By Josh Boyd
As we navigate through the latter half of winter’s frigid reign, and begin to once again long for spring’s warming glow, the vast majority of the nation’s waterfowlers have paid their last yearly visit to the duck blind, as seasons have drawn to a conclusion.
For many, this is a time to reflect upon our successes, a substantial number of which have allowed us to line our freezers with an abundance of fresh duck for our consumption.
If you have spent much time waterfowling, you have undoubtedly seen the disgust in the faces of more than one individual when discussing your waterfowl dinner plans. We have all been told that duck is unfit to eat, and there is no possibility of making fine table fare out of the fowl we pursue.
While this might be the opinion of many, I would wager that these individuals have likely never consumed duck that has been adequately cared for and properly prepared.
While many ways to cook duck certainly do exist, every waterfowler has their own time-honored recipe that churns out culinary satisfaction at every turn. One such recipe that has been a hit in my household every year is Bacon and Cream Cheese Duck Breast.
This is a simple recipe that can be scaled to any size party, providing that a bountiful duck season has provided an abundance of ducks, and can be customized to suit the tastes of nearly anyone.
Preparing the Bounty
The first step to preparing this dish is to prepare the duck breast itself. You will need a suitable number of duck breasts to feed the number of people that you intend to serve.
While many will experience favorable results when using mallard breasts for this dish, I have used shoveler, gadwall, and wood duck as well. The breasts of nearly any dabbling duck will work quite nicely.
With an ample number of breasts set aside, take a meat tenderizer hammer and work all breasts on each side. Once this has been completed, use a sharp knife to butterfly fillet each breast.
Marinade to Satisfaction
You will now place your filleted duck breasts into a gallon-sized zip-lock bag, and fill the bag with a marinade of your choice. In this case, the exact marinade that you use is not as important as it is to choose a marinade that is best suited to your personal tastes.
Some popular store-bought marinade flavors include Italian, teriyaki, or soy-based offerings. Alternatively, I have found that some individuals choose to marinade their duck breasts in name brand steak sauces or meat seasonings, such as A1 or Dale’s.
No matter your choice in flavoring, let your duck breasts marinate for a minimum of two hours, with up to eight hours being ideal. This serves to minimize the “liver-like” taste that many have come to associate with duck.
Dress for Success
You can now begin making final preparations in anticipation of placement on the grill. This is yet another point where an individual can let their creativity drive their culinary creation.
Remove your marinated duck breasts from the gallon zip-lock bag that they had been placed in. Lay these breasts onto a cutting board or another similar work surface. You will now spread a healthy portion of cream cheese into the pocket that is created between the butterflied sections of the breast.
Many different varieties of cream cheese are available for purchase at most grocery retailers. Your choice in cream cheese flavoring is solely one of personal preference, and a little trial and error will typically be the best guide. I have found a personal favorite in jalapeño cream cheese, as it gives a taste that is similar to that of a stuffed pepper.
With a healthy application of cream cheese in place, the two sections of the butterflied breast will again be closed upon each other. This creates a breast that has a stuffed pocket within.
Top It Off With Bacon
To take this recipe to the next level, wrap your duck breasts with 1-2 pieces of bacon. This bacon serves as a source of additional flavor and assists in helping the duck breast retain moisture during cooking as well. This bacon is best held in place with the use of a well placed toothpick.
Cook But Don’t Overcook
With your grill preheated to the halfway point between its medium and high heat settings, you will now put the duck breasts on to cook. While you do indeed want to cook the meat to the point of being evenly heated throughout, you do not want to leave the breasts on the grill for an extensive amount of time. A medium-rare finish is ideal for optimum flavor and texture.
If duck is overcooked, it can become quite tough, and lead to less than appetizing results for those that consume it. This is why it is immensely important to never allow cooking periods to exceed what is necessary to eliminate food borne illness and to make the dish palatable by your standard.
A Delightful Duck Hunter’s Dish
As with any game, much of the palatability of duck comes down to how it is prepared. A hastily prepared dish will likely fall flat, while a dish crafted with the same care that went into the hunt that provided such a bounty, will almost surely impress all who consume it. By following the directions above, you should be well on your way to proving wrong those that downplay the natural flavor of our nation’s wondrous wetland fowl.