Archive for the ‘Waterfowl’ Category

An Heirloom Tool


Shotgun‘Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre – Herstal – Belgique’. My uncle figured my grandfather had had it since at least the mid 50s. I suppose firearms made by military manufacturers would have been a lot more common back then, only a few years after WWII. My grandfather was an officer in that war. I have a painting of his that was extremely important to him, depicting the emotions he saw in the faces of the Dutch when he arrived in wake of immediate post-war clean-up duty. He passed away a few months ago, and my uncle thought that this long-loved 12 gauge shotgun should be put to good use by somebody in the family. I’ll do my best.

It was odd feeling immediately emotionally attached to an object, nevermind a firearm, that I’d never laid a hand on until I received it. It was the closest I’d been to my grandfather since he passed away, I suppose. He’d spent decades in fields and forests with it and his kids – my uncle sharing stories of its use on hunts back when his brother that has now long passed away was still around. It has a really long barrel, and apparently my grandfather could connect on sharptail grouse and ducks that others thought were out of reach. Stories. I look forward to the opportunity to compound the stories when in the field with my kids. One of the mighty valuable benefits of a tool well made.

Shotgun Belgique


Episode 53 – Duck


Confession: I packed in waterfowl hunting for a number of years for a few reasons. First reason – the more I learned about appropriate practices around animal slaughter in general, the less it made sense to shoot a hundred+ pellets at any and all of the prime cuts of an animal, have it fall from the sky to bruise on the ground, not necessarily killing it immediately, and not to be bled. I would not do that to a pig, say. Second reason – I had yet to prepare it in a fashion that I could really get excited about in the kitchen. There are a million ways to screw it up, and it took half a decade for me to realize that it’s kind of like squid – needs proficient quick preparation execution, or very, very, very long cooking time. Skip absolutely everything in between at your own peril.

Having been served some really nice goose a couple months back by Danny VanCleave – the guide in Episode 52 – I was re-inspired to give waterfowl another chance. And I’m glad I did. Turns out my displeasure with it in the kitchen was simply due to my inefficacy around its preparation. I admit it. Still think the slaughter method is crazy and wasteful, and that plucking in the presence of any shot hole in the body is insane though…

Episode 52 – Killam Waterfowl Outfitters


I grew up hunting geese and ducks southeast of Killam, Alberta. This summer, while shooting Episode 49, an outfitter that worked near that area asked if they could hire me to produce a video for their website. Default answer: yes. So down south I went to meet up with the outfitters, their guests, and many, many thousand geese and ducks.

As I get older I increasingly appreciate folks who are passionate about what they do, and carry with them a tremendous respect for some of the more challenging bits in life – like killing animals for food. Unlike many other ‘sports’, when spinning in the right crowds at least, hunting is a celebration of the season, moral fibre, ethical backbone, and respect for both the land you’re on and the animals you’re harvesting. This hunt had that vibe. I grew up around that vibe, but am well aware that not all hunting parties are cut from the same jib. So thanks to the guys involved in this one for being good advocates for what they do.

Having been the benefactor of some of the birds harvested, I can honestly admit that my appreciation for waterfowl in the kitchen has been greatly increased – which I’m excited about. More on this coming soon.

A sign of hope? Plucked late(er) season Mallard

Long, long ago, I wrote this post about my thoughts on wild goose and duck. Over time, a number of folks have weighed in to disagree with my feelings on the subject. One, whose opinion I respect, inspired me to reform my ways. So yesterday, when I had the opportunity to take a couple later-season mallards – I took it.

So these two are plucked. First big change. I grew up breasting waterfowl. Plucking wasn’t as bad a job as I’d guessed. The wing areas are a little brutal, but for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. Would I want to do 30-40 of them this way?…two, yes.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they have fat. Not because I left the skin on, but because of the time of year they were harvested. When we normally start bird hunting in early September, waterfowl are JUST coming off a diet of marshland plants and such. Crops get knocked down, the birds find the food, we go in and hunt them pretty much asap. So unilke the norm, today’s birds have had a chance to fatten up on grain over the past two months. Was there fat? Yes. Finally, I witness fat on a game bird. Will it make a difference? My guess is yes, but we’ll see to what degree.

