DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 35 – Whole Duck Cooking Options from Scott Leysath

Scott Leysath, DU Magazine cooking columnist joins host, Chris Jennings to discuss cooking whole ducks

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. The only podcast about all things waterfowl, from planning 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 I've got a special guest, Ducks Unlimited magazine, cooking columnist and host of Dead Meat and the Sporting Chef, Scott Leysath. Scott, thanks for joining me today.

Scott Leysath: You bet, man.

Chris Jennings: We get this question a lot. I know you've done some different recipes on a fried whole duck and some different ways. I've seen some different ways that you've done it. What are your recommendations with whole ducks and whole geese? What do people do with that?

Scott Leysath: My recommendation is don't do it. I'm reminded, I was invited to round game feed, and somebody showed up with a foil pan, with a whole roasted greater Canada goose.

Chris Jennings: Mm. Wow.

Scott Leysath: It was way overcooked, and even if it wasn't way overcooked how edible are those legs going to be? If the breasts are perfect medium rare, those legs are not edible. However, if during the season, what I do with my ducks and geese, is I break them down into parts. I've got the breasts. They're vacuum sealed and marked. I've got the legs, and I've got the bodies. When I get enough bodies, when it starts to take over my freezer, I turn those bodies into stock. So I'm using the whole animal to make duck stock. It's really, really good. Just like making stock with your Thanksgiving turkey carcass, you roast it with some celery, carrots, onions, throw it into a stock pot, let it simmer. It does what it does overnight. You make stock.

Scott Leysath: But if you cook a whole duck, if you've ever been to a duck feed where you've got whole ducks and the breasts are cooked, juicy, medium rare, tender, nobody's eating the legs and thighs. You can't. So they look really pretty in a photo. But that's more form over function. Functionally speaking, you cook them in parts. The legs, you cook really slow. And Chris, I know you had talked about a goose that you had. You had some goose legs recently.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Well, I was up in Canada and we shot some lesser Canadas, and they were braised for several hours. I don't even know the exact cooking time, but just goose legs. I mean, we're just pulling them out. They were fantastic, and I'd had some variation of that, but I've never just sat down with two or three goose legs and just went to town on them. I mean, they were unbelievable. I would recommend doing that. I'm going to look forward to doing that this year.

Scott Leysath: Well, and as opposed to breasting those birds out, and then throwing the rest away, which is really, really lazy. To me, that's not they way. That's not what you're supposed to do as a responsible hunter. I think, really you're obligated to use the whole bird and not waste it. I don't take a goose or a duck for granted.

Scott Leysath: And the further braising with those legs, if you put them into a roasting pan, say 400 degrees and brown them first, then you can throw some celery, carrot, onion in the pan, too. Put about a half an inch of either beef broth or red wine or a combination of both. You could throw in some whole garlic cloves. Once it's browned, you cover it up with foil or a tight fitting lid. Lower that temperature down to about 300 degrees, and several hours later you're going to be able to pull that meat off the bone.

Scott Leysath: With mallards, it takes about two and a half to three hours. And I get it until it almost comes off the bone. Let it cool, and then when you're grilling those duck breasts, just before they're done, you throw those legs on there, baste them with whatever sauce you've got on the grill. Put them on the plate, and people will go nuts, because they're not used to eating duck and goose legs. They come right off the bone.

Chris Jennings: Oh, yeah. Now are you kind of flash grilling, the legs? Are you throwing them on the grill real quick just to kind of, maybe put some marks on them, tighten them up a little bit?

Scott Leysath: After they've been braised, you let them cool all the way. And then when you're grilling, you just throw them on there long enough. You're putting some kind of sauce on the breasts. You do the same thing to the legs, and just put them on the plate with the slight breast, and people won't understand what happened.

Chris Jennings: Any recommendations on the sauces for the duck and goose legs?

Scott Leysath: You know, that's personal preference stuff. The sauce that I use most often, that I have for years and years and years, is a reduction of balsamic vinegar, a little berry preserves, and a little garlic. Finish it with some butter, and it really works well for game. Any other kind of sauce, if you wanted to do more of a barbecue sauce on there, any of that ones, you just want to make sure, if you've got a lot of sugar in your sauce, you want to use it at the very end. Otherwise, when you put that sugary sauce on the grill, on the meat on the grill, it's going to end up burning. So just be a little careful with it, but you still want your duck taste like duck. So make sure your marinade doesn't overpower the duck.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, that's fantastic. That's some great tips, great sauces. Scott, I appreciate you joining me today and look forward to our next conversation. We've got several more coming up with you. And again, thanks a lot for joining me.

Scott Leysath: You bet.

Chris Jennings: I want to give a special thanks to Scott Leysath, with 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/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.