Tip: Better Burgers

Better Burgers
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

Americans eat a boatload of burgers.  Based on an annual consumption of over 38 billion burgers, or about 3 burgers per person, per week, that’s about 40 pounds worth of quarter-pounders a year for every man, woman and child in the U.S.  If you figure that some folks aren’t big burger eaters and others don’t eat them at all, some of us are eating way more than our share.  But while overindulging in the high-fat, fast-food burger might increase your risk of a heart attack, a burger made from lean ground ducks and geese is a healthy and tasty alternative that might give you a few extra years in the blind.

Grinding your trimmed, skinless duck or goose breasts is relatively simple.  If you have meat grinder, run the meat through on a coarse setting.  Too thin a grind leaves the meat without much texture and it tends to fall apart easier when cooking.  Since most people don’t own a grinder, the next best thing is a food processor.  Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks and pulse it until the pieces are roughly the size of garbanzo beans.  When all that’s on hand is knife, start chopping.  Place the processed meat in a bowl and start adding ingredients that will enhance, not disguise the flavor of your burger.
The reason that people eat so many fatty hamburgers is because fat equals flavor.  Waterfowl meat is very low-fat, so many home chefs add 10 to 20 percent ground beef or pork to their burger mix to make them taste better and to help bind meat together when pressed into a patty.  While I’m all for a juicy burger and often add some beef to my ground duck, there are other ways to add moisture to your mallard.  Sautéed mushrooms, onions, garlic and peppers, to name just a few ingredients, contribute both moisture and flavor.   Add some fresh salsa, diced jalapeno peppers, a squeeze of fresh lime and some salt and pepper and you’ve got Southwestern Duck Burgers.  Slap them on the grill, add a slice of jack cheese and hand me a cold frosty beverage.
Adding a binder such as egg or yogurt and a little flour or some crushed quackers…sorry, crackers… will help keep your burger intact when cooking.  The wet stuff mixes with the dry stuff and holds the burger together.  For your first attempt, I’d recommend making duck burgers in a heavy skillet rather than a grill.  It’s less likely to fall apart in the pan.  Once you’ve got the hang of it, flame on!

Duck Burgers

Makes 4 – 6 servings
This recipe works with trimmed goose breasts and antlered game as well.  Serve as you would any burger with bun, lettuce, tomato and your favorite condiments.
2 1/2  cups duck boneless, skinless duck breasts, cut into pea-sized pieces (see above)
3  tablespoons Worcestershire sauceBetterBurgers--element67
2  egg yolks
1  tablespoon garlic powder
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon coarse ground pepper
1/3  cup Japanese breadcrumbs (panko) or substitute any breadcrumbs
1/2  cup onion, finely chopped
1  jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3  tablespoons flour
4  slices cheese, any kind (optional)
In a medium bowl, combine ground duck, Worcestershire sauce and egg and mix evenly.  Combine next 6 ingredients and mix evenly.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 – 2 hours.  Sprinkle flour over mixture (to help bind them) and form into 4 – 6 patties.  Heat some olive oil in a large, heavy-duty skillet over medium heat.  Brown on both sides, about 3 minutes each, or until cooked to desired doneness.  Top with cheese until melted and serve immediately.

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Tip: Expiration Date

Waterfowl Expiration Date
Duck Braised in Red Wine
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

Before this year’s season gets underway, take a peek into the dark recesses of your freezer.  Move some stuff around until you get to those bodies and body parts from duck seasons past.  With any luck, the ducks and geese won’t be more than one season old.  Uh oh, there’s a goose from the Reagan years.

If you have game, or any meat, that has been in the freezer for a few years, it’s time to take stock of how you control your frozen inventory.  The USDA recommends eating frozen game meats within 8 – 12 months of freezing.  It’s not that you’ll get sick and die from eating a three-year old widgeon.  Your ducks will be safe to eat ten years from now, they just won’t taste good.  After about a year, the quality of the meat will deteriorate.  By the time the next season opens and you start cooking the “new” birds, the old birds are just sitting in the back of the freezer, slowly wasting away.
I know.  You’ve eaten ducks that were three or four years old and they tasted great.  Me too, but I’ve also thawed out old birds that were freezer burned, discolored and had an unpleasant aroma.  If you want to extend the life of your frozen fowl, purchase a good quality vacuum packaging unit.  The cheap ones will disappoint you if you use it often.  I’ve found that they don’t hold up to a successful duck season.  You can also freeze your birds in water, zipper-lock bags with water or anything else that prevents exposure of the meat to oxygen.  Just make sure to label and date each package so that you can use the oldest birds first.  Think of the date on the package as your expiration date.  Use within one year of the date.
If you do discover that one of your thawed ducks don’t look or smell good, don’t soak them in buttermilk or marinade.  When in doubt, throw it out and make a promise to yourself to cook future ducks when they’re at their best.  Fresher is always better. Make the most of your waterfowl and eat them before the next season begins.
This recipe will help you reduce last year’s waterfowl inventory.  Braising is a cooking method by which meat first browned and then covered and slowly cooked at low temperature until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.  Braising can be done on the stove top or in the oven.  The important part is to make sure that the lid fits tightly so that the liquid doesn’t escape.

