Wood Ducks with Romesco Sauce

This spicy sauce is a perfect accompaniment to the venerable woodie

© Holly Heyser

Most of my duck hunting takes place in Northern California. For those unfamiliar with the area: our season lasts around 100 days with a seven-duck daily limit. When I tell people in other parts of the country about our duck hunting, they often ask what kind of ducks we shoot. Inland hunters shoot mallards, pintails, wigeon, gadwalls, and lots of teal.

We also have a fair population of wood ducks, but many hunters here don't bother shooting them. Perhaps it's because they've learned that calling woodies can be difficult. I'm not convinced that anyone has ever really called a wood duck into the decoys. There are people who vehemently claim to have done so, but I think the woodies decided to fly toward their blinds because they wanted to, not because of anyone's calling expertise. I'm fine with my neighbors not shooting wood ducks. That just means there are more for those of us who appreciate the woodie's magnificent flavor. The following recipe is one of many simple ways to enjoy these tasty ducks on the table.

Yields: 4 Servings

Romesco sauce is a savory Spanish concoction that combines grilled peppers and tomatoes with garlic, almonds, vinegar, and spicy heat. When pairing with cooked waterfowl, use the sauce sparingly. Just a dollop will do. Also try Romesco sauce on fish and upland game, or serve it as a dip or spread.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 wood duck breast fillets 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly    ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • Olive oil

Romesco Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large red bell pepper, quartered and seeded
  • 2 large Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon paprika 
  • 1 cup croutons
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Season duck breast fillets with salt, pepper, and garlic. Place in a bowl or zip-top bag with enough olive oil to coat evenly. Refrigerate 6 to 12 hours.
  2. Prepare Romesco sauce. Rub red bell pepper and tomatoes with a small amount of olive oil and place on a hot grill, turning them until charred on all sides. Remove from grill and place in a blender or food processor.  
  3. Add garlic, almonds, chili powder, parsley, paprika, and croutons to a food processor or blender. Pulse while scraping down the sides until the mixture turns into a paste.
  4. While the machine is running, add olive oil and then vinegar in a thin stream. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  5. Remove duck breasts from olive oil mixture, pat dry, and season again lightly with salt and pepper. Grill, broil, or pan sear to desired doneness. Top each with a small dollop of Romesco sauce and serve.

Don't Overcook Your Duck

I prefer a medium-rare duck breast that is cooked to 130 to 135 degrees in the center. How you cook your own duck is up to you, but if medium well and beyond is your go-to internal temperature, I urge you to give a lesser cooked duck a try. If you decide that medium rare just isn't for you, cook it a few minutes longer.

Wonderful Wood Ducks

Wood ducks are one of North America's most admired waterfowl species. Known for their evasive aerial maneuvers and excellent flavor, these colorful speedsters are also one of the most popular species with hunters in all four flyways. During the 2020–21 hunting season, Americans harvested an estimated 1,116,545 wood ducks. That makes them number four on the list of most-harvested ducks in the country, after mallards, American green-winged teal, and gadwalls.

SPANISH SPICE: Romesco sauce originated in the Catalonia region of Spain. Sometimes referred to as the "Spanish ketchup," this spicy, creamy, smoky sauce can elevate many wild game dishes to new levels of gustatory greatness.