey

June 13, 2012

A No Plucking Way to Dress Out a Whole Turkey

The old saying is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Well, there is more than one way to dress a turkey. Some folks just pull the breasts off and leave the rest of the bird for the coyotes, but that seems wasteful to me. When we roast a whole turkey, whether it is a Butterball or wild bird, the breasts make the main course of at least one meal and most of the remaining meat gets used for turkey sandwiches the next day and the bones are stewed into stock for future use as turkey soup. A small turkey will provide a dozen servings if you count the turkey soup, which means four full meals for my family of three. I like the taste of turkey too much to let that many meals go into a coyote if I can help it.

I want to utilize as much of the bird as possible. But I have childhood memories of plucking enough chickens on my grandparents’ farm so that I grew to hate the smell of hot wet feathers. It was never a pleasant smell to start with. But throw in an association with burned fingers and an unpleasant job and you create a general distaste for the experience. I am more than willing to give up the turkey skin in exchange for not having to dip a bird in hot water then pluck it. My way to dress out the bird is to skin them, and here’s how I do it.

After your turkey is down and you have a chance to give thanks and have filled out your tag, you can bring the bird home whole so long as you plan to get it dressed out and chilled within an hour or so. If you don’t have access to refrigeration then you need to butcher and cook your bird as soon as possible.

Find a sharp knife, a clean work area, and a garbage can with a liner. I recommend doing this job outdoors with some newspapers on a table so that after you are done you can roll up the papers and dispose of the entire mess without making your kitchen smell like the inside of a turkey.

If you want to preserve the fan, wing feathers or spurs for mounting, remove them before you start butchering. If you don’t want to pursue taxidermy with your bird then just leave those parts and pieces on the carcass and proceed. You can wear latex gloves to protect your hands from the smell of the carcass. I find it just as effective to apply hand lotion or moisturizer just before butchering. This fills the pores in my skin and seems to prevent the scent from lingering after I wash up. Vaseline, Bag Balm, or even A&D ointment will work if you don’t happen to have any moisturizing hand lotion.

Lay the turkey on its back on a flat surface on top of the newspapers. Keep the garbage can handy. Feathers will come off and you will want a place to throw them. Grasp a turkey leg near the foot and bend the joint. Feel for the weak spot in the leg joint that separates the feet from the drumstick and cut around the joint where the bones come together. If you feel an opening between the bones as you work the joint back and forth go ahead and slip your knife into the joint and cut anything holding the bones together. If the joint doesn’t pop open for you, twist it sideways until you can see an opening between the ends of the bones. Slice into that gap and separate them. Remove the foot and discard into your scrap heap. Repeat with the other leg.

In a similar way, remove the last two sections of wing. I remove the last two sections of wing because it makes skinning easier, but some folks think it is worth saving that middle section and only remove the most distal section of the wing.

Once you have removed the feet and wing tips, lay your turkey on its back. Part the feathers and make an incision near the highest point in the center of the breast bone. Anywhere easy to reach is fine. Don’t get hung up on finding the exact center or highest spot. When you can get the tip of your knife under the skin, begin to peel the skin back. Slice between the skin and the flesh to separate them when needed, much of this can be done by just pulling the skin away from the bird like peeling off a shirt. As you work toward the belly, be careful to avoid cutting so deeply that you puncture the gut.

At no time should fecal matter or stomach contents touch your knife or any part of the bird that you intend to eat.

When you work the skin off each side of the breast and belly, continue down the thighs and ribs and along the wings and legs. As you get down the legs and wings, you can split the skin but it is just as easy to pull the bird out of its skin like pulling your arm out of a sleeve.

Cut the tail from the body at the base of the tail. Continue to remove the skin from the bird’s back and you will end up with the skin and feathers attached to just the bird’s head. Sever the neck and remove the head with all skin and feathers attached. Discard them into the trash.

You are now left with a whole skinned bird. The only thing left to do is to remove the guts.