Duck Braised in Red Wine

Pair this dish with a steamy mound of garlic mashed potatoes.
4 servings
4   ducks, skin on or off, quarteredExpirationDate--element67
salt and pepper
1/2  cup all-purpose flour
3   tablespoons olive oil
1  large onion, quartered
6  whole garlic cloves
2  sprigs fresh rosemary
3  cups dry red wine
1/2  cup beef broth
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2  medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
Season duck pieces liberally with sat and pepper.  Dust each piece with flour.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and brown duck pieces evenly.  Place browned duck in an oven-proof, well-greased pot or dish with a tight-fitting lid.  Place remaining ingredients in pot, cover and place in a preheated 325 degree oven.  After 2 hours, add potatoes and cook for another hour or until meat is very tender and pulls away from the bone with minimal effort.  Once tender, arrange duck and potatoes on plates and spoon sauce over.

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Tip: Shortcuts

by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

I decided long ago that most home cooks just don’t have the time or the inclination to take the long route to preparing a recipe when a shortcut will get you home, or at least close enough to impress most people.  That’s not to say that taking the time to make a great homemade barbecue sauce or stock isn’t worth the trouble, but when you’re out of the good stuff, a bottle or can can be doctored up with just a pinch of this and a splash of that to make the finished sauce taste like you made it from scratch.

When it comes to buying prepared sauces, I like to visit Asian markets for some out-of-the ordinary flavors.  One of my favorites is eel sauce. I know some folks are going to wince when they read “eel sauce”, but it’s actually a mild soy-based sauce that’s just a tad sweet, not too salty and great with game.   It’s made from grilled eel bones, which is one ingredient I’m usually a little short on, so it’s hard to make it at home.  When you find a bottle of Asian sauce that gets your attention, I suggest you compare brands by their sodium content.  Some of them are way too salty for me.  A drizzle of eel sauce over a smoky, grilled duck breast is especially delicious.  Trust me.
Here are a few of my favorite quick sauces and marinades that will save you time in the kitchen and get you back outside where you belong.  The measurements listed should be used as a place to start and not meant to be exact.  Think of these shortcuts as an outline from which to create your own signature culinary creations.  Taste as you go and adjust at the end.  All of the recipes can be used with waterfowl, antlered game, and domestic meats.

Sweet-Hot Marinade and Sauce

Prepare a double batch and store in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.
If desired, you can double the recipe below and store the extra sauce in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.
Makes 1 ½ cups
1 1/4  cups Italian dressing
2  tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2  tablespoons honey
3  tablespoons  jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (or substitute 1 – 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
2  garlic cloves, minced
Combine all ingredients and whisk together or shake vigorously in a tight-fitting jar.  Pour over meat, toss to coat and refrigerate for 2 – 6 hours.  Drizzle additional sauce over meat just before serving.

Chipotle Balsamic Syrup

Okay, so you might have to plan ahead a little on this one.  Start with a cheap bottle of balsamic vinegar (16 – 18 ounces, about $4/bottle), and reduce it to intensify the natural sweetness and oaky flavor.  Makes about 2/3 cup
1 bottle balsamic vinegar
1  tablespoon brown sugar
1  teaspoon Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce
Add ingredients to a medium saucepan over medium heat, uncovered.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by approximately  two-thirds.  Allow to cool and thicken.  Drizzle a thin stream over cooked meats or salmon, but don’t smother it.  Store in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Orange-Ginger Sauce and Marinade

It’s a little bit Asian and a lot of flavor.
Makes 1 cup
2/3  cup low-sodium soy sauce
3  tablespoons rice vinegar
2  tablespoons orange juice concentrate
2  green onions, minced
1  tablespoon pickled ginger, minced
1  tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to warm, but do not bring to a boil.  Simmer for a few minutes and allow to cool. Be careful when using as a marinade since the sugary orange juice concentrate will burn easily.  To avoid burning, pat dry after marinating and drizzle additional sauce over when served.

