My neighbour who lives on a farm, called by last week offering me two brace of wild duck. Never one to turn down free food, I said yes and the next thing, he was pressing the make-do string handle they were attached to into my hand.
I looked down and there dangling in all their glory were four handsome Mallard, still vaguely warm and limp. To be honest, it was all a bit shocking for a townie-living-in-the-country like me. I thought for one brief moment, I might burst into tears… and to make matters worse I didn’t have a clue how to gut, clean and prepare them..
The thing is, I’m used to my meat neatly wrapped and homogenized which I know makes me a bit of a hypocrite. But that’s the way it is. Anyway, I pulled myself together, murmured something along the lines of duck being one of my favorite meats and excused myself as fast as I could.
However, it took another two days before I plucked up the courage (scuse the pun) to deal with them. Rather than gut and pluck – which frankly filled me with dread, I decided to cut out the breast meat instead.
After all, the breasts were the meatiest part, the legs were skinny and likely to be tough and stringy, so there was no point going to the expense of having the butcher clean and truss them for me. And I certainly wasn’t going to do it, I wouldn’t know where to start.
So armed with a sharp knife, wearing latex gloves and feeling a bit like Hannibal Lechter, I got to work on the first duck. Much to my relief there was no blood, no mess and mercifully, no smell. Before I knew it, I had four breasts in the pan, about to become duck a l’orange. Ray Mears would have been proud!
So in the event a well meaning neighbour gives you some wild birds to cook up – and there does seem to be an abundance of pheasant right now – here’s what you do.
Take a pinch of skin from under the feathers and pierce it with a knife. Get you fingers into the hole you’ve made and peel back the skin exposing the entire breast. With a sharp knife, feel down the breast bone keeping the knife as close to the bone as you can. At the tail end of the breast, run the knife along the breast plate, feeling your way around the breast and keeping close to the bone so you don’t waste any meat, until it comes away.
Rinse the breast meat under cold running water, removing any feathers and visible shot. Pat dry with kitchen towel and if you’re not cooking them immediately, pack the breasts into freezer bags, squashing the bag down to remove the air, making it air tight before tying a knot. Place in a 2nd bag to stop freezer burn.
If you’re going to cook them straight away, you might like to try my recipe for duck a l’orange.