Saturday, March 1, 2014

How to Cook Duck

Duck has a stronger, richer flavor than other poultry, since duck flesh contains more oil. Duck meat is often reserved for special occasions, but it's quite simple to prepare and provides a versatile base for many flavors. Read on for information on how to select duck meat and roast a whole duck, pan-sear duck breasts, and braise duck legs.


Whole Roasted Duck

  • A whole duck
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water

Pan-Seared Duck Breasts

  • Duck breasts, skin on
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Braised Duck Legs

  • Duck legs, skin on
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth


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    Decide how many people you will be feeding. A standard adult serving is 1/3 lb of duck (.15 kg).
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    Look for duck meat that has a high quality grading, such as USDA Grade A. This grade of duck meat will be a 6-8-week-old duckling raised indoors and fed with fortified corn and soybeans.
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    Select your preferred cut of duck meat. A whole duck with skin on is the most popular and commonly found selection. However, you can have the meat divided, de-boned and the duck skin and fat layer removed by a butcher.

Method 1 of 3: Whole Roasted Duck

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    Place the duck on a cutting board. Cut off the tips of the wings. Remove any excess fat from the neck and inside the body cavity.
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    Rinse the inside and outside of the duck with cold water. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
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    Pierce the skin and thick fat layer of the duck. Use a knife or skewer, and make piercings at one-inch (2.5 cm) intervals. Be sure to pierce all the way through the fat layer just below the skin, but not into the meat. You will feel resistance when you get to the meat layer. You can skip this step if you purchased duck meat with the skin and fat layer removed.
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    Put the prepared duck, breast side up, on a rack inside a roasting pan. The duck will not cook properly if it is not on a rack where the fat layer can drain off the meat.
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    Pour 2-to-3 cups of boiling water over the duck. Allow the water to collect in the bottom of the pan. The boiling water will begin to melt the fat layer and help the skin to crisp while cooking.
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    Rub salt and pepper on the inside and outside of the duck.
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    Open the preheated oven and insert the duck and roasting pan. Do not cover the duck.
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    Roast the duck for about 3 hours, turning the duck every 30 minutes.
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    Remove the roasting pan from the oven and test to make sure the duck is finished cooking.
    • Insert a cooking thermometer into the thickest portion of the duck meat, either the breast or thigh. Be sure the thermometer is not touching any bones. A fully cooked duck should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius).
    • Check to see if the duck skin is crispy and the fat layer has fully melted and drained from the duck. If so, your duck has finished cooking. If not, switch your oven to broil and return the roasting pan and duck to the oven. Broil for about 10 minutes.
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    Transfer the duck to a cutting board. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
  11. Cook a Duck Intro.jpg

Method 2 of 3: Pan-Seared Duck Breasts

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    Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator. Rise them in cool water and pat dry with a paper towel. Use a knife to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern on both sides.
    • The cross-hatching will help the skin get crispy. Avoid cutting into the meat.
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    Salt the breasts on both sides. Set them on a plate and allow them to come to room temperature.
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    Scrape the moisture from the duck breasts. Use the blunt side of a knife to scrape off the moisture that has emerged from the salted breasts. Excess moisture will prevent the skin from getting crispy.
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    Heat a cast iron skillet or nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Lay the duck breasts in the pan with the skin sides down. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts.
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    Turn the breasts to the other side with a pair of tongs. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.
    • After you flip the breasts, salt the now-exposed skin. This will help the skin get even crispier and more flavorful.
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    Stand the duck breasts on their sides to cook the edges. Lean the breasts against each other so the edges can cook for about a minute on each side.
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    Remove the breasts from the pan. Place them on a cutting board and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before slicing to serve.

Method 3 of 3: Braised Duck Legs

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    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).
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    Heat a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe skillet over medium heat. Place the duck legs in the pan with the skin sides down. Sprinkle the legs with salt and pepper and allow them to cook until the skin is brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the legs over with tongs and cook them on the meat side for another minute. Place them on a plate.
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    Pour the fat from the skillet into a container. Add 2 Tablespoons of fat back to the skillet, keeping it at medium heat.
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    Add the vegetables to the skillet. Saute them until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
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    Place the duck legs back in the skillet.
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    Pour the chicken stock into the skillet with the duck legs and vegetables.
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    Place the skillet in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) and cook for another 30 minutes.
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    Remove the skillet from the oven. The duck legs are done with their meat is tender and the liquid surrounding them is reduced by half.  


  • Side dishes for duck may include rice, beans, pasta, soup, vegetables, etc.
  • If you have to broil the duck to continue crisping the skin and melt the fat layer, watch the duck closely as it can easily burn on the broil setting.
  • Save duck fat to use for frying potatoes or other vegetables. It lends a rich, hearty flavor to any fried dish.


