Open Season: Success of fall hunts best enjoyed on summer grills
It's hot out. I loathe hotness.
The thermometer reads 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and the mercury is rising. Beads of sweat condense and drip off the dark brown glass of a beer bottle. The noonday sun coincidentally causes my forehead to replicate the action.
Lord, it's hot. My mind can't help but wander toward that oh-so-amazing season just around the last bend that is summer's sauna. Eventually - thankfully - the weather will cool, the leaves will change and it once again will be time for the best season of the year: fall.
To my wife, and many northerners, such talk is blasphemy. While autumn undoubtedly is nice, the all-too-soon reality of its next-in-line, much-too-long winter season sends virtual shivers down currently sweat-soaked backs.
But with fall also comes hunting, and an opportunity to pursue that passion that drives so many of us outdoors folk from the comforts of our homes and back out into the wild.
In a sorry turn of affairs, my own freezer is depressingly short of supply this year. A fall that should have laid witness to more than my fair share of game, instead gave up a surprisingly sparse harvest. Still, there are a few morsels of meat - feathered and furred alike - to garnish our dining table and curb our hunger; we just have to be a bit more frugal.
That leads me to one of the toughest decisions a hunter has to make when faced with too little meat. How best do I serve what little I have? If met with a hefty amount of game, experimentation with techniques and dishes becomes easier to stomach. The mentality being, "hey, if it doesn't turn out, we have plenty more in the freezer."
But when there's not a lot of protein to go around, it's best to stick to old standby's and enjoy what little you have while you can.
For me, the answer is made easier by a simple, guiding factor I hold near and dear to my culinary heart: just grill it. And while summer's heat may have me already dreaming for fall's sweet release, there is no better time to cook over an open flame than right now.
You can thank Food Network star and Chef Bobby Flay for my obsession with the almighty grill. The first episode I viewed of his now defunct "Boy Meets Grill" had Flay making an entire meal, from appetizers to sides to deserts, over the propane-fueled contraption.
It was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
When I finally had a grill of my own, it was a full-on immersion into all things fire-cooked. While some of my experiments turned out less than stellar (the grilled sweet potato fries sounded and smelled a lot better than they tasted), others have become household staples.
And something that has yet to fail me is grilled wild game. Be it walleyes, ruffed grouse, ducks or venison, anything - and I mean anything - tastes pretty darn good grilled.
One thing I've learned is that the K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple Stupid) methodology readily applies to grilling techniques. Case in point: salt, pepper and an open fire are all you need to make tasty meat. And as I'm oft to preach, if you're going to cook wild game, you're best to either to do it hot and fast or low and slow.
With grilling, the former technique often creates the best results and, honestly, there is nothing more delicious than a simply grilled hunk of venison backstrap next to a heaping pile of mashed potatoes and fresh sweet corn.
Then again, there comes a time when venturing into a bit more of culinary backwater can lead to surprisingly good eats. When the occasion requires something with a bit more flaire, a tad more pizzazz, my cream-cheese stuffed duck fits the bill.
In full disclosure, the basis for my recipe came from an online hunting forum I visited long, long ago. But while the idea, the origin of it is not my own, I assure you the final product is a far cry from its humble beginnings.
That said, it isn't exactly a super complicated recipe, either. It just takes a bit of preparation and some forethought to come up with a truly delicious meal.
Tyler's Cream-Cheese and Jalapeno Duck
½ cup soy sauce (I use Dragon Sauce, which is a spicy soy sauce, but good luck finding it in stores. I buy mine online...by the case)
2 tablespoons chili sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 duck breasts (or any wild-game bird breasts of comparable size)
1 jalapeno pepper
1 small onion
A big part of this recipe is time. One critical tweak I've made with my recipe that diverts from the original is a home-made marinade. To make it, mix the soy sauce, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and vegetable oil in an air-tight container. Next, cut a pocket in the duck (or grouse, or whatever) breasts lengthwise, as big and deep as you can go without cutting clear through (this part can be done later, but it's easier before the breasts are covered in marinade). Do not butterfly them, otherwise all the cream cheese will bubble out the ends when grilled. Place breasts in container, and marinade for six to eight hours (the longer, the better).
After marinating is complete, it's time for the stuffing. Begin seeding and de-veining the jalapeno pepper before slicing it into thin strips. Next, chop the onion. Combine vegetables in a hot pan with a bit of butter and sauté until onions turn translucent and slightly brown.
You will notice there is no measurement on the cream cheese. It varies depending on the size of the breasts you're working with. I try to pack mine as full as possible, so that leaves some room for error. Stuff each breast with a few jalapeno strips, a good bit of cream cheese, and some onion.
The last part is the most difficult to master. Carefully wrap each breast with bacon strips. I've found it normally takes at least two to completely cover them, which helps all the cheese from melting out when cooked. Start by wrapping and overlapping a bacon end on one side and work toward the middle of the breast. If there's breast left unwrapped (which is likely) do the same process on the other end with another strip of bacon. Where the two strips meet in the middle, secure with a toothpick. I frequently use two or three toothpicks along the course of the breast just to ensure nothing budges.
Finally, grill over medium-high heat until bacon is crispy and brown. Tip: watch for flare-ups. That dripping bacon grease is tricky, so keep a spray bottle of water handy to squelch any fires.
And there you have it: cream-cheese and jalapeno duck. It's a bit of a process, but my wife absolutely loves it and I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't agreed.