DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 26 – Scott Leysath Joins the Show to Talk Waterfowl Recipes

Scott Leysath talks cooking, his background, and odd wild game he has eaten

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From cunning insights to science-based discussions about ducks, geese and issues affecting waterfowl and wetlands conservation in North America, we bring the resource to you. The DU podcast with your host, Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: Today we have a special guest, Ducks Unlimited magazine cooking columnist, sporting chef and host of Dead Meat, Scott Leysath. Scott, thanks for joining us today.

Scott Leysath: Good to be here, man. Been a long time DU guy.

Chris Jennings: Yes, you have. You've written the cooking column for well over a decade and it's one of the most popular things that we do in the magazine and online and now the videos and you used to have a TV show. Waterfowl recipes are extremely popular but before we get into the various recipes, can you give everyone just a little bit of a background of how you became the sporting chef, how you got into the culinary world?

Scott Leysath: Sure. Not a well-planned career path. I was working as a bouncer in Tucson, Arizona when I was finishing up my psychology degree and got the opportunity to be... I got a two week training course on how to be a bartender, manager, cook, and was eventually the vice president of the 33 unit chain, had my own restaurant in Sacramento, California. We had game featured on the menu so people would say, hey, how come my game doesn't taste like your game? So I would have them bring it in and then we would do wild game feeds for a couple times a year and somebody at HGTV noticed. I ended up doing 185 shows or so for years with HGTV and I've had my own show, the Sporting Chef, since 2001 and Dead Meat's been about seven years now.

Chris Jennings: That's awesome. And just give everyone a brief update on Dead Meat. I know last time we spoke you were doing some pretty outside the box things, shooting some frogs in Indiana and chasing armadillos. Kind of give people an update on that.

Scott Leysath: So the Dead Meat show, we chase the critters less pursued like armadillo, which... The only animal that can transmit leprosy to humans. So you want to make sure you cook your armadillo all the way through. I'm sure you've noticed even up where you are, armadillos are heading farther north than ever before, right? Python, iguana, nutria, you know, nutria, on the other hand, is this big swamp rat in Louisiana that we have in California now, and they actually taste good. They are vegetarians, they vegetation off the levees, which of course the roads, the levees, compromises the wetlands. In the state of Louisiana, they give you seven bucks for the last five inches of tail, or five inches, $5 for the last seven inches of tail, something like that. And people just go out and they'll shoot the nutria, cut the tail off and leave the rest for the gators, but as it turns out you can actually eat them.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. I'll be honest, I would probably try a nutria, but, armadillo? Eh, I'm going to try and steer clear of leprosy.

Scott Leysath: Armadillo looks good on TV. It's good foodie food, they call it possum on the half shell. It's kind of freaky looking and really, chicken is better than a lot of these things.

Chris Jennings: Chicken is better than a lot of these things, I guarantee it. Well cool. Let's go ahead and get into it, and the first thing I want to talk to you about is, everyone out there is doing their own waterfowl recipe or most people are probably following the ones that you're writing for the magazine, but people are kind of putting their own twist on it and everyone's experimenting, learning, doing different things with ducks and geese. But what's the number one thing that you tell people over and over and over again? It's literally like a 50,000 foot, here's your cooking lesson.

Scott Leysath: Do not overcook it.

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Scott Leysath: I grew up with ducks that were crammed full of apples and oranges or wild rice and cooked until they were gray all the way through. People, my dad thought that if you put these, if you put the apples and oranges and things in the cavity, that it will draw out the evil gamey spirits. I didn't find that to be the case. What I found was that it encouraged overcooking. If you take a duck breast and you cut it in half and you cook half of it medium well and half of it medium rare, and medium rare for me is about 130-135 degrees, it's two very different pieces of duck. And for people that have said duck is gamey or wild game is gamey, if they just wouldn't cook it so dang long, they'd realize that it's really not gamey at all.

Chris Jennings: I'll be honest, I've been guilty of overcooking duck on several occasions, even just recently. How do you kind of, what's the one way to get passed over cooking for people? Are you... I know you have some sous vide recipes and just the various different ways to remind people, maybe even the easiest way for people to not overcook.

Scott Leysath: Well, the easiest way to get started is to get a meat thermometer, and don't cook whole duck because legs and thighs, you want to go low and slow, you want to braise them. If you wanted to put them into a crock pot until they just about fall off the bone, that works. The bodies make great stock, but the breasts, I love to have them plucked, not peeled, skin side down until that skin is crispy. It's going to take, I don't know, three or four minutes per side, flip it over and do not cook it past about 130, 135 degrees. As it rests, it will keep cooking. You can always cook it more. You just can't un-cook it. Eventually you'll be able to push down with your finger and you're going to know what medium rare feels like.

Chris Jennings: That's right. And one tip for people who... grilling ducks is very popular with our crowd, especially. How are you telling people to grill them? Are you going high heat? Are you going medium heat? Are you just kind of flash searing them and then letting them rest? Kind of explain that process too.

Scott Leysath: Well, it depends on the thickness of the duck. A wigeon is not going to cook like a mallard. So if it's... The thicker it is, the lower the temperature is going to be for me. If you take a big fat mallard breast or a speck breast or something and you cook it over high heat, very often what you're going to have is burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. So if you're cooking a smaller duck breast, a smaller bird, go with higher heat. Again, it's skin side down if you've got it. When that's crispy, I flip it over and... On something like a wigeon, and as soon as you flip it over, count to ten and it's done.

Chris Jennings: Oh, okay. Wow. Yeah, that's fast.

Scott Leysath: And really the only duck that I cook whole is a teal. Because a teal cooked medium rare, the whole bird, you're not going to get a whole lot out of those legs anyway. So to braise them, you pretty much wouldn't have any legs left. But teal by themselves, you brine them, you put a little rub on them and you grill them until they're medium rare and they're delicious.

Chris Jennings: Cook your teal whole, that sounds great. Awesome, Scott. Well, I appreciate it. We're going to go ahead and wrap this one up. I appreciate you joining me today and we're going to probably have you on several times to go through all the different recipes that you have. I do appreciate you joining us and again, everyone, Scott Leysath, Ducks Unlimited magazine columnist joining us, and I'm sure he'll be back. Thanks, Scott.

Scott Leysath: Yeah, man.

Chris Jennings: I want to give a special thanks to Scott Leysath, our guest, for joining us. If you want to learn more about Scott, you can visit the sportingchef.com or check out his recipes on ducks.org. I also want to give a special thanks to Clay Baird, the Ducks Unlimited podcast producer who puts this awesome show together. I'm your host Chris Jennings. Thanks for joining us and thanks for supporting wetlands conservation.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the show, and visit www.ducks.org/dupodcasts for resources based on today's topics, as well as access to more episodes. Opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect those of Ducks Unlimited. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.