Q & A with Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef

DU magazine cooking columnist discusses preparing, seasoning, and cooking waterfowl

By Will Brantley. To see more from Scott Leysath, visit thesportingchef.com.

Your recipes are always delicious. What's your secret?

I may not be good at everything, but I can cook a piece of meat. With ducks and geese, there are two main secrets. I don't cook waterfowl without first soaking the meat in a brine solution for 12 or more hours. And I don't overcook it.

Though tasty, your recipes are pretty straightforward and easy to prepare. Do some people try to make waterfowl cooking more difficult than it should be?

My goal has never been to "out-chef" anyone with obscure ingredients and difficult procedures that the majority of people will never try. If I can teach you how to take a handful of ingredients and make a dish that tastes great in 25 minutes, that's a victory. Although these dishes often look nice, I like the flavor of the food to speak for itself.

Let's say that a 16-year-old wants to cook a duck dinner to impress a date. What recipe would you recommend?

My son will be 17 next week, so I can relate. Duck with Balsamic Berry Sauce is the dish I use to convince people that duck tastes good. Brine some boneless duck breasts overnight, and then cook them quickly in a skillet. Remove them, and put a splash of balsamic vinegar in the pan. Add a teaspoon of berry preserves to the vinegar and let the sauce reduce. Allow the duck to sit and then slice it, throw some fresh raspberries into the sauce, and spoon the sauce over the duck. It looks good, it tastes great, and it has about five ingredients.

If you could only eat one species of duck, what would it be?

Teal.

If you could only clean ducks one way, how would you do it?

Plucking. It's more work, but the crispy skin on a puddle duck is so good.

Why do most game chefs seem to have an aversion to cooking with bacon?

I think it's because the bacon-wrapped duck popper is the only recipe people share, and those of us who do this for a living simply want to encourage people to try other recipes. But you can't ignore the fact that smoky, salty, fatty bacon adds good flavor to duck.

What's the proper way to freeze ducks for later use?

Vacuum sealing, for sure. And I freeze them in parts, because I cook them separately. Legs and thighs take a long time. Breasts cook up quickly. The rest of the bones and meat makes excellent stock.