Place the bird on its back again with the neck away from you. Carefully cut around the anus so that it is free of the bird and held in place only by the end of the intestine. Now puncture the membrane at the base of the breast bone allowing access into the gut cavity. Be careful not to cut into the guts. Lay your knife aside and reach inside the body cavity as far as you can and get hold of something solid in there (it will probably be the gizzard) and pull the guts out toward you. Just reach in and pull out everything that looks like something that you don’t want to eat. Let all of this fall into your trash can and go back for the rest including the windpipe and esophagus.

At this point I carry the carcass to my garden hose and rinse it inside and out removing any stray feathers or blood. Don’t be afraid to flush out the inside. You don’t want anything that’s in there which the water could wash away. Let the bird drain a moment then take it to the kitchen sink where you can either rinse it again in a clean sink, or submerge it in a large kettle like a 6 quart canner. A soak in icy salt brine is optional.

Then your bird is ready for either the oven or the freezer. I have found that by separating the drumsticks, I can usually get a whole butchered turkey in a 2 gallon freezer bag. I think it is worth double bagging to preserve the game you worked so hard for. Failing that you can wrap it in freezer paper and tape. That’s it! Your bird is now freezer ready!

The only remaining task is clean up of your work area and knives. That’s it. You have just butchered your thanksgiving dinner. If you try skinning your turkey, let me know. We’ll do another blog entry on the best way to cook them later in the year!

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Quick and Easy Elk Stroganoff Recipe

May 4, 2012

Quick and Easy Elk Stroganoff

Looking for a quick and easy solution for dinner tonight? Here’s a twist on a classic recipe for stroganoff that will spice up your dinner menu and create a meal the whole family will be talking about. Plus it’s a great way to clean out the freezer and get ready for this year’s Elk season.

Serves 6

Inactive Prep Time:  20-30 minutes

Cooking Time:  Approximately 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb elk round steak
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, chopped fine, divided
  • 1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped fine, divided
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup red wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1 cup low sodium beef stock or beef broth
  • 8 oz sour cream, divided
  • Additional salt, pepper and Worcestershire Sauce to taste
  • Egg noodles, cooked per package directions (top with butter after cooking and draining)

Directions:

Slice elk into thin strips about 2 inches long and place in a bowl.  Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire Sauce and 1 Tbsp of the olive oil,   Stir to combine.  Set aside to marinate at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat; add remaining olive oil.  Add elk and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, turning to sear all sides.  Remove elk from heat and set aside.  (Elk will not be cooked through.)

Add onion to skillet and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add mushrooms, half of the thyme and half of the dill.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, or until onions are very soft and mushrooms are cooked through.

Sprinkle the flour over the onions and mushrooms and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Add the wine and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Stir in the beef stock and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in half of the sour cream until well-blended.  Stir in the remaining thyme and dill.

Add the elk back to the skillet and cook until the meat is cooked to medium doneness, about 3-4 minutes.  Serve over hot buttered noodles and top with remaining sour cream at the table.

Tip:  After each addition of vegetables, add a few dashes of additional Worcestershire Sauce and a few grinds of black pepper.  Finish the dish with a very light sprinkling of salt, to taste.  I use homemade stock made with no salt.  If you’re using canned beef broth or salt, use less salt in the dish.  Be sure to taste the sauce before adding more salt.

Jessica Beaver is the Accounting Coordinator for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. An award-winning amateur chef and baker, Beaver enjoys the challenge of developing recipes for big game, fish and more that can be seamlessly integrated into a busy family’s lifestyle.

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Hi Mountain Seasonings: Perfect for Waterfowl Cooking

March 5, 2012

Hi Mountain Seasonings: Perfect for Waterfowl Cooking

It’s an age-old problem for waterfowlers. You can bring the meat to the table but how do you make it delectable so it wows your friends and family?

Waterfowl is a specialty for many chefs but they often use commercially raised birds. You, too, can be a chef that draws praise using your own harvests.