  • Raw duck meat should not exceed 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) until preparation and cooking to retain freshness and prevent bacteria growth.
  • The oven and duck meat will be very hot while cooking. Use proper oven mitts to prevent burns.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Cook Pheasants

Wild game has a tendency to beckon a little extra attention in order to behave desirably for its ultimate trip into your mouth. This needed attention does not mean cooking pheasant will take any more effort or time from you. What it does mean is that the time you spend with the pheasant should be purposeful. Do not let your fears of a gamey taste or dry meat keep you from preparing and enjoying this delicacy. Remember a few pointers on how to cook pheasant, and you will not be disappointed.
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  1. Avoid dryness. Pheasant is a very lean meat and because of that, if prepared carelessly, can make for a dry, chewy meal.
  2. Keep the heat lower, longer. Retain moisture in the meat by cooking the bird at around 275 degrees. Indirect heat is also a good choice, especially when grilling, to longer cooking at low heat. Cooking the bird in a crock pot is another option. If you choose to cook your pheasants at a higher temperature, keep the time short as to not cook them too long.
    Cook Pheasant Step 1Bullet1.jpg
  • Add additional fat. Cook your birds with a layer of bacon strips across the top or rub the outside of the bird with butter before putting it in the oven.
    Cook Pheasant Step 1Bullet2.jpg
  • Baste the meat frequently while cooking to add moisture to your meal. You can select a sauce or marinade like you would for other poultry. One nice option to creating juices in the pan is the potential for making gravy with it after the pheasants are finished cooking.
    Cook Pheasant Step 1Bullet3.jpg
  • Put the bird in a bag. To retain moisture, roast pheasant in the oven in a closed baking bag. You can also wrap your pheasant in aluminum foil. For a browned, crisp top, open the foil about 10 minutes before the pheasant is done cooking.
  • Keep the skin on. Leave the skin on the bird while it cooks to create a protective layer that holds moisture in the bird while it cooks.
  1. Cook Pheasant Step 2.jpg
  3. Reduce pheasant's gamey taste.
  4. Get filling. Fill the cavity with stuffing and seasonings of your choice. One recommendation is to insert some onion, apple, butter and fresh herbs into the bird before cooking. This helps with moisturizing the meat as well as providing flavor to mask any of the wildness left behind.
  • Soak the birds. Place the birds in a brine solution for several hours before cooking. For the brine, mix a strong salt water solution and add a teaspoon of baking soda.
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    2. Choose younger pheasants. Younger pheasants will be more tender than older birds, but you will not always be able to determine the age of the bird.
    3. Use pheasant in casseroles and soups where the bird will be cut into small pieces.
      Cook Pheasant Step 3Bullet1.jpg
    • Avoid over-cooking the meat. Cooking your birds too long will not only make them tough but also dry them out.
  • Sunday, February 23, 2014

    Pheasant Ecology: Nesting Cover


    Throughout the pheasant range, nesting cover is the single most important limiting factor for wildlife populations. Thankfully, it remains one of the few factors we can directly impact by establishing the right vegetation and managing it correctly. Hen pheasants start nesting beginning in April within residual vegetation from the previous year and conclude by mid-July. It is during this time pheasants need secure and undisturbed cover.

    Ideal nesting cover is:

    • Secure - cover providing overhead and horizontal concealment from predators
    • Undisturbed - cover free from both human (mowing, dog training) and weather related (flooding) disturbances

    Pheasants live out their lives within a home range of about one square mile, requiring all habitat components (nesting cover, brood habitat, winter cover and food) to be in close proximity. Ideally, 30-60 acres, or about 5-10% of this range should be nesting cover. Larger blocks of cover are preferable to narrow linear strips. However, linear cover, like waterways, roadsides, and field borders, is important to wildlife on a landscape level.

    Points to consider

    • Linear cover is easier for predators to search during nesting; however, it benefits pheasants significantly after nesting by providing travel links between fragmented agricultural habitats. Hint: Southern Minnesota studies have shown that for linear cover up to 60 feet wide, nesting success for pheasants goes up 1% for every 1-foot increase in strip width. Wider is better
    • Research tests have shown 20 acre blocks to be the target size for maximizing nest densities
    • Roadsides are mowed and burned far too frequently. Delayed mowing, and spot mowing or spraying accomplishes weed control in roadsides at less cost and does not disturb nesting hens
    • Roadsides provide important grassland habitat, with up to five acres of potential nesting cover along each mile of rural Midwest roads. In some areas, 40% of pheasants in the fall population are produced in roadsides

    Establishing Nesting Cover

    Providing proper nest cover should be the cornerstone of all pheasant management plans. Establishing nesting cover requires land, funds, and manpower. Consult with a Pheasants Forever chapter if you have questions about grass seed mixes or other nest cover concerns.

