Note: This is a post I did a few years ago about making coots edible I am reposting it here because I recently shot a limit of coots and will be making more coot sausage.
I have been duck hunting for almost 35 years, and in that
time I have shot a lot of ducks. I have also eaten a lot of ducks. Everybody
has a favorite kind of duck to eat; mine is the wood duck. To me, there is
nothing tastier than a nice, fat wood duck. Wood Ducks have a tendency to eat
acorns and it gives their meat a sweeter milder flavor. Most people prefer to eat the mallard because
they are a milder flavored duck as well, and many people claim that the canvasback
is the finest duck to eat. As far as eating ducks go these three are probably
the most revered because of their milder flavor.
Wild ducks are much more
powerful than domestic ducks and many people who claim to love duck don’t enjoy
wild ducks. Most of this has to do with what they eat. Although many ducks do
like to eat wild rice and other water plants they also eat small fish and bugs
which can give them a powerful livery flavor. If you have never eaten wild duck
and domestic duck side my side the difference in flavor is huge. There are many
ducks that people say are inedible, like the spoon bill and the merganser, mostly
because they are fish eating ducks but even those are more revered than the
The coot is a small swamp bird that is actually more closely
related to sand hill cranes than it is to ducks. Coots are all over the US and
can be found almost anywhere there are ducks. It is not uncommon to see entire
flocks of coots swimming all around your decoys and boat while you’re out duck
hunting. Most people consider coots annoying because when they are around you
they are always in your decoys and can make a lot of noise and almost everyone
who knows what a coot is will tell you they taste terrible so there is no point
in shooting them. But I contend that the majority of the people who say that
coots taste bad have never even tried one – they are simply basing their
negative opinion on the coot’s reputation.
I am guilty of anti-coot prejudice myself; I had never eaten
a coot and only knew that they supposedly tasted terrible because my
grandfather told me so. Every few years, I would hear from somebody that they
tried coot and it tasted like muck; occasionally, I would hear that coots
aren’t bad, you just have to drench them in Italian dressing and then grill
them. I had remained skeptical until this October when I attended a sausage
making class put on by Hank Shaw, the author of a new cookbook called Duck
Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild
. During the class, Hank talked about fat and
how most of the bad flavor you get when eating wild game comes from their fat.
He specifically mentioned coots and stated that if you trim away all the fat on
a coot, you will get the real flavor of the bird. This got me thinking about
all the coots I had seen out duck hunting and if it would be worth my time to
try to get some coots to cook.
I called my duck hunting guru Eric Passe down in Wabasha,
and he told me the swamp was full of coots – not many ducks, but plenty of
coots – so I set up a day when I would be able to head down to go coot hunting.
My brother-in-law Matt Murphy came along for the day. Matt had never duck
hunted before and had asked me if he could come along the next time I went out;
I figured if he wanted to get some shooting practice in, coot hunting might be
a good start for him.
The three of us hit the swamp around 5:30 in the morning and
got set up in an area we thought might hold some duck as well. It was an
extremely foggy morning and the fog didn’t clear out until about nine. We saw a
few ducks flying around, but nothing came into gun range. We had one widgeon
circle around several times, and when it got close enough to take a shot Eric
told Matt to take it. Unfortunately for Matt, his gun jammed and Eric ended up
shooting that duck. Eric’s dog Maverick went out to retrieve the duck and ended
up getting lost. We had to go out looking for him and didn’t find him until
another group of hunters brought him back to us; Maverick had the duck he just
got turned around in the swamp. After a pleasant encounter with a DNR
conservation officer, we decided it was time to pack it in for the day. But
before we left, we decided to head over to the other side of the lake and see
if we could shoot a few coots.
The wild rice on the lake was very thick this year and
provided great cover for the coots to hang out in, so we parked the boat on the
edge of the rice and waited for the coots to come by. When they did there must
have been a couple hundred of them, and once the shooting began they just kept
coming. In the end we shot 21 coots and one widgeon for the day and then the
real work began. I had to pick and clean all those birds.
Coots aren’t very big, and there isn’t a whole lot of meat
on them. The breasts only weigh about 2 ounces a piece, and the legs barely
have enough meat on them to scrape off. My intentions from the get-go were to
get enough meat to turn the coots into sausage. After cleaning them and
trimming all the fat off the birds I had about 4 pounds of meat. I was eager to
try the meat to see what it tasted like, so I took a couple of breasts and
seasoned them with salt and pepper and sautéed them in a little butter for a
couple minutes on each side. The breasts were medium rare with just enough pink
in the middle to keep them moist, and Matt and I dove in. I was shocked; I
expected the coot meat to have a powerful flavor and was surprised at how mild
it actually was. It was very pleasant, with a very clean taste and only a
slight livery flavor at the end. As a comparison, I cooked the widgeon the
exact same way; the widgeon had almost no livery flavor and really tasted like
a nice piece of beef. I couldn’t wait to make the coot sausage and see how it
would turn out.
Once I got home, my dilemma was figuring out what kind of
sausage to make. I wanted something that might complement the flavors of the
coot but also needed something with a good amount of fat because I had trimmed
all the fat off the birds. I read a recipe for cotechino in one of my new
cookbooks called In
by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller.
Cotechino is a northern Italian sausage traditionally made with pork and uses
the pork skin, as well. The spices of the cotechino – allspice and cinnamon –
seemed to be a perfect match for the coot; I added juniper as well, because I
feel juniper goes well with all wild game.
The end result was better than I could have imagined. The
“coot”echino was perfectly seasoned and had a wonderful fattiness that made the
sausage perfect for a bowl of lentils on a cold winter day. The process of
making the cotechino is a little time consuming but totally worth it in the
end. I hope more people give coot a try. It was delicious; you just have to
cook it right.
Makes five one pound sausages
3 lbs. Coot breasts, all fat removed
1 lbs. pork skin cut into one inch strips
1 lbs. pork fat (I use pork belly)
2 tsp. black pepper corns
a large pot with salted water to a rolling boil. Boil the pork skin for 10
minutes, then remove and let cool.
the coot and pork fat into small chunks that will fit into your grinder. Mix
with the cooled pork skin.
the coriander seeds and then grind them in a spice grinder along with the
allspice, juniper, and peppercorns.
the salts and remaining spices with the coriander and the pepper, then sprinkle
mixture over the meat and refrigerate for 24 hours
24 hours, grind the meat and spices through a medium grinding plate. Make sure
your meat stays nice and cold. After grinding, add the white wine and then
stuff mixture into sausage casings. I used fibrous middles 2inch by 12 inch.
stuffing the casings, you need to hang the cotechino in a dry cool place for 3
days to dry and allow the curing salt to work.
three days you can freeze the cotechino or cook it.
cook the cotechino, you need to bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer
(about 165 degrees) and cook the sausage until it reaches a temp of 165
degrees. I used a Dutch oven and heated the water, then put the sausage in the
water and put the whole Dutch oven in the oven at 190 degrees for about an hour
and a half, and then tested the sausage and it was 165 degrees.
this point you can slice the cotechino and eat it plain or use it in any way
you would like. I made lentils and added the cooked cotechino about ten minutes
before the lentils were done.