Hi Mountain Seasonings makes the job easy with its mouth-watering recipes and jerky specialty kits that will make any tough old bird melt in your mouth. A variety of recipes for ducks and geese can be found on the Hi Mountain Seasonings website at www.himtnjerky.com.

If you’re a goose hunter, Hi Mountain Seasonings offers three seasonings kits: Wild Goose Original, Wild Goose Hickory and Wild Goose Mesquite—all three of which are specially blended to enhance the natural succulent flavors of the waterfowl to provide a tender jerky that everyone in the family will enjoy.

Duck and geese often have a reputation of being tough and too gamey, to eat but both provide a healthy and tasty meal with an amazingly table-ready appeal. Be sure to give the wild fowl a try this season.

Here is a great recipe to start with. In the tradition of the Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich, this recipe is a quick one that will fool some of your friends that claim they don’t like the flavor of duck. The meat is sliced very thin, so be careful when cooking. It only takes a minute or two to cook. If you like your foods spicy, splash in some hot sauce or some thinly sliced jalapeno peppers before topping with cheese. Try it with a sourdough hoagie or slider rolls. Serves four.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups duck skinless breast fillets
  • 1 teaspoon each Hi Mountain Cajun Cowboy and Trail Dust Seasonings
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup Italian dressing
  • 8 slices provolone cheese
  • Italian rolls, slider rolls, etc.

Slice the duck breasts as thinly as possible. If possible, place in the freezer for an hour or so to firm up the meat before slicing. Season with Cajun Cowboy and Trail Dust Seasonings. Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Add onions, pepper and garlic. Cook until onions are lightly browned.

Move vegetables over to one side of the skillet and add duck breast. Cook meat until lightly brown, but do not overcook. Combine with peppers, onion and garlic. Add Italian seasonings to mixture and toss to warm.

Mound meat and vegetables into piles (according to the number and size of the roles – 4 rolls = 4 mounds). Top with cheese for each mound until cheese melts. Scoop up each portion of meat and vegetables and place in rolls.

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Venison Backstrap Appe-Teasers by Becky Lou

February 9, 2012

Venison Appe-Teasers by Becky Lou

Super Bowl 2012. Maybe you watched the game or maybe you didn’t, but in my world it is always a special day that calls for some fantastic food ready to relish at Kickoff!

This year I decided to cook up some of the meat harvested over the last few hunts. I always reminisce when I pull the meat out of the freezer to prepare. If you don’t have memories with your successful hunts, then you are just not looking hard enough, because they are there. On Sunday, I decided to remember the quail and pheasant from my unforgettable winged hunt with “Heartland Huntress” Angie Tesh-Kill, Brenda K Dugan and Kathryn Burnett on Hidden Lakes Hunting resort in Yantis, Texas. I also thought about a little of the coveted backstrap from my buck from a leased property in Winchell, TX. This would be my first time cooking quail or pheasant, but I have prepared many slabs of venison backstrap and tenderloin over the years, and most of the time it ends up as a delectable dish which I have fine tuned and fondly refer to as “Venison Appe-Teasers”.

I love to cook, which is inspired by my “food fetish”, and if you choose to try one of my finely tuned recipes, take note of the necessary notes I make in each one. I want you to enjoy them as much as I do, and I have some helpful hints to avoid ruining your creation, and prompting you to let me know just how wonderful it was…. and possibly sharing some options that you discovered in the process!

A lot of cooks think of preparing food as more of an art, usually taking each recipe and eventually making it their own. This is a recipe I was given a long time ago, and each time I prepare it, it becomes a masterpiece for my mouth!

Recipe ingredients:

  • 1 lb backstrap or tenderloin (can substitute some tender cut of meat)
  • Cajun seasoning (choose one less salty)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Thin-sliced bacon
  • Candied jalapenos/Cowboy Candy – 1-2 slices per chunk of venison (you can substitute pickled jalapenos, but the sweet jalapenos rock!)

Marinade:

  • 1 cup zesty Italian dressing
  • ½ cup Worcestershire
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Cooking instructions:

Trim all fat and membrane from the meat, and cut into 1 ½ inch squares.