    Cool or Warm Season Grass

    Cool-season (non-native) grasses like timothy, orchard grass and tall or intermediate wheat grass begin growth in the cool, spring months. They reach maturity by early summer and then become dormant until cooler fall temperatures stimulate growth again. Cool-season grasses are generally easier to establish, cost less, but require more intensive management to retain their productivity. Single species stands of cool-season grasses are of little or no value to nesting pheasants.

    To realize their potential as nesting cover, cool season grasses need to be mixed with legumes such as alfalfa, alike, and red or sweet clover. Even with maintenance, most cool-season grass stands must eventually be replanted because the legumes are out-competed by the grass and eventually die.

    Warm-season (native) grasses such as indian grass, switch grass, big and little blue stem begin growth much later in the spring, reaching full maturity in late summer or early fall. Warm-season grasses produce high quality cover when cool-season grasses lie dormant. If left undisturbed, these grasses may provide good winter habitat and residual nesting cover for the following spring. Warm-season grasses are generally more difficult and costly to establish, but are easier to manage. Typical management includes controlled burning on a 3-5 year rotation.

    Diversify your plantings

    Single grass stands may be easier to plant; however, mixed stands of cool or warm season grasses complemented with Forbes will provide greater diversity and consequently be more attractive to wildlife. Inter seeding legumes or planting separate plots of cool-season and warm-season grasses can also improve nesting and brood-rearing cover.

    • Cool-season grass/legume mixes typically contain tall or intermediate wheatgrass, orchardgrass, timothy, redtop and alfalfa or one of several clovers
    • Warm-season mixes usually contain switchgrass, indiangrass, big blue-stem, little blue-stem and 4-10 forbs such as butterfly milkweed, prairie asters or clovers, coneflowers, sunflowers, indigo, and stiff goldenrod

    Managing Nesting Cover

    The wildlife value of grasses generally declines as vegetation ages, and the vigor of the cover is diminished. It is for this reason that managing nesting cover is usually more important than what species you choose to plant.


    Controlled burning (in early spring) is a critical tool in the management of grasses. Woody plants and other unwanted vegetation can be eliminated by proper use of fire. Burning also releases the nutrients bound in the plant litter, stimulating vigorous new growth following the burn. Burning can be very dangerous if not done properly as grasses produce extremely hot fires that spread rapidly.

    • Before you burn, make sure to contact your local biologist, fire department and NRCS office to receive the necessary burn plans and permits
    • Burning should be done every 3-5 years


    Mowing of any type of cover (for haying, weed or brush control) should be delayed until after the nesting season has concluded (mid-July). In newly established areas, mowing the first year is a good idea if weed competition is severe. After cover is established, mowing segments of a field on a 3-4 year rotation will keep the vegetation rejuvenated. Leave 10-12 inches of cover after the last cutting, particularly with warm-season grasses. This is a sufficient height to provide some residual cover for nesting and to protect plant vigor.

    • Whenever possible, use spot mowing rather than blanket cutting for weed control
    • Remember, there is absolutely no reason to mow (disturb) nest cover during the nesting season


    Light mechanical discing in the early spring can also restore plant vigor by opening up a stand of grass and reducing the effects of crowded root systems. This practice is more attractive for wildlife because it effectively increases diversity by creating a seed bed for annual herbaceous plants.

    Where to find help

    Various federal, state and private conservation programs may help defray some of the cost of establishing nest cover. Contact your county USDA Farm Service Agency office, state wildlife agency or local Pheasants Forever chapter to start. These same agencies oftentimes rent specialized planting and maintenance equipment. Habitat design assistance is available from state wildlife agencies, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, or your PF regional biologist.

    A measure of success

    There are many good types of nesting cover. A simple field exercise to test the adequacy of your nest cover would be to throw a football 20 feet into your habitat. If it disappears and there are several species of grasses and forbs around the ball, you likely have adequate cover. Conduct this test in mid-April and then monitor the field to ensure there is no disturbance for the next 3 months. Finally, remember that nesting cover is dynamic. If the cover looks great this year, chances are it won't look that good in 2 years. Plan ahead to manage grass cover successfully. In all likelihood, it is the very best thing you can do for pheasants in your area.

    Still confused about nesting cover?

    Then try the Pheasants Forever Essential Habitat Guide - a handy reference on all kinds of pheasant cover, including shelterbelts, food plots and nest cover. And, be sure to check with your local Pheasants Forever chapter, where you will find cost sharing, planting assistance, or just advice from a friendly chapter volunteer.