OUTPOST 2 "Mallard"
People have passions and dogs have genetics. These two aspects align perfectly in waterlogged fields in autumn when ducks are in the air.
In this episode I join local duck hunters and their skilled dogs on a brisk, early morning duck hunt just north of Courtenay, British Columbia. We employed all the time-honoured decoy set-ups and strategically placed ground blinds. As the sun rose, a couple of ducks approached and we were quickly successful. Both the hunters and their dogs did what they were supposed to do. But then the ducks ceased to fly anywhere near us. We dutifully waited. And waited. Unsubstantiated theories thrive in these circumstances and before we had figured out what had happened to our once promising morning, we gave up trying.
We pulled the trucks back around, we let the dogs release their pent up energy and we set up to prepare the two mallards we had and cook lunch. As with many days in the field, the plan suddenly tilted slightly.
With a cast iron pan heating up on the tailgate of a pick-up and the sun high in the sky the ducks began to file in. Single drakes, flocks of five and six mallards flew into range. On three occasions I took the shotgun from the platform above the cooking area, took 10 steps from the mise en place and had ducks in range. We would have been able to feed three of us with the two ducks we initially landed but we were soon able to feed the whole crew.
There was one more thing the locals weren’t expecting - Vietnamese banh mi made with wild mallards topped with wild plum preserve made by Bill Jones.
In this case, it was better to be lucky than to rise early.
Mallard Banh Mi (Banh Mi Vit)
There is nothing particularly French or Vietnamese about duck hunting in Courtenay. But we couldn’t pass up the chance to create a Salt, Fresh & Field spin on that vestige of the French occupation of Vietnam - the Banh Mi. The meat in a banh mi you’d most likely find today is thinly sliced pork, headcheese, pate and sausage. While distinctly less salty, wild mallard has a meaty depth that matches the slightly pickled vegetables and the hit of cilantro.
Now that we’ve made duck banh mi in the field, I find it a bit hard to believe we may be the first to do so. (note - the mallards we used were not aged at all - we took them from the field to the pan within an hour or so. I can only imagine the flavour would be even better if the duck had been hung to age for up to 5 days before being turned into a sandwich.)
INGREDIENTS (Makes 2 six inch sandwiches)
Two wild mallard breasts (skin on) - the breasts of one duck.
1 12in crusty French baguette
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup carrot cut into matchstick sized slivers
¼ cup daikon (white radish) cut into matchstick sized slivers
¼ cup cucumber cut into matchstick sized slivers
Ground black pepper
Cilantro - bunch, cut as much as you’d like to use
Small jalapeno pepper, seeded and cut into matchstick sized slivers
Plan ahead - I like to dissolve the sugar in the pickling brine prior to use so combine the water, vinegar and sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Once fully it’s fully dissolved, remove from heat and set aside.
Once cooled add all the chopped vegetables to the brine and let sit for at least an hour. This will lightly pickle the garnishes and make you look/feel rather heroic for bringing this into the field along with your Robo-duck.
The Duck (in the field prep)
Pluck and breast out the duck - I’ll post a how-to on this as soon as I have the chance. Until then, here is a good example of how to pluck an entire duck (you can skip through to the breasting section…). The most important element here is to keep the skin on! Far too many hunters breast out ducks and remove the skin and fat layer underneath. The skin is what makes duck so incredible! It’s true that it’s the fat that can make a wild duck seem ‘off’ but you can immediately tell if you’re dealing with an ‘off’ duck - trust me. Your nose knows.
Score the skin, but don’t go so far as to slice the meat underneath.
Season with salt and ground pepper
Start with a cold pan - I always use well seasoned cast iron but any non-stick pan would work.
Place the breasts, skin side down on the pan and turn up the heat to medium high.
The fat will begin to render quite quickly and begin to brown the skin. The skin will not stick to the pan once it is properly browned. Should take about 3-4 minutes.
Turn over the breast. It will likely constrict slightly at this point - not to worry.
You can turn the heat down slightly if things are getting smoky - it will smell great though…
Cover the pan for another 3-4 minutes.
Contrary to chicken, you want to eat medium rare wild duck. That’s right, it should be pink in the middle like a medium rare steak.
Remove the duck and let rest for a couple of minutes.
Slice at an angle and prepare to build your sandwiches.
Spread some mayonnaise on the baguettes and tier the duck breast on the bottom half.
Pile high the pickled vegetables and finish with as much cilantro as you like, a few chilis and a squeeze of lime.
Sit back and watch more ducks fly in to your set-up.
Be sure to save a bit for your dog - they’ve deserved it.