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The Wild Duck Gumbo Variations

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I made my first wild duck gumbo a couple of years ago after going duck hunting with my brothers. Four of us shot eleven ducks near Aransas Pass on our way down to South Padre for Thanksgiving. The Walsh family is a large clan and around 20 of us had gathered in a condo complex on the beach for Thanksgiving festivities. I used all eleven ducks and some barbecue sausage from Joe Cotten’s in one big pot of gumbo that we ate on Wednesday night. Everybody loved it–but the flavor was very stout.

Friends from Louisiana have since opened my mind to the many intricacies of wild duck gumbo. The duck hunting in Louisiana is legendary. The ducks once darkened the skies. That’s how the state got the nickname “Sportsman’s Paradise.” There aren’t as many ducks as there used to be and wild duck gumbo isn’t very common anymore. It’s wild game, so they don’t serve it the restaurants where we look for our definitions of Cajun cuisine. But among the Cajuns of South Louisiana and East Texas wild duck gumbo is totemic.

Your average Cajun cook could talk for three hours about the past, present, and future of wild duck gumbo and how grandma did it. The perfect blend of poultry is three wild ducks, one hen and a guinea fowl, I have been advised. (I have more trouble finding domestic guinea fowl than wild ducks.) And a sweet potato is traditionally eaten with this gumbo along with the rice. My friend Jim Gossen also suggested the additional of a couple of shucked oysters to the bowl just before you ladle in the hot gumbo.

I put a few of these ideas into practice when I made my second wild duck gumbo, the one in the photo above. We went duck hunting again this year and I ended up with twenty ducks. I used five ducks and one large chicken in the broth and served the gumbo with baked sweet potato in the middle. I put a bowl of rice on the table too–but I loved the sweet potato variation. I used some smoked venison sausage instead of andouille. And I did add some oysters to the bowl. This was a gumbo that served about 15 people.

My roux didn’t come out right and I had to add more flour, so there was a tiny bit of raw flour flavor. And I got carried away with the smoked venison sausage–the smoky flavor kind of took over. Don’t get me wrong–it was an excellent bowl of gumbo. But I see room for improvement.

Luckily, I’ve got a lot of ducks in the freezer.

2 comments to The Wild Duck Gumbo Variations

  • Ed

    On a bet, once, I made a jambalaya of poul d’eau – you may know ’em as coots.

    Now a coot’s very largest muscle is its gizzard and that probably gives you an idea of what goes down a coot’s gullet. Some folks say they taste like mudhens and since that’s what most call them, well…

    Lemme tell you, cut all the breasts into strips and cut those into 1/2X1/2 cubes, blanch them in water with a lot of crab boil, then real, real slow – brown them using olive oil. When the time comes to drop them into the rice, roux, and vegetables, just do it. It’s not gonna taste like chicken, but neither does bullfrog, softshell turtle, or gator.

    One of my shooting partners actually asked me to make it again, but alas I told the recipe to his wife and declared I’d shot my last mudhen. Bon vie!

  • Andrew

    Robb,

    I always have enjoyed your reviews/recommendations in the Houston Press.

    Have you tried the new SportingNews Grill in the Holiday Inn at 1112 Eldridge Parkway (near Enclave Pkwy)? My wife and I do not frequent hotel bars but on a friend’s recommendation we decided to give it a try. The chef is from New Orleans and makes an excellent seafood gumbo on Fridays (chicken and sausage gumbo the rest of the week). The food is of very high quality and very reasonably priced. We had the pulled pork sandwich and pot roast sandwich as entrees (both very tasty) but we plan to go back and try the jambalaya and shrimp and grits next time.
    I’m no gumbo expert but I think this one is in the same league as the smoked duck gumbo at Rainbow Lodge (my previous favorite) for about half the price (if I remember correctly).