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Recipe: Mallard Meatloaf

Mallard Meatloaf – AKA – Mexican Meatloaf
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

I think I might finally be fed up with cooking competitions on TV.  Somewhere along the TV timeline, a handful of affected, pompous foodies decided that they were going to pass judgment on what is or isn’t fit to eat.  And we ate it up, literally.  The typical cooking “reality” show involves a diverse group of people living together in cramped quarters while awaiting their next culinary challenge.  Some of them actually earn a living by working in a kitchen while others seem to be chosen simply for comic relief.  At the end of the thirteen week season, the winner gets the big hat and a chance to appear at mall openings and harvest fairs until his or her star fades into the distance forever.
Of course, I, like everyone else, have my own food favorites, but I wouldn’t think of telling anyone else that it’s my way or the highway.  While I do find people’s food preferences interesting, it doesn’t affect me one way or another if someone puts ketchup on their lobster or cooks their game well-done.  Perhaps if Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen declared that pairing ketchup and lobster is “spot on”, then the rest of us would blindly follow along.  For the past couple of decades, I’ve been preaching the gospel of medium-rare game cooking.  I’ve changed a few minds along the way, but most folks pretty much stay the culinary course they’ve chosen for themselves many years ago.  “We’re just meat and potatoes people”
Occasionally, I come up with a recipe that really makes me happy.  It tastes so good that I can’t imagine anyone not liking it, but I know that the mere mention of the word “Mexican” will put fear in the minds of those who can’t take the heat.  Rest assured, this meatloaf is only loaded with flavor, not fire.  Those who like it hot can always ramp up the heat with some additional peppers, seasonings or hot sauce.  It’s a great way to use up inventory from the freezer and, best of all; it works with just about any combination of game meats like venison, wild turkey and upland game birds, provided that you add at least one-third ground beef to the mix.  Since most of us don’t own a meat grinder, you can process thawed game meat by cutting it up into bite-sized chunks and quickly pulsing in a food processor until the meat is roughly the size of a garbanzo bean.  The recipe is nothing fancy and I’m sure one of the Top Chef judges wouldn’t like it, but we really don’t care, do we?

Mexican Meatloaf

6 – 8 servings
1 cup onions, finely diced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups crushed tortilla chips
2 eggs, lightly beaten MallardMeatloaf--element67
1 cup tomato salsa (your choice of mild, medium or spicy)
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds (about 3 cups) ground duck, goose or antlered game
1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound chorizo sausage, casing removed, crumbled
Combine onion, jalapeno pepper and garlic in a large bowl. Add tortilla chips with next 8 ingredients and mix well. Add ground game meat, beef and chorizo.  Mix all ingredients thoroughly with your hands. In a lightly oiled loaf pan or baking dish, form into a loaf about 4 inches tall.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 50 minutes or until internal temperature is 155 degrees. Lightly cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing into 1-inch thick slices.  Serve with salsa, mustard or chipotle mayonnaise. 

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Recipe: Summertime Blues

Summertime Blues
Grilled Duck and Blue Cheese Sandwich
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

I’ll never forget the time I made a blue cheese sauce during a cooking demonstration in a poorly ventilated room in South Georgia.  Shortly after the cheese hit the pan, I noticed a few people looking around the room with that, “who cut the cheese?” look on their faces.  Several of the attendees hightailed it out of the room, one of them exclaiming, “It smells like manure!”  Apparently, they don’t cotton to stinky cheese in Albany, Georgia.
Not to be discouraged, I’m still a large fan of the big blue.  Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, Roquefort and my personal favorite, Clemson Blue Cheese – this isn’t kid’s stuff, at least not my kid.  They’re big, bold and “aromatic” cheeses that will liven up any dish.  Blue cheeses are treated with molds makes them veiny, stinky and even stronger tasting when aged.  How can you tell if blue cheese has gone bad?  Beats me.
If moldy cheese isn’t something you would like to put on your duck, all is not lost.  You can substitute any of your own favorite cheese or leave the cheese part out altogether.  It’s your sandwich.  Just make certain that you don’t cook your ducks too long.  If your duck ends up tough and dry, don’t blame the duck.  It’s just been overcooked.
The directions for processing the duck breasts before marinating might be a little confusing.  The idea is to make them half as thick, so that they cook quickly on the grill.  Each breast will yield two slices, roughly the same size, only thinner than before slicing.  If your ducks are of the smaller variety – teal, ringneck, shoveler, etc., you’ll need a few extra breast fillets to feed four people.  

