Some people are reluctant to hunt duck, or they try to give away their harvested ducks, because they think duck tastes bad. However, wild duck is like many meats: It can taste delicious when properly prepared, or it can taste terrible when poorly prepared. My approach to preparing a savory meal of fried duck is described here.
Not all ducks are created equal. In my opinion, the best species for frying are mallard, pintail, gadwall, canvasback, redhead, wigeon, wood duck and teal. Northern shoveler, lesser scaup and ring-necked duck are very edible, but seem to be a slight notch below the first group. Steer away from the merganser species. I have not cooked eiders or sea ducks, so I am not familiar with their qualities.
Preparation prior to cooking
After harvest, ducks should be chilled until dressed the same day. Wear plastic gloves during dressing, washing, trimming, cutting and inspecting to keep fingers and meat clean and avoid dry, cracked skin.
Remove the breast meat from the ducks with or without the breast bone (sternum). The breast meat should be washed thoroughly with cool or cold water to remove feathers, blood and other non-meat material.
Separate the breast muscles from the sternum if not done during initial dressing. The breast muscles on each side of the sternum’s keel include a relatively long, thin, small muscle (supracoracoideus) attached to a tendon lying next to the keel and a much larger muscle (pectoralis) divided into two parts by fascia (sheet of connective tissue that binds while separating them). Trim the fascia or tendon from each breast muscle. Cut the two larger portions of the pectoralis perpendicular to the muscle fibers in strips about one-eighth inch thick. Each strip should be cut thin, visually examined and felt to ensure no steel shot remains in the meat because steel shot and human teeth are not compatible.
Place the strips of meat (about 6 ounces per serving) into a bowl and soak in whole or 2 percent milk in a refrigerator for two to four days. Two to three times a day, drain the milk off the meat, replace with fresh milk and gently mix. After soaking, the meat is ready for frying or freezing.
In my opinion, duck meat that will be fried should be soaked in milk before it is frozen, because it seems to have a stronger taste when the initial soaking occurs after freezing. When using frozen duck, thaw a sealed plastic package of duck in water, remove the meat, and then soak the thawed meat strips again in milk for several minutes to a few hours prior to frying.
Approximate quantities for four adults:
- 24 ounces of duck (presoaking weight)
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons of ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of salt
Mix the flour, pepper and salt in a plastic bag. Drain the milk off the duck. Place the strips of duck into the bag and shake to thoroughly coat the meat. Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer to frying temperature. Remove individual breaded strips from the bag, and carefully place them in hot oil, and fry until golden or light brown, but do not overcook. Carefully remove the cooked strips from the hot oil, drain and blot dry with a paper towel. Cover cooked meat with a cloth or paper towels to retain warmth until served.
Mix some of the hot cooking oil and leftover seasoned flour with milk, salt and pepper in a skillet and cook over moderate heat to make cream gravy. Serve with mashed or fried potatoes.