Mallard, the wild ancestor of the domestic duck, is my favourite game. The plumper the bird, the tenderer it will be but the secret is to salt it as much in advance as you can, to tenderise the meat.
How to cook duck?
There are usually two ways to tackle duck, wild or tame - remove the breast fillets and cook them separately; remove the legs and confit them.
Alternatively you can roast the whole bird slow, low and crispy, only to be afterwards shredded and wrapped in pancakes, Chinese style. That’s because the legs cook longer than the breast meat, which ideally you want medium done.
Roast a whole duck
But the bird can actually be roasted whole or in quarters until pink. I spent a lovely summer a few years ago in Languedoc and passed numerous mealtimes in a great eatery called De La Grille. They did just a few things and did them well - salads, a whole grilled cuttlefish, simple pizzas and my favourite grilled duck.
I think it was roasted rather than grilled in an enormous wood oven where they concocted most of their menu, served as a hind quarter (they reserved the breast for the pricier option) and utterly delicious. Pinkish, tender, fantastic. There is a lot to be said in favour of meat cooked on the bone.
How to roast wild duck?
The above is also the best approach for wild mallard, arguably the nicest game bird. It is tenderer than pheasant, more flavoursome than partridge and much more substantial than pigeon. And it is in a lot more affordable league than grouse.
Breast is delicious when cooked medium but legs usually need a tad longer spell, as mentioned above. I’ve used here (and somewhat simplified) Pierre Koffman’s recipe for roast wild duck where the bird is extracted from the oven, the legs carefully removed and returned to continue roasting for about three minutes while the crown is resting.
But prior to that it is very important to brown the duck thoroughly in a frying pan. I know – the smells, the smoke, the spatter; I am not very keen on that exercise either, but it gives result.
It doesn’t only ensure crisp, brown skin but starts up the cooking process efficiently. Wild duck is a small bird so the searing will allow the heat from the pan to penetrate deeper than just the skin.
How to tenderise wild mallard?
Female mallards are plumper and thus tenderer but unless you have shot it yourself, you’re likely not to know the gender (I probably wouldn’t know either way though apparently the females are grey and inconspicuous, and the males colourful and flashy. Just like humans, hehe).
Marinating might tenderise meat somewhat but game birds have their unique, wonderful flavour and taste so smothering it in aromatics is not my chosen method.
Salt the bird
Salt alone, on the other hand, works wonders. As soon as you lay your eyes on the bird (okay - after you’ve transported it home, plucked), liberally season it all over with fine sea salt, leave it in the fridge on a plate, unwrapped, and let salt work the magic for up to 48 hours.
It tenderises the meat and improves the flavour – and that’s what it does to all kinds of meat, incidentally. Gospel truth: as in gospel according to Samin.
Wild mallard is usually large enough to share between two people, and there’s no need to carve it. Once roasted and rested, chop it in half lengthwise with poultry scissors and allocate a half and a leg (previously detached) per person.
More game birds recipes
Partridge in a pear tree? No – partridge roasted with pears! Wrapped in bacon, with a sprig of rosemary, it can be a real autumnal treat.
Here’s an alternative partridge recipe: just partridge breast cooked with grilled peppers. For those who prefer not to tackle the whole bird, however small, you can buy partridge breast fillets quite inexpensively.
Some people think roast pheasant is too dry. Not when it’s been brined for a few hours!
And now for the ultimate game lover’s treat: roast grouse with game chips. For a special occasion!
More duck recipes
Farmed duck, free range, makes a wonderful roast too and it feeds more people than its wild mate: roast it with a spice rub maybe for the next Christmas lunch?
And any leftovers absolutely must be turned into this magic dish of duck pastilla.
For a classic roasted duck breast, pair it with blueberry sauce. It’s a stunning flavour combination.