Every year about this time I start to set aside time to get down to Wabasha, MN to do some duck hunting. For the past 13 years, minus a couple of military commitments, I have been hunting the backwaters of the Mississippi River with my Friend Eric Passe. Eric has taught me a lot about duck hunting over the years but he has also, unknowingly, influenced the way I cook as well. I have been able to experiment with a lot of different duck recipes and have been able to perfect my duck cooking techniques because we have been so successful and because Eric has been generous in sharing the ducks that he shoots.
It is because of Eric's generosity that I have been able to discover that Duck pastrami makes a damned tasty sandwich and Toulouse style duck sausages are incredible. I have cooked duck just about every way one could imagine and if anyone out there has a new way they don't think I have tried please send it my way. But it’s not just eating duck that I love. Everything about duck hunting appeals to me. I love the crisp morning air and the smell of burning two cycle engine oil, the interactive part of calling and actually seeing the ducks respond to your calls. I love working a dog and watching a dog go out for a long retrieve, disappearing into the woods and re-emerging with the duck in its mouth, I even love the smell of a wet dog.
Duck hunting is where it all started for me, I was a duck hunter long before
I hunted anything else. I was six the first time I got to go out in the boat
and sit all day and I was 10 when I shot my first duck. By 13 I was taking dad’s
boat down the shoreline from my grandparent’s cabin on Leech Lake and hunting
all day by myself. Prior to meeting Eric and hunting on the river, duck hunting
on Leech Lake was all I knew. When I had the opportunity to take Eric and his
brother Mark up to Leech Lake the first time, about 11 years ago, I couldn't have
scripted a better day. We went to the same area I had always hunted and as soon
as the sun peaked up over the lake the ducks started flying. At one point a
flock of what seemed like 50 mallards dropped right into our decoys and by 8
o'clock in the morning we had 18 ducks in the boat and it was time for
These days, with work and kids and schedules I don't get to spend 25-30 days
of the 60 day season out in the swamp but I always get down there and I always
get ducks. This year was no different, even though I didn't make it down for
the opener I got down the first week of the season and we were able to get 7
ducks in a morning hunt. I am sure that if we had stayed out until 4 pm we would
have gotten our limit for the day but getting a limit isn't that important to
me. Just getting out there and enjoying a beautiful day in the swamp is enough.
Duck hearts are small but are very delicious, Eric has told me stories about he and his brothers eating them when they were kids. I am always looking for something new to try so I googled Duck hearts and a recipe for duck heart tartare came up. Of course the recipe is from Hank Shaw which should come as no surprise to any one. Here is my modified version of Hank's recipe.
Duck Heart Tartare
8 oz of duck hearts (rinsed and cleaned)
1 tsp chopped parsely
1/2 tsp finely diced red jalapeno
1 tsp finely diced shallot
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 clove garlic crushed
1/4 tsp nettle salt
1/4 tsp fresh chopped sage
1 tsp chopped capers
2 tablespoons olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper
Keep the hearts as fresh as possible and as cold as possible until just before serving. rough chop the hearts and mix with other ingredients. serve on crackers or croutons.