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  • By Ken & Maria Perrotte

Northern Necker Duck Gumbo - Virginia Birds with Cajun Appeal in this Tasty Dish

Updated: Feb 20


Waterfowl recipes abound up and down the Eastern Seaboard and across the Gulf states.

Ducks and geese were dietary staples of people in the Chesapeake Bay region and much of the rest of the nation had a taste for ducks that market hunters did their best to satisfy. Beyond Virginia and Maryland's storied marshes, though, perhaps no state has achieved as much legendary duck hunting status as Louisiana.

Maria’s father Allen Johness was an avid duck hunter in his day, gunning the vast marshes south of New Orleans. She grew up enjoying many varied dinners featuring duck, but a Cajun-style duck gumbo was a real favorite.

“It makes a good gumbo” is a running punch line in Cajun County for almost any critter considered a little unsavory on the taste buds. Coots, mergansers and a couple other varieties of waterfowl come to mind. But, “good” ducks and a good roux make for good gumbo. Delicate-flavored teal, wood ducks, mallards, gadwall and even ringnecks match well with other ingredients in the recipe. We've also made it with both Canada and specklebelly geese.

In this dish called “Northern Necker Duck Gumbo, she takes a bayou country favorite, adds a little Virginia venison sausage and Hog Island greenwing teal, and – well, 'Laissez les bon temps roulez!'

Ingredients

2 large or 3 small wild ducks - skinned

flour

2 tablespoons light oil (such as canola)

1/2 cup vegetable oil (traditionalists wanting old world flavor can use lard, butter or bacon fat)

1/2 cup flour

1 pound smoked sausage (we used a venison/pork-based sausage but andouille is a traditional favorite)

2 cups chopped onion

½ cup chopped green pepper (optional)

½ cup chopped shallots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced parsley

2 quarts cold water

2 teaspoons black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon thyme

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon cloves

3 tablespoons file′ powder

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Cut duck into quarters. De-bone the breasts, retaining the bones. Lightly coat meat in flour. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pot. Sear floured duck pieces in the oil until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. In the same pot, add vegetable oil (or butter or lard), mix in the flour and stir continuously over low heat until peanut butter brown or a little darker (This will take 20 or 30 minutes.) Add the sausage, onion, green pepper, shallots, garlic and parsley, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft (about another 5 minutes). Add the duck meat. Stir in half the water and all the seasonings except the file powder. Mix in the rest of the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the gumbo for about an hour or until the duck is tender, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add file′ powder. Stir and serve over boiled long grain rice.

Notes:

* Roux is a staple for many French, Creole and Cajun dishes. For those unfamiliar, a roux is simply equal parts of flour and oil (or butter) cooked slowly until brown. Some of the old Cajun roux masters would use duck fat in the recipe. To highlight the bold flavors of this duck gumbo, we like a darker roux, which tends to have a rich, nutty taste. Some recipes, particularly seafood gumbos, call for a lighter roux. At a cooking demonstration a few years ago, our chef referred to a “two beer roux,” because you cook it about the same time it takes to quickly drink two beers. Since you need to constantly stir the roux to prevent burning, it’s smart to assemble all ingredients before you start cooking, especially if you’re planning to guzzle a couple of beers.

* You can retain the duck bones and simmer them in the gumbo, too, for added flavor. Be sure to remove them before serving.

* File′ powder is made from sassafras and can be found in most supermarkets in the spice section.

* We use our homemade smoked venison sausage, but any commercial smoked sausage works well.

* A recommended variation - if you like oysters - is to add a pint of oysters at the end of the cooking time and simmer for 5 minutes before thickening with file′.

* Pair with a nice pinot noir or syrah wine.

* Serve with green salad and crusty French or Italian bread.