Wild Jerky

If there’s one quality that culinary school and cooking instills in a person, it's the excitement to experiment with new ingredients and techniques. So when my hunter friend asked if I would help him make jerky from some wild waterfowl he shot, I jumped at the chance.

The challenge was this: turn a combination of Mallard and Wood Duck breasts, and Brant Goose Breasts, into a delicious snack. Ducks and geese are prized products that are typically sought after by chefs to feature pan-seared or roasted on their menus. The difficulty cooks face from the type of meat we possessed – wild waterfowl shot in Connecticut and Rhode Island – is that many of the birds taste too gamey or fishy for a delicate preparation, and need to be cured, confited or made into jerky or sausage in order to be palatable. Having already successfully toyed with wild goose confit, jerky was the next wildfowl frontier.

My friend soaked the formerly frozen breasts in saltwater overnight to reduce some of the gaminess and break up blood clots. Salt is also a crucial factor in preserving the meat for longtime eating, as it draws out the moisture that harmful bacteria need to survive. After removing sinew, silver skin and blood clots from the breasts with a sharp knife, we cut the meat into thin strips and marinated it overnight in the refrigerator (the recipe follows below). The next day the cooking process began, a low and slow method of preparation where the meat is placed directly on an oven rack and cooked at the lowest oven temperature (preferably around 150 F) for 4-6 hours, until it dehydrates.

Of course, part of experimenting is making mistakes. A combination of slices that were too thin (less than a 1/4'') and a gas oven that was too hot (200 F for roughly 4 1/2 hours), resulted in a product that was more like crispy duck chips than chewy duck jerky.Still, the meat made delicious crisps, with a spicy sweetness from the marinade that masked most of the gamey flavor. We're going to try another round for that authentic jerky texture, but for now, wild duck and goose meat have replaced potatoes for any of my chip cravings.

Hot Wild Jerky Marinade
We used this marinade for six breasts of varying size. As is true with any dish, taste test and adjust seasonings to your liking (more sugar will counter spiciness, and acidity from the lemons will help cut the salt).

Six assorted duck and goose breasts
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup steak sauce
2 tbs Worcester sauce
1/4 cup Sriracha sauce
Juice from 2 lemons
2 tbs meat tenderizer
3 tbs smoked Spanish paprika
2 tbs garlic powder
3 tbs brown sugar
2 tbs red pepper flakes
1 tbs cayenne

Blend all of the ingredients together, and set aside to let flavors combine, at least 1 hour. Taste test and adjust seasonings.

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