Goose Hunt I, 2008


Another successful goose hunt. Opening morning was warm [4C], calm, foggy, and it was just plain nice to be out in the stubble early in the morning. Once again, I’m very fortunate my uncle and his hunting partner are so kind to share their gear, company, and opportunities with me. To add to the luck, my brother-in-law was keen to hop over to help butcher birds when I got home. Lucky day!!

[40 geese, 9 of them white-fronted, a mallard, and a pintail]

Canada Goose Pepperoni Pizza


So what does one do with many, many Canada geese?

One use: Canada Goose pepperoni pizza. My goose hunting uncle gets large amounts of pepperoni made from the goose meat – and Yen and I were recently hooked up. My wife and I are currently on a pizza binge, as happens from time to time. We eat it lunch and supper for 2-3 days, or until we run out of cheese.

This pepperoni also is one of the best snacks while packing up blinds after a successful goose shoot. It’s kinda like eating a fine Minestrone after spending a morning gardening. Kinda. Except cleaning veg is easier than cleaning 40-50 geese. And less messy. A lot less messy.

On Wild Goose & Duck


I love domestic goose and duck – so fatty, rich, and delicious. Sadly, their wild counterparts are none of the above. So what do they taste like? How should they be prepared? Questions that I’ve had for a while, and despite efforts online and at the library, only experience is starting to provide some answers.

In the past few years, I’ve butchered an awful lot of geese. I’ve de-breasted them, I’ve plucked them for roasting whole, I’ve taken the legs, and even have gone so far as going through the trouble of reserving the livers and hearts. I’ve poached, fried, fricasseed, roasted, rotisseried over charcoal, cured, and even made various sausages from the meats.

So what do they taste like?
In the field, you hear hunters talk about how good ‘specs’ [white fronted geese] are. ‘So much better than Canadas’, they say. You may hear the same about Ross’ goose. But more often than not, hunters are not foodies [not a diss, just a fact], and I’m the only one I know who’s geeky enough to have actually done a blind tasting. Left to right in the photo: white fronted, ross, and canada. That’s pork fat on the two of them. And the result? Despite what we thought would taste better and why, four of us found that they were indecernible, one from the other. That’s right. In a blind tasting, the taste and texture was essentially identical. So that was a myth-buster.

And not only did they taste identical, they all tasted far more like a poorly done roast beef than like the succulant domestic poultry birds we love. My good friend Yen recently offered the following notes “Flying liver. Holy man, this stuff is gamey. And it definitely hits the beefy end of the spectrum for texture. Nothing like any “bird” meat i’ve ever seen”. So it tastes like beef + liver + subtle hints of poultry. Wild duck is even more liver-esque. Not what I expected, and overall, not a pleasant a flavor profile, to be honest.

The texture
As…weak…as the flavor is, the texture is worse. It’s the toughest meat I’ve ever worked with. Can’t blame the birds, they’re migrating. And it gets worse – unlike tough beef cuts which break down with slow and moist cooking methods, this does not. I’ve had mixed success gently poaching the breast meat – more often than not resulting in tough-as-nails-ness. I’ve cut it thin and pounded it. I’ve confit’d it in domestic duck fat. The only way I can see getting past the texture is to grind the meat. And I’ve had mixed results here too. I find home-made goose sausage has a very unusual texture. Luckily, my uncle has sourced some butcher shops that do a solid job of making pepperoni with a pleasant texture. Makes me wonder how much pork they’re adding.

So what to do?
First, be anal about cleaning the breast meat. No silverskin allowed. No shot holes allowed. No bloody bruised bits allowed. We even use a metal detector to avoid the unpleasant experience of biting down on steel shot. If you bugger this up, good luck trying to get guests to enjoy it. Ever.

Second. Focus on texture. If you don’t, you’ll have a dish with unpleasantly tough chunks of rubber in it. Ideally, get a good sausage maker to make something you like and can share. If you’re adament to use the breasts as-is, here’s one idea from Yen:

Par boil thin slices of goose breast. Drain the liquid. Lightly simmer the thinly sliced breast in coconut milk and thai red curry paste, add aromatics (peppers, onions, lemon grass, fish sauce, lime juice, fresh basil, brown sugar, diced tomato), and serve. It tastes good. Of course, it tastes nothing like goose anymore. Just a thin texture that could be any thinly sliced well done red meat.

