A Simple Brine Can Make Almost Any Duck Delicious
I love hunting. I especially love waterfowl hunting. But there is one aspect of hunting ducks I needed help with to get behind- Enjoying the bounty with my friends and family. Eating what you harvest is a genuine part of the hunting experience, but it took me a long time to cook and eat a duck successfully. Let me share the solution I found.
Everyone has their preference when it comes to wild game: a favorite meal or a favorite way to prepare each animal. I have tried plenty of different game, some of which I never thought I would enjoy. I found a way to prepare almost every species and continue to enjoy the hunting experience. But ducks, they were a different situation.
No matter how I cooked a duck, I had difficulty enjoying the meal. This is a matter of personal preference; most ducks were too strong. Although I hate to use the term, they were too gamey. Over many years of speaking with other sportsmen, I found I was not alone. But I finally found a solution – a simple brine.
One of the most significant differences between wild game and that raised on a farm is diet and preparation. There is nothing you can do about what your ducks eat, but how it is prepared is up to you. This simple brine and some primary care in the field can make gamey delicious.
Keeping meat cool, trimming fat, and cleaning it properly are the first steps in proper preparation. But only some of these will remove the strong flavor many duck hunters find hard to overcome. What does work is soaking the meat before cooking.
There are plenty of recipes or suggestions for soaking wild game to remove unpleasant taste. Some recipes call for wine, others for buttermilk or a marinade. Some work, some are more work than they are worth. The best I have found is butting the ducks back in the water. A simple salt brine makes almost any duck a delight to serve on the upcoming holiday table.
In many cases, soaking or marinating your meat only masks the flavor. It does not change it. But a salt brine draws out blood and other imperfections to make the meat milder. A salt brine might seem like a lot of work, but it’s less complicated than expected. Plus, the time is worth it in the end.
Making the brine
By definition, a brine is simply a mix of water and salt. Some like adding seasoning to the brine, but that is a matter of personal taste. Blood is drawn out when wild game meat is soaked in the brine, and the brine penetrates the meat. The result is milder, more tender meat for your favorite recipe.
The first step is determining how much brine you will need. You will need enough to cover the meat. But do not make too much. It will go to waste. Once used, the brine cannot be recycled or stored for long periods.
Once you have figured out how much water will be needed, add salt at the ratio of 1 cup per gallon.
You must heat the mixture to release as much flavor as possible if you add additional ingredients such as garlic, juniper, peppercorns, or dried cranberries.
If you are adding a liquid such as wine, orange juice, or lemon juice, subtract the amount of water used by the amount of secondary liquid you plan to use.
Putting it all
If the brine is heated, you must thoroughly cool it before adding meat. In any case, the brine should be no more than room temperature when adding meat. Add your duck once the brine is cooled, ensuring none is exposed to the air.
Now, all you must do is cool and wait. The ideal temperature for a brine is 34-40 degrees. Any cooler, and it may freeze. Any warmer and you risk bacteria forming. Refrigeration is the easiest way to maintain the proper temperature. Still, it can be done in a garage or similar area if the temperature stays within the desired range.
So, how long do you let the meat soak? This will require a little bit of trial and error learned through practice, but here are some guidelines:
Whole bird between 12-15 hours.
Duck Breast or similar-sized cuts between 6-7 hours.
Almost any meat can be soaked for longer, but I do not recommend going beyond 24 hours. If you do, the salt content may be too strong.
When first starting to brine meat, I recommend checking it every few hours. You will know it is ready when the brine has taken on a bloody appearance, and the meat looks pink. Now it is time to remove it from the brine, rinse it, and use it in place of raw duck in your favorite recipe. Remember, the duck will have absorbed salt, so you will likely not need to add any during preparation.
Good luck and good hunting.