Prepare marinade and stir very well, let sit for about 5 minutes, and stir again very well. Letting the seasonings dissolve. Combine with venison in the smallest container possible that has a very tight-fitting lid that allows you to shake and turn while marinating (one that will not leak). Let soak for at least 1 hour or longer, the mo’ the better! I like to leave them in the fridge overnight.

Now comes the important part…pour off ALL the marinade!

Season to taste with Cajun seasoning, onion powder and garlic powder. Fight the urge to add salt, the soy and Worcestershire add lots of salt flavor! Massage the seasoning into the meat for at least 1 minute. Place 1-2 slices of sliced jalapenos on each chunk, wrap in bacon and secure with a toothpick. NOTE: You can usually cut the bacon in halves or thirds and stretch it across a chunk depending on the size of the pieces. I have also skewered these instead of using a toothpick, but it is tricky because the bacon needs to be secured around the venison to baste while cooking and keep the meat from drying out!

Grill over MEDIUM heat turning every 5-7 minutes for 20-25 minutes.

NOTE: It is very easy to over-cook so be very careful, as they are small chunks!

BIG NOTE: Wait to cook until it is time to serve as they tend to dry out!

Enjoy! Like! Share! Comment!

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Delta’s Tips for Preparing, Cooking Ducks and Geese

February 1, 2012

Delta’s Tips for Preparing, Cooking Ducks and Geese

Ice-fishing with friends recently on a lake near Winnipeg, Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson deep-fried four rice-fattened California mallards in peanut oil, a dark-meat snack to keep Old Man Winter from nipping at their extremities.

The plucked birds were rubbed in spices, injected with marinate and cooked to medium-rare perfection.

“They were wicked good,” said Olson, laughing, noting they ate the ducks off a piece of plywood with their bare hands. “The meat was moist and, frankly, I can’t remember duck tasting so good. The preparation was super easy too.”

Like many hunters this time of year, Olson has some ducks and geese in the freezer poised for the pot. He encourages other waterfowlers to prepare their birds and share them with family and friends. And don’t worry, he said, if you’re inexperienced in the kitchen.

“Just take a few birds out of the freezer and let them thaw, then start doing some research on how to prepare them,” he said. “I think the key to cooking ducks is to defrost one. Make it a habit once a week to pull out some frozen game meat. It will keep you from having a bunch of freezer-burned stuff later on.”

Above all, Olson says make the experience fun. “Cooking ducks and geese should always be a celebration, so just have fun doing it,” he said. “Just start rummaging through your freezer and find those frozen orphans and get them thawing.”

Here are some basic tips and suggestions for preparing ducks and geese:

  • Thaw out your birds thoroughly before preparing. The best way is to let them thaw in the refrigerator. If you’re short on time, fill a large pot with cool water and place the still-wrapped bird in it. It should thaw within two hours. Be sure the frozen bird is properly sealed or it will get waterlogged.
  • Clean your birds thoroughly. Be sure it get everything out of the cavity—everything.
  • Soak meat in milk and onions overnight to pull out blood and gamey taste.
  • Let meat come to room temperature before you cook it. Always pat it dry before cooking.
  • Cook ducks hot and fast or low and slow.
  • Roasted ducks should be cooked no more than medium-rare. Grilled duck breasts too. No exceptions.
  • Let your birds rest (five minutes, perhaps longer) after they’re done cooking. Resting allows juices to redistribute and stay in the meat; cut into it too soon and you’ll have a soaked cutting board. Resting also allows the birds’ flavor to set up and intensify.
  • save the carcasses and scraps to make stock, which you can use in gravies or sauces.
  • Sauces and side dishes are an important part of wild-game cookery. Find a few to enhance and accompany your ducks and geese. You won’t be sorry.
  • The internet is an invaluable tool to learn more about cooking waterfowl and other wild game.
  • Be bold and experiment. Don’t worry about failure. Just thaw some birds and start. Make it a celebration.

Find more recipes and how-to videos at deltawaterfowl.org.

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