By Bill Nichol

Preparing ducks and geese for the dinner table has always been part of North America's waterfowling tradition. Many recipes pass from one generation to the next. Others are traded between hunting partners. And some are the product of bold experimentation in the kitchen.

We received a broad sampling of these cherished duck and goose recipes for the Ducks Unlimited Recipe Contest announced in January. All told, nearly 1,500 recipes from people in 46 states were submitted by the March 30 deadline. The gunning gourmets who took part in the contest employ a variety of cooking techniques and an even wider range of ingredients, including 24 kinds of fruit and 17 types of alcoholic beverages.

Yet, not all recipes are created equal. After five rounds of judging, the chefs on DU's Hunt Home Culinary Council selected five winning recipes based on several criteria: readily available ingredients, creativity, user-friendly preparation, and taste. If you have been looking for a new way to cook your ducks, try one of the five winning recipes detailed on the following pages. Bon appetit!

1st Place

Southwestern Grilled Duck with Chipotle-Apricot Glaze

This recipe was submitted by Joshua Sasser of Deville, Louisiana. Sasser hunts a mix of dabblers and divers on central Louisiana's famous Catahoula Lake. Living near the heart of Cajun country, he created this winning recipe as an alternative to the local duck gumbo. Makes 6 servings.

For brine:
1 gallon water
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
10 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon pickling spice
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
For glaze:
1 12-ounce jar apricot jam
1 tablespoon chipotle peppers in adobo, seeded and finely diced
6 duck breast fillets

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
To prepare brine, stir together water, honey, dark brown sugar, salt, cilantro, pickling spice, onion powder, and garlic powder. Carefully check duck fillets to remove any shot from the meat. Place fillets in brine and store in refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours but preferably overnight.
To prepare chipotle-apricot glaze, add jam and diced peppers to a saucepan and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Strain if desired.

Remove duck fillets from brine and pat dry. Cook fillets over a hot grill until medium-rare, about 3 minutes per side. To achieve grill marks, move meat as little as necessary. Just before removing fillets, lightly baste both sides with glaze.

Allow fillets to rest for a few minutes prior to slicing. Slice fillets at an angle and drizzle reserved glaze over the meat. Garnish with cilantro or scallions. Serve with wild rice or any other favorite side dish.

2nd Place

Grilled Mallard Breast with Currant Jelly Sauce

Bill Palmer of Columbus, Ohio, hunts ducks on the rivers and cornfields south of this Midwestern city. He came up with this recipe by combining his favorite marinade for grilled chicken with tangy current jelly and a mix of his favorite herbs. Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients For marinade:
1 cup olive oil
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice

For currant jelly sauce:
1 12-ounce jar currant jelly
3/4-1 stick butter
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 teaspoon savory

2 large mallard breast fillets

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
To prepare marinade, pour 1 cup of olive oil into a ceramic or glass bowl and whisk in soy sauce and lemon juice. Place fillets into marinade for 20 to 30 minutes. While meat is marinating, preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Prepare sauce 15-20 minutes before serving. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add jelly, stirring until sauce is smooth and creamy. Add thyme, rosemary, and savory. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Before grilling fillets, wipe grill surface with olive oil and pat fillets dry with paper towels to prevent flare up from grill. Cook fillets 3-4 minutes per side until meat is rare to medium. Do not overcook.

Remove fillets from grill and slice as thin as possible without shaving the meat. Pour sauce over meat. Suggested side items include steamed asparagus and wild rice.

3rd Place

Boudreaux's Pecan Patties

This recipe is from Neal Sinclair of Cleveland, Oklahoma. Sinclair hunts mallards and other puddle ducks along the Arkansas River near his hometown. These pecan patties were thought up one night when Sinclair and his son were cooking dinner for his wife. Makes 4 servings.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 green onion (scallion), finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2-4 cups chopped pecans
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for frying
4 duck breast fillets

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
Saute white onions, green onions, parsley, and garlic in 3 tablespoons of oil until onions become clear. Set aside. In food processor, mince fillets into a sausage-like consistency.

Transfer minced fillets into large mixing bowl. Stir in cooked onion-parsley-garlic mixture, salt, and breadcrumbs. Form into patties measuring 2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk for drench. Place chopped pecans on baking sheet and toast in oven for 5-10 minutes at 350 degrees, watching carefully to prevent burning. Dip patties into drench mixture and then roll them in toasted pecans. For a thicker crust, these last two steps can be repeated.

To cook the patties, preheat oil in frying pan to 325-350 degrees. Fry patties until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Suggested side items include rice and gravy.

4th Place

Almond Duck

Dave Engstrom of Gig Harbor, Washington, created this recipe while trying to add some zip to an old family favorite. He enjoys pursuing mallards in the Potholes area of eastern Washington with his dog, Buckshot. Makes 2 servings.

1 egg
1/2 cup almonds, crushed
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon sage
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying

2 duck breast fillets, skinless and boneless

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
Rinse and pat dry fillets. Beat one egg and place into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of milk. Crush enough almonds to equal 1/2 cup. Place crushed almonds in a pie pan and season with 1/4 teaspoon sage and salt and pepper to taste.

Dip fillets in milk-and-egg mixture and then roll them in the crushed almonds. Coat a frying pan with a thin layer of olive oil and preheat to medium heat. Place fillets in pan and fry for about 5 minutes per side, or until browned.

5th Place

Tropical Duck with Wild Rice

This recipe was submitted by Kathleen Knapp of Southbury, Connecticut. She says the recipe was the result of experimenting with a number of different new ingredients. She and her husband, Ted, hunt ducks on Connecticut's rivers and Long Island Sound. Makes 4 servings.

6 ounces frozen concentrate orange juice, thawed
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 6-ounce packages of dried mixed tropical fruit (papaya, raisins, pineapple, coconut, etc.)
1 1/2 cups spiced rum
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup almonds, slivered

3-4 duck breast fillets

Preparation and Cooking Instructions
To prepare marinade, mix thawed orange juice concentrate, 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg in shallow bowl or plastic zip-top bag. Add fillets to mixture and marinate from 6 hours to overnight. Remove fillets from marinade and pat dry.

Grill meat on a medium-hot grill to medium doneness. Cut cooked fillets into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Place dried fruit mix, spiced rum, and remaining nutmeg in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes or until fruit is plump and rum has reduced. Stir occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking or burning.

Add meat, olive oil, and slivered almonds to fruit in saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until meat is heated throughout. Serve over wild rice.