By guest blogger Katie Walsh
I spent some time in Houston with my dad On A Meat Mission, to learn about meat and how it’s cooked. Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing recipes and tales from our meaty adventures.
With a fridge full of fresh daikon pickles, the next lesson on Dad’s list was wild duck. And what better to do with wild duck than make a big pot of gumbo?
We opened Texas Eats to Chapter 5: The Cajun Invasion and read through a recipe from Jim Gossen. It called for 6 wild ducks—the exact number we had on hand.
As they defrosted, I asked my dad whether they were hard to clean—ours seemed ready to go except for one feathery wing still attached. He explained that usually, a kid at the hunting site charged a couple bucks each to clean them for you, stripping them down to the breast (where most of the meat is) and throwing the rest aside.
One wing had to remain in tact so that the game warden could identify the breed. So the first step was to chop it off.
Lots of teeny feathers had plastered themselves to the clean meat, so after that I carefully plucked them clean, rinsing each bird under water to make sure they were fuzz free. We seasoned the duck breasts inside and out with Cajun seasoning. Then, we covered them with water in a big pot to get the stock started.
Cooking wild duck takes forever. It’s very lean, and very tough, so in order to get it nice and tender you really have to be patient. It would usually take 3-4 hours, but lucky for us we had a pressure cooker, which took it down to a quick 30 minutes.
We lifted them out, replaced them with a whole chicken, and topped off the pot with water. The chicken would continue to flavor the stock and also tone down the strong gamey flavor of all that duck.
Once they were cool enough to handle, I broke the duck breasts away from the bone and pulled the meat apart.
We did the same with the chicken. Meanwhile, we made a copper penny-colored roux and cooled it down with the holy trinity (onions, green pepper and celery) and a couple of minced garlic cloves. We seasoned the roux with white pepper, red pepper, dried thyme, and a little more Cajun seasoning. Then we added the roux a little at a time to our stock to thicken it. Finally, we added all that chopped pulled poultry meat.
To serve it, we would mound rice in the middle of a soup bowl, slide a couple of raw, shucked oysters and then ladle in some hot gumbo. But duck gumbo is one of those dishes that tastes better after a few days in the fridge. So we stowed it away in anticipation of the big party we’d started to plan for the coming weekend.
It was time for a little lunch, anyway.
Recipe: Jim Gossen’s Wild Duck Gumbo (adapted from Texas Eats)
The concept is to select a mix of birds that creates a pleasing combination of flavors. You can add chicken, Cornish game hens or other milder birds to the wild ducks to make your own signature wild duck gumbo.
Makes about 10 quarts gumbo; serves 20
6 wild duck breasts and 1 whole guinea fowl or chicken (or substitute birds of your choice)
1 cup Cajun seasoning (recipe follows)
10 quarts water
3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 small yellow onion, plus 8 cups diced onion
2/3 cup roux (recipe follows)
4 cups diced green bell peppers
4 cups diced celery
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce, plus more for serving
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 cups cooked rice
5 sweet potatoes, baked and cut into 1-inch thick rounds
Filé powder, for serving
Clean the birds. Rub generously inside and out with the seasoning mix. In a 20-quart soup pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. If you are cooking a goose, add it first, as it might take as long as three hours. Place the seasoned birds in the boiling water with the crushed garlic cloves and the small onion, reduce the heat to medium, and cook uncovered for about 1 hour. Check the birds for tenderness. If the meat is so tender it is almost falling off the bones, remove the birds from the pot. If the meat is still tough, keep cooking it, adding water as necessary to keep the birds covered.
When all of the birds are out of the pot, strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve and return it to the pot. Let the stock stand for a few minutes, then, using a large spoon, skim off all of the fat from the surface. (If you have the time, the easiest way to do this is to put the stock in the refrigerator overnight and lift off the solidified fat in the morning.) When the birds have cooled, remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones and skin. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces.
Make the roux as directed, cooking it until is copper-colored. Turn off the heat, add the diced onions, bell peppers, and celery, and stir for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are wilted. Next add the Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, cayenne, and white pepper to the roux and stir to blend.
Bring the reserved stock to a full rolling boil and slowly whisk the roux, a little at a time, into the stock, making sure there are no lumps. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Add the duck meat and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. The gumbo should be fairly thick.
To serve, mound 1/2 cup rice in the middle of each warmed bowl. Using a slotted spoon, divide the meat among the bowls. Ladle about 2 cups of the gumbo around the rice in each bowl. Put a sweet potato round in each bowl. Serve with filé powder and more Tabasco sauce on the side.
Cajun Seasoning (from Texas Eats)
Tony Chachere’s is the most famous Louisiana seasoning, but its main ingredient is salt– it also contains MSG. There are dozens of other brands including big names like Paul Prudhomme’s, Zatarain’s and Luzianne and lesser-known labels like Cajun King. Cajun Boy, Cajun Chef and Cajun Country.
Jim Gossen uses Guidroz’s seasoning blend—he buys it in gallon jars at a little grocery store in Lafayette called Guidroz’s Food Center (1301 E Simcoe St, Lafayette, LA 70501). If you want to buy a popular seasoning blend at the store or by mail order, Jim Gossen recommends “Slap Yo’ Mama,” which doesn’t have MSG.
Or here’s a Cajun seasoning blend you make yourself.
Yields a little under 2 cups
6 tablespoons paprika
6 tablespoons seasalt
4 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons dry ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dry ground oregano
2 tablespoons dry ground thyme
Roux (from Texas Eats)
When Jim Gossen makes copper-colored roux, he puts a dull penny on the stovetop to use as a reference.
Yields three quarters of a cup
Half cup all-purpose flour
Three quarters of a cup corn oil
In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, add the corn oil and flour and heat until fragrant. Using a flat-headed wooded spoon or a whisk, stir the mixture constantly, scraping the bottom of the skillet. When it begins to brown, turn the heat down a little. Continue reducing the heat as you get closer to the color you are trying to reach.
Some recipes call for peanut butter-colored roux, some call for a copper-colored roux, some call for a dark brown roux. When you get the flour to the desired color, turn off the heat, but keep stirring. If the recipe calls for chopped vegetables to be added to the roux, add them at this point.
Or you can keep stirring the roux until it is completely cooled. Add the roux carefully to gumbo or etouffe to prevent separating. Read the recipe before adding the roux.
Note: If the flour sticks to the pan and you see black flecks as you stir, you have burnt the roux. Throw it away and start over.