And last but most importantly – check back here as I intend on posting more tasting notes and experiences, and am hoping others may one day post theirs in the comments!

Goose & Duck Hunting 2007 – Hunt 2

When my uncle was meeting me to butcher the birds from the last hunt, he noticed these birds going into a swathed barley field. Having secured permission from the farmer, we ‘spotted’ it Friday morning and evening to observe where the birds were feeding, and went in yesterday morning. It was yet another successful hunt.

So what do we do with all these birds?? Well there were 5 of us this time, and the daily bag limit is 8 per person. So we each take 8 geese. Most of the first geese I took are being cured and will be smoked. I’d also like to try a smoked jerky. Some will be frozen, and then sent to a butcher to process into sausage. It will be shared with friends and family to an extent that will leave me without by the end of October.

Goose is a tremendous culinary challenge as a meat. Poultry meets beef, but SUPER tough. The texture forces you to scramble to find ways around it – and the intuitive things like wet cooking methods don’t necessarily solve the problem. I fell dry cooking methods like roasting and grilling inevitably result in disaster. The texture is even a bit of an issue when ground for sausage making. Duck poses another challenge: it tastes like organ meat, in my opinion. I call it ‘flying liver’. So if you’re into that, it’s good. If you’re not [my hand is raised], it also gets processed into sausage.

The bottom line is that there are far more culinarily desirable game meats, so I have to watch how much I take. I believe I’ve arrived at my limit.

My 30th Birthday

My dishwasher full of dirty dishes smells fantastic. I know. Gross. But it’s true.

Today is my 30th birthday. My dinner guests just left, and I’m extremely tired. I was up at 04:00 to go waterfowl hunting again this morning. Maybe not the wisest thing to do before hosting 15 dinner guests. 40 more geese and 13 ducks this morning, followed by lots of butchering. My bird-cleaning chops are getting quite polished. More on this later.

I had a wonderful birthday. Last night I had some good friends and family over for a wonderful dinner, and we enjoyed the wine in the photo below. A very nice Pauillac. I have good friends. The photo on the upper left is the starter of lightly cooked shaggy mane [in butter] on a pan-bread with some liquid the mushroom releases when cooked, topped with a wild chive.

The theme for my birthday was ‘braised and bordeaux’d’. I will post more soon on this, but we’ll just say for now that it’s the reason my dishwasher smells so good.

I will try to catch up in the coming days. So much food. So many wines. So tired. But what I will take the time to scratch down is a big thank you to all who were very kind to me in the past few days, including my lovely wife. The rest of you know who you are. I really appreciate all the thoughtfullness, generosity, and love.

Goose & Duck Hunting 2007

I was actually up even earlier than planned this morning. Our daughter was awake at 03:10, so I got up and got ready for the morning’s hunt. It’s not a sleeper-inner’s kind of activity. We were in the field early enough to enjoy the clear sky of bright stars, got set up in the -4C cold, and enjoyed some coffee. The birds came in, as anticipated at the break of dawn. After an hour and half of action, we had 41 Canada Geese, 7 White Fronted geese, and 9 ducks [7 mallards, 2 Pintails].

I’m really spoiled to get invited into these hunts. There are folks who pay a lot of money to be guided to do this. It’s a lot of pre-shoot leg work. The most complicated part, in my opinion, is that far beforehand you need to know what crops are planted [the feed dictating the bird feeding behavior], who owns the land they’re feeding on, and then secure permission to hunt on the land. Other hunters may want access to the same field, the birds may move from one location to another – there are a lot of variables that can screw up a hunt.

My uncle was a bit late meeting me to butcher birds tonight – he’d found another bunch of geese and ducks and had already obtained permission from the owner to be on the land. This hunt’s even closer than the last, and is in a really pretty swathed barley field with rolling hills. I’m on spotting duty tomorrow morning to make sure they’re still in there – and if they are – it looks like Saturday morning will be my second, and likely last, hunt of this kind this season.