Grilled Duck and Blue Cheese Sandwich

serves four
6  skinless duck breast fillets (allow more for smaller species)
1  tablespoon kosher salt
1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1  teaspoon Italian seasoning
1  teaspoon onion powderSummertimeBlues--element67
8  ounces blue cheese, crumble
2  garlic cloves, minced
2  tablespoons butter
2  tablespoons beer
dash Tabasco
1  large onion, cut into thick rings
2  tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large tomato, cut into 4 slices
4  sturdy burger buns
4  lettuce leaves
Place duck breasts on a firm surface and, while pressing down gently on the top of each breast, slice each in half widthwise between your hand and the surface.  Keep your fingertips up and away from the knife blade!  When done slicing, you’ll have 12 slices.  Combine kosher salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and onion powder and use mixture to season sliced duck on both sides.  Stack seasoned meat together, wrap snugly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 – 4 hours.
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine blue cheese, butter, beer and Tabasco.  Stir constantly until mixture is smooth.  Keep warm.
Coat onion slices with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a medium-hot, well-lubricated grill.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Place seasoned duck slices on grill and cook 2 – 3 minutes per side for medium-rare.
To assemble sandwich, arrange lettuce and tomato on the bottom of each bun.  Top with 3 slices duck breast and grilled onions.  Top with warm blue cheese sauce and other half of bun.

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Recipe: Slow and Spicy

Slow and Spicy
Canada Goose Enchiladas
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

I do enjoy a good Canada goose hunt.  The thrill of coaxing in a flock of these giant birds to within twenty yards of your goose pit is an exhilarating way to spend a cold weather morning.  If you’ve heard or felt the thud of a 20 pound giant Canada goose falling on or near you, there’s no doubt that these are the big dogs of the goose pond.
Dragging out a strap loaded with honkers is a great cardio workout, but what to do when you get them cleaned and ready to cook?  There are those folks who still stuff whole body geese with all sorts of things under the delusion that the stuffing will add flavor to the cooked birds.  I strongly disagree with the stuffing part, but I do occasionally roast a whole or split bird.  When roasting, my goal is to create something similar to a pot roast – moist and fall-apart tender.  Once cooked, the slow-cooked meat can be used for a variety of dishes like tacos, barbecued goose sandwiches (topped with coleslaw, of course!), sloppy Joe’s and spaghetti sauce.  You can set aside an afternoon and slow-roast several Canada geese, shred and cool the meat and then freeze in batches for later use.  It’ll sure free up some freezer space.
There’s an easy way to transform your often tough and chewy honker meat into something reminiscent of braised beef rather than liver jerky.  If you just dry roast your bird in the oven until the breast meat is medium-rare, the legs are still tough and sinewy.  Cooking it until well-done will reward you with 100% gray meat that’s dry, muttony and chewy.  So here’s the deal; we’re going to braise the bird.  Braising is simply browning the meat before slow-cooking in a little liquid while covered with a tight fitting lid.  The low temperature and liquid will eventually break down the meat into tender morsels.  Even the toughest cuts of any meat will eventually yield to braising and fall apart so that you can cut it with a spoon.
Split the goose in half along the breastbone and rub liberally with salt, pepper and any other seasonings that will add flavor to the bird.  Place in a well-oiled roasting pan with some rough chopped celery, carrots and onions.  Place uncovered in a preheated 450 degree oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours, turning occasionally to evenly brown the meat and vegetables.  Add beer, wine, beef or chicken broth to the pan, about an inch or so, cover the pan snugly with heavy-duty foil or six layers of the cheap foil you thought was a better deal.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and braise for 2 – 3 hours, checking every hour or so to add more liquid and test for doneness.  If the meat doesn’t fall apart easily, keep cooking.  Once done, allow the meat to cool and remove from the carcass.  You’ve now turned a 15 pound honker into a couple of pounds of very edible meat.  

Canada Goose Enchiladas

4 servings
2  cups cooked shredded goose meat
2  cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
2  cups green chile sauce  (or your enchilada sauce)
1  tablespoon lime juiceTheSportingChef--element89
1/3  cup yellow onion, minced
2  garlic cloves, minced
1  jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2  tablespoons cilantro, minced
pinch or two  ground cumin
½  teaspoon salt
pan spray
4  large corn or flour tortillas
large pitted olives, halved
In a bowl, combine goose meat, 1 cup Monterey jack cheese cheese, 1 cup green chile sauce, lime juice, onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin and salt.  Toss ingredients together.  Coat a 6 by 9-inch baking dish with pan spray.  Spread the remaining chile sauce on the bottom of the dish.  Spray each tortilla lightly on both sides with pan spray and heat on high a microwave for 30 seconds.  Place an equal portion of the mix into the center of each tortilla.  Roll up and place in the dish, seam side down.  Top with remaining 1 cup of cheese and place a few black olive on top of each enchilada.  Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven until cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.  If desired, top with diced tomato, salsa or sour cream.

