DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 31 – Talking Waterfowl Brines with Scott Leysath, DU Magazine Cooking Columnist

Scott Leysath discusses brines and other marinades for cooking waterfowl

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited Podcast, the only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting 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've got Ducks Unlimited Magazine cooking columnist, The Sporting Chef, host of Dead Meat, Scott Leysath. Scott, thanks for joining me today.

Scott Leysath: It's always good to be here.

Chris Jennings: Excellent. Excellent. Well today we're going to jump right in. We're going to talk about something, and this is a topic that I picked up from reading several of your columns and watching some of your videos as you've sent them in. And it's brining, and being able to make your own brine or use a store brought brine and it changes everything about the way that you cook duck, the way that it tastes, the way that you can present it. And even more so, even the way that it looks. Scott, can you kind of go into the brining process, the brines that you use and and just give everyone an update on the brines?

Scott Leysath: Well, very simply a basic brine is just a mild salt water solution, and when you have the right ratio of salt to water, what it does is it passes through the bird and replaces whatever leftover juice there is in there with this very mild, mildly salty brine. It adds moisture, it adds flavor. I'm a big fan of Hi Mountain brines. I use the Hi Mountain pre-made Game Bird and Poultry Brine. I get it in seven pound bags.

Chris Jennings: Oh, wow.

Scott Leysath: I've actually left this at duck clubs and places like that because I want them to use it. So if you don't have the Hi Mountain stuff, if you take a half a gallon of water with a half cup each of a coarse salt, like kosher salt. I think Diamond makes the kosher salt that dissolves really, a lot more readily. The Morton stuff, you have to heat up the water a little bit, dissolve the salt. I add a half cup of the course salt, a half cup of brown sugar, which is all dissolved. If you want a throw more flavor ingredients, just don't dilute the salt to water ratio.

Chris Jennings: Okay.

Scott Leysath: You can throw in the garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning. Any of those things and it'll add more flavor for your bird. But either a gallon of water to a cup of kosher salt or a half gallon of water to a half cup. The Hi Mountain stuff has a little sodium nitrate in it, which will turn the ducks a lighter color. So they look less livery. And for a lot of people, especially people that we're trying to introduce to ducks, and what wild game tastes like, they immediately see liver colored, they're thinking liver. I'm telling you this, it's happened before. I don't like liver, so I don't like my ducks to taste like liver. It's just a personal preference. But what the brine does, is it really mellows out the duck. Duck blood in general, deer blood, the blood still tastes good. If you take that saltwater brine and make sure that it's cool, it needs to be below 40 degrees, between 33 and 40 degrees, and you're going to brine it in the refrigerator, not just sitting out on the counter.

Scott Leysath: I'll leave it in overnight. If it's something like a Canada goose or Canada goose part, I may go 48 hours. What's going to happen, the longer you brine it, the saltier it's going to get. So you want to make sure that you throttle back on the salt in either your marinade and your rub.

Chris Jennings: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Scott Leysath: It's a whole different duck or goose if you brine it first. My buddy John McGannon with WildEats is a real, real big proponent of dry aging.

Chris Jennings: Yeah.

Scott Leysath: He dry ages. I'm the brine guy, he's the dry age guy. Do one or the other. I don't care what you do, do one or the other and I promise your ducks and geese will taste better.

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Chris Jennings: Yeah, and that's one question about aging. You hear a lot of people who do aged birds and I think originally it was a European notion, but I've talked to people who will hang their ducks. And what's your opinion on that? Of hanging the ducks, the European approach where they'll hang them for like six or seven days. What's your opinion on that?

Scott Leysath: The problem with that is, it does increase the odds that it's going to taste more, not less gamey.

Chris Jennings: Okay.

Scott Leysath: It's going to be more tender. I guarantee you it'll be more tender. In Europe, they'll tie the duck by the neck to a rope in the garage somewhere, in the shed and you know that it's done when the body falls down onto the ground and you've got the head still tied up to the rope up top. It will be more tender. And really the European way, they leave guts intact and the whole deal. To me, getting a gut shot bird and hanging it for six or seven days is not a good idea, and I don't encourage it simply because I'm afraid somebody's going to get sick doing it.

Scott Leysath: If you take the cleaned duck and you put it on a rack in the refrigerator with a drip pan underneath and leave that in there for a week, to me that's the better deal. It's going to evaporate some of the capillary blood that's in there too, and you're going to have a more tender duck. Just like if you were to do a 28 day aged prime rib, it will be more tender and you're going to have a couple of little funky bits on there that you may want to cut off. But either that or the brine, do something, but I'm not a big fan of hanging them up, whole body ducks in your cold shed, it's just not my thing.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, I'm glad you said that. I'd rather figure out a way to tenderize, marinate my bird rather than letting rigor mortis handle the majority of that process.

Scott Leysath: And again, the flavors are going to be more pronounced, and pronounced, that's not necessarily a good thing.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, and I think that's what confuses some people is that they're under the impression that it's going to be less gamey when they do that, but it's a good point that you brought up that it's probably going to be more on the gamey side.

Scott Leysath: Yeah.

Chris Jennings: All right. Well, cool. Hey, we've wrapped up the brines, that's great. I appreciate it, Scott. Hope everyone learned a little bit more about changing the dynamic of even what the duck looks like to people. I think that's a good point that if you're introducing waterfowl, duck or goose to someone who's never had it before, most people are a little hesitant. And being able to provide something that doesn't look like the blood coming out of the meat necessarily at that first example to someone is probably, it's a good opportunity to use the brines and really introduced people that way.

Scott Leysath: Well, and I've told them that you can actually.... It's easier to sell the medium rare thing as opposed to... Where we lose a lot of people is when they cut into a steak and some juice runs out and they go, "Oh, my God, it's bloody." And it's not blood, but when you use the brine, it really gets rid of that. And so when you cut into it, it's going to be juicier, but it's not going to have that blood look to it. And that's a little off putting for people. So you can go with a medium rare. It's lighter in color and most likely to be received a little better.

Chris Jennings: Again, Scott Leysath, Ducks Unlimited Magazine cooking columnist joining us, and he's here to remind all of us don't over cook things. Thanks, Scott.

Scott Leysath: Yep, we'll do it again.

Chris Jennings: I want to give a special thanks to Scott Layseth, our guest, for joining us. If you want to learn more about Scott, you can visit thesportingchef.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/dupodcast 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.