DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 40 – Sides to the Front

Host Chris Jennings is joined by Scott Leysath, DU Magazine cooking columnist

© 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 in the wetlands conservation in North America. We bring the resource to you. The DU Podcast with your host, Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: Today, I've got a special guest, Ducks Unlimited Magazine cooking columnist, the Sporting Chef and host of Dead Meat, Scott Leysath. Scott, thanks for joining me today.

Scott Leysath: Good to be here always.

Chris Jennings: Excellent. Excellent. We have gone through several different shows, but one thing we have not talked about, where let's just put the scenario out there. I'm cooking ducks or geese or venison for 8 or ten people. I'm putting together a little game feast. What would be your recommended side dishes? What really complements wild game, whether it be waterfowl or deer or turkey? What are your go-to side dishes here?

Scott Leysath: I'm a big fan of grits. I love cheesy, soft grits, grits sticks the next day. For those on my side of the country, we're going to go ahead and call it polenta because I know you're afraid of grits, but that's one of my favorite, favorite side dishes. But the grits I grew up with were, my dad made it with grits and water, and then he'd put syrup and whatever else, honey on there, and it wasn't good. It tasted like a piece of cardboard was in some syrup.

Chris Jennings: That's the same grits that I've had. That's about my experience with it, but again, I'm from Indiana, so we weren't much for the grits.

Scott Leysath: I got you. Well, I grew up in the South. My dad was very southern, Alabama farm boy, and think of it as polenta. Instead of using water, you're using chicken broth, you're adding some cheese to it. It's going to give it some real flavor. I love grits. I do a lot of different variations on that, cheese grits, jalapeno grits.

Scott Leysath: Just simple real vegetables in season is great as a side dish for fish or game. In the winter time, take butternut squash, acorn squash, you kind of nuke them for a little bit and soften them up, throw them on the grill. They also make good purees just like grits. I actually had some grits recently that had, what was it, sweet potato added to it that was actually really good. But grilled vegetables in the summertime for me, you take zucchini, any kind of squash, asparagus, a little bit of olive, salt and pepper, throw them on the grill. To me, that's a really good side dish.

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Chris Jennings: And I know you do a lot of kind of Southwestern meals and dishes. What's your go-to side dish there? I mean, are you making a salsa fresca or are you making guacamole or anything like that?

Scott Leysath: Oh yeah, and by the way, my guacamole does not have mayonnaise in it. It's simply a just ripe avocado, lime, and salt. If you want to add a little heat to it, that's fine too, but you mash that up. That is really good. If you take some corn tortillas, cut them into little tiny strips and just fry them briefly, put a little salt and some cumin on there, and just put it right over the top of whatever it is you're cooking, that's going to give it some crunchy textural feel to it.

Scott Leysath: In the summertime when homegrown tomatoes are in season, which is one of my favorite foods, homegrown tomatoes in the top three for me along with raw fish and oysters, believe it or not-

Chris Jennings: Oh yeah. I'm an oyster and tomato fan. It's perfect.

Scott Leysath: An oyster is either good or it isn't if you don't cover it up with anything else. A homegrown tomato you can't buy in a grocery store. You see a lot of heirloom tomatoes in grocery stores now and they look really pretty, but they don't taste like heirloom tomatoes. They're okay for a photo, but again, they just don't taste like something you grow in your backyard. But even just sliced tomatoes with a little salt on it, or if you're making a pico de gallo or a salsa fresca, you take the diced tomato, some fresh jalapeno, lime juice, olive oil.

Scott Leysath: It's a great, great complement for any of the Southwestern dishes, because the Southwestern dishes tend to be a little on the spicy side, so I don't do a spicy salsa with a spicy fish or game. You want them to kind of balance each other. So if one's spicy, the other one should be a little bit more neutral, maybe even a little bit sweet, and that's going to balance that heat from whatever it is you're cooking.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. That's great. And then are you doing any, and this might get you kind of off the cuff here, but are you doing any wine pairings or is there any specific cocktails that you're serving with any waterfowl or any other wild game dishes?

Scott Leysath: Well, if it's on the hot side and if it's hot outside and the fish is a little spicy, a cold beer or a margarita doesn't hurt. I'm not a real... I love wine, and I'm in a really good area where we have a lot of wine, but I'm not a wine snob. If somebody wants to drink white wine with a big peppery venison steak, it's your venison steak. I'm not going to tell you you're wrong if that's what you want to drink.

Scott Leysath: You'll notice though, if you do get to have a couple of different kinds of wine, and let's say you take that peppery venison steak or duck breast or whatever it is, and you try it with a Pinot Noir, you try it with a Malbec, you try it with a big cab, and you can tell the difference in how that tastes with the wine. So for people that drink just only one kind of wine, that's cool. It's your wine, it's your food. But if somebody happens to open a bottle of something different, try it and compare how that affects the flavor of both the wine and what it is you're eating based on what the ingredients are.

Chris Jennings: Absolutely, and I'll throw a little shout out. I like my grilled duck with, and I'll shout out our Ducks Unlimited official beer, the Busch Light. The Busch Latte is quite the complement to some grilled duck.

Scott Leysath: Oh sure. Yeah. I mean a tall, cold beer is really a good complement with just about anything, I think. I've had it with my breakfast.

Chris Jennings: That's a good one. Hey, Scott, I appreciate you kind of bringing the side dishes to the forefront, and also some of the wine pairings and different opportunities for people to enhance the flavor. But I do appreciate you coming on and thanks a lot. I look forward to talk to you again.

Scott Leysath: Good deal.

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 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 wilderness 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.