For More Recipes from the Sporting Chef – Scott Leysath,

Please Visit His Website at www.thesportingchef.com

Tip: Ssssssmokin’

Smoker Basics
by: Scott Leysath – The Sporting Chef

Many years ago, I bought an inexpensive smoker with the thought that it would save me hundreds of dollars a season on jerky while reducing my inventory of frozen game.  After a few half-hearted attempts at making duck jerky, actually more like duck pretzels, the smoker found its way to the dark recesses of the garage where it sat for many years until I “gifted” it to a friend.  The problem was not the smoker, but my lack of commitment.

I later vowed to take a more serious approach to smoking stuff and discovered that home smoking doesn’t require a great deal of skill.  To simplify, here’s the skinny on smoking meat and fish.  First, there’s the brine – a salty solution that adds moisture, flavor and promotes a chemical change that stabilizes the meat.  Sounds technical, but unless you really care about chemistry, just take my word for it.
Dissolve 2 cups kosher salt or 1 ½ cups tablesalt in 2 quarts of water.  With coarse kosher salt, heat some of the water in a pan and stir in the salt until dissolved.  Add the rest of the water and make sure the brine is cool before adding the meat. Soaking raw meat in a warm liquid is a bad idea that encourages bacteria. If desired, add a cup or two of brown sugar to the brine to balance the salty flavor.  Dry seasonings like garlic powder, Italian seasoning and other seasoning blends can be added as well.  With the proper solution of water and salt, the brine actually passes through and into the meat and replaces not-so-tasty duck blood with brine.
Next, the meat is added to the brine in a non-metal container and refrigerated. For whole body ducks, brining takes 6 – 10 hours.  Duck parts like breast fillets and legs can be brined in about 4 hours, but I usually opt for an overnight soak.  I also poke a few holes  in my duck breasts prior to brining.  I use a hand-held Jaccard tenderizer that cuts through the connective tissue, but doesn’t turn the meat into hamburger.  It is especially good on big Canada goose breasts.  If you don’t have a Jaccard handy, use a fork.
The next day, the brine will look more like watery blood.  That’s a victory.  The duck blood has been replaced, or at least diluted, with the more flavorful brine.  Rinse off the ducks or duck parts, wipe them dry and dispose of the brine.  For added flavor, give them a good rub with your favorite seasoning.  Put your ducks on a rack set in a baking pan and put them in the fridge for an hour or so before smoking.  Whether you plan on smoking, grilling, baking or pan-frying your ducks, I’d highly recommend using this same brining process.  Brined ducks will always taste better.  Really.
Fire up the smoker to 150 to 175 degrees and place the meat on racks or hooks.  This lower temperature will result in meat which is smokier with the coveted reddish smoke ring around the edges of the meat.  For boneless duck breasts, it will take about 2 – 3 hours for medium-rare or roughly 135 degrees internal temperature.  If you prefer a dry, tough, chewy hunk of smoked duck, keep smoking for another couple of hours until the thermometer reads 170 degrees.  I suppose it’s necessary to mention the type of wood best suited for smoking waterfowl.  While I prefer fruit woods for just about any smoking of fish, poultry and meat, I do occasionally use more forward flavored woods like hickory, mesquite and oak.
Now, there are those smoker aficionados who will take issue with this simplified explanation of how to smoke meats.  Ignore them.  After a batch or two, you’ll have a pretty good idea about whether you want to adjust smoking times, brines or dry cures.  Dry cures?  Combine equal parts salt and sugar and rub it into the meat instead of using a wet brine.  Wrap with plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Follow the same steps after removing meat from the brine.  Again, not complicated.
Smokers come in all shapes in sizes from the Green Egg to the more traditional rectangular-shaped boxes.  My personal preference is the Bradley Digital Smoker.  I feel obliged to note that Bradley is a sponsor of my television show, but that doesn’t minimize the fact that it has a digital control panel that allows you to program how long you smoke and at what temperature.  Fire it up, check back in a few hours and your ducks are done.  Shop around and find a smoker that fits your budget and lifestyle.  If you like smoked fish, oysters, chicken, ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, venison and think that you’ll use your smoker often, plan on spending a little more for a unit that will last for several years.  If you’re fairly handy, you can also make a pretty good, but not necessarily good looking smoker out of an old refrigerator or metal drum.  I’ve been there and prefer the store-bought models best.  Less guesswork on time, temperature and smoke and, most importantly, my wife doesn’t complain about the old refrigerator in the backyard.