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Grill a Better Mallard comes to ‘Braising the Wild’

Jack Hennessy teaches how to Grill a Better Mallard this week in “Braising the Wild”

Grill a Better Mallard in “Braising the Wild.”
Grill a Better Mallard in “Braising the Wild.”
Jack Hennessy

So after Jack Hennessy emailed in his recipe, Grill a Better Mallard, this week for “Braising the Wild,” I emailed back a wisecrack, “The day I grill a better mallard will be the first day I do.”

And he responded, “You not a mallard griller?”

The answer is no. In fact, in thinking about it, I realized the only wild birds I grill are doves, well, dove breasts.

So I am learning something I will have to try, hopefully next weekend.

Here is the recipe for this week:

Grill a Better Mallard

It’s likely this recent cold front has got you waterfowl hunters surveying nearby ponds and waterways, listening for quacks, hoping to see mallards turning circles. Ducks, in many ways, are a more difficult bird to hunt versus your upland species such as pheasant, but dang, all those bitter-cold mornings slinging decoys and sitting bundled in a blind are worth the extra effort.

Ducks, and geese for that matter, are also some of the more difficult birds to cook, in my opinion. So many variables, including amount of fat, play into how to best prepare them. Hank Shaw goes into great detail regarding how to best roast wild ducks on his site, but with this recipe below, I aim to provide a fairly easy way of preparing a fantastic-tasting duck (mallard specifically, in this case). For smaller ducks, reduce brine time by a couple hours and expect cooking times to reduce, as well.

Duck breasts, like prime venison cuts, are best enjoyed medium-rare, though duck legs and wings, like tougher venison cuts, require more time and higher temps to tenderize. This recipe accounts for both these aspects while still cooking mostly the whole duck. Also, a friendly reminder: try to always pluck your ducks and geese. So much flavor resides in the skin of these birds. They aren’t the same without the skin, in my opinion.

Ingredients (two severing):

1 whole mallard

Brine:

1 gallon cold water
1/2 cup non-iodized salt
1/2 cup whole black pepper corns
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 bulb fresh garlic, smashed
6 ounces fresh ginger, smashed
1 whole orange, peeled, lightly smashed

Mix brine ingredients thoroughly until salt and sugar dissolve. Add plucked whole mallard to brine and let soak for 8-10 hours.

Upon removal, thoroughly rinse off brine and pat dry, let sit in fridge for 2 hours prior to cooking to completely dry.

Upon removing from fridge, butcher duck by carving out breasts and cutting off legs and thighs (wings too, if intact).

Let butchered duck sit for half hour at room temperature then add legs (wings too, if you you have them) to a large, oven-safe, cold skillet and turn heat to medium.

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

As fat gradually renders with heat, use tongs to brown and crisp legs and wings in skillet, flipping to sear both sides evenly. Once browned, add breasts, skin down. Keep legs and wings in the skillet.

I like to use a spatula to press breast skin against skillet to adequately crisp skin. Once skin is brown and crisp, flip to add a sear to non-skin side.

Once underside is seared, add skillet to 450-degree oven for 2 to 3 minutes. The desired internal temperature of breast is 130, 170/180 for legs and wings.

Cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Please note allowing to rest under aluminum foil will both slightly raise internal temperature and let juices settle. If worried about internal temperature, test with a meat thermometer after meat has rested.