Cooking: Savory Duck Stew

Slow-cooking is the secret to turning lean game birds into a delicious, hearty dinner

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By Scott Leysath

Thirty years after giving my first seminar on wild game preparation, I am still mystified by the number of folks who haven't figured out how to cook a duck. Many waterfowlers are passionate about the hunt, but when it comes to eating ducks and geese—not so much. That's a shame, because often the "secret" to getting the best flavor out of the birds is simply to stop cooking them so long, or to cook them longer.

I frequently follow a minimalist approach when trying to change the minds of people who think they don't like duck. The method is easy. Brine a skin-on duck breast fillet in a simple salt solution for several hours to remove excess blood. Pat it dry, apply a light coating of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over a medium-high flame. Place the duck breast in the skillet, skin side down, and cook until the skin is crisp. Flip the fillet and cook it for another few minutes. Let it rest for several minutes before carving a thin slice across the grain of the meat. The result will be delicious.

But for those who can't bring themselves to sample a medium-rare bite of duck, or who simply like super-tender duck paired with a savory broth and vegetables, I offer this variation of a classic French recipe. 

Duck Bourguignon

Simmering cubed pieces of duck breast "low and slow" results in tender, tasty morsels. The process can't be rushed. It takes time to turn tough into tender. This recipe, which can also be prepared on the stovetop or over a campfire in a Dutch oven, works well with any lean game meats, including tough Canada goose breasts. 

Preparation Time: 15–20 Minutes  
Cooking Time: 4–5 hours
Serves: 6–8

Ingredients

  • 5 cups skinless duck breast fillets, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour 6 slices bacon, diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups dry red wine
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bouquet garni (fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves tied together with string)
  • 1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups quartered small red potatoes
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Fresh Italian parsley, minced

Directions

Step 1
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Season the duck with salt and pepper. Toss it with flour to coat evenly. Then shake off any excess flour.

Step 2
In a large, heavy oven-safe pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is lightly browned. Add the olive oil and heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Toss in the duck pieces and cook, stirring often until evenly browned. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic, wine, and beef stock. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid or foil, and place in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 hours or until meat can be broken apart with moderate pressure.

Step 3
Add remaining ingredients except Italian parsley. Liquid should just cover the contents of the pot; add more beef broth if needed. Return the pot to the oven for another hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Step 4 
Ladle the stew into bowls and top with Italian parsley.