Waterfowl Cookery: Reviewing Duck, Duck, Goose

Filed in The Gentrys Pantry by on December 1, 2015 0 Comments

Have you noticed that the shooting parties on Downton Abbey never shoot waterfowl?  The reason seems to be that the great estates used game as a crop to be managed and sold and waterfowl are notoriously uncooperative with the gamekeeper.  Grouse to a degree and pheasants very much so are quite manageable.  You can modify their habitat or, in the case of pheasant, even pen raise them for release.  Ducks and geese migrate and when shot at tend to not come back.  Additionally waterfowl shooters in the UK tend to be loners, more concerned with communing with the tides and weather than actually ever bringing home dinner.  Pheasant shooting is social.  Things are different in North America.  Here, waterfowl are a favored quarry and now with geese populations higher than ever before it is well to consider what to do with them.  Hank Shaw shows you how.

Waterfowl in the My Life

Hank Shaw is a California writer and publisher of the website honest food.net.  Like me, his major preoccupations in life revolve around food, hunting it, catching it, foraging it, growing it, cooking it, and of course eating it.  He has written three books with a fourth on the way.  This is is a review of his book on waterfowl.  Having grown up and spent my life in the dry southwestern corner of the state, ducks and geese have never played a large part in my outdoors experience.  I’ve tried a few times but there is so little water around Southern California that waterfowl hunting is a rich man’s sport.  Either you spend a wad joining a duck club or you gather up a vast collection of paraphernalia and transport it long distances in pursuit of game.  Thus waterfowl have never played a large role in my dining room.  My late wife disliked the greasiness and I disliked both the expense for the domestic variety and the effort required to hunt wild ones.  This is about to change with my relocation to Portland, OR.

Urban waterfowl

Urban waterfowl

Waterfowl can be Pests?

Those who have lived as long as I will remember reading in the outdoor magazines of our youth regular complaints about how “Things were better when we were young, Stanley.”  Older writers remembered the days when flocks of duck would fairly darken the sky on their spring and fall migrations.  Sadly, the draining of the potholes in the Northern Midwest put an end to that even after market hunting was banned and lead shot poisoned tens of thousands every year.  It seemed that the golden age of waterfowl shooting was lost and gone forever.

Then things changed.  It wasn’t that the valiant efforts of Ducks Unlimited and similar organizations brought back the ducks, but rather that the geese began to adapt to the human changes in the environment.  Geese are grazers.  They roost on ponds and lakes and eat grass–very inefficiently!  This appetite drew them to the increasing number of urban parks and golf courses–and suburban lawns.  Their inefficient digestive tracts turned the grass into a real mess.  Then they began to forget about migrating and start nesting in the ponds around the parks and the golf courses.  In ‘defense’ of their nests, geese (especially large Canadas) get mean!

Numbers sky rocketed.  I’ve read that there are now some three times as many snow geese as there were in the early 60’s and that the Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned that they will destroy the tundra where they nest.  Something had to be done.  Bag limits were increased.  Seasons were extended.  In the Central Flyway Spring seasons were reintroduced after a century in abeyance.  In some parts of the country there is no limit on the number of show geese you can take and in others a well-placed and careful shooter can end up with a multi-species limit of twenty-two–per day!

Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) wintering at the Skagit River delta in Skagit County, Washington, USA.

Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) wintering at the Skagit River delta in Skagit County, Washington, USA.

Two or three trips like that and a family of four would have its entire winter meat supply.  But what do you do with that many geese?

Hank in the Kitchen

Duck, Duck, Goose points out that each species of goose has its own unique properties and the intelligent chef will put each to its own best use.  Snows, for example, are very lean and do not lend themselves to roasting.  Better they should be skinned, boned and turned into burger, sausage and stock.  Hank shows you how with words and photos.

Other geese should be broken down, the legs and wing butts turned into confit and the breast meat into steaks.  Mmmm . . . confit and steak!

goose confit goose steak

And I’m really looking forward to trying some goose sausage recipes.  He even describes how to rend out the fat for other uses and goose fat, like duck fat, is the current rage among forward looking chefs and foodies around the world.  So waterfowlers, get yourself a copy of Duck, Duck, Goose and break out the boning knife, pans and spice jars.  The book is as good to look at as it is to read and I am really looking forward to putting it to use.  And since I won’t move until Spring I’m even thinking of going to the store and buying a goose to practice on.

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