Friday night Scott and I were at a wedding, talking to my cousin Nathan about bird hunting and whatnot. Since the wedding had a no-host bar1, I was taking frequent nips off my flask of fine Kentucky bourbon with great aplomb. It should be noted that anything I do with aplomb gets me in trouble.
So I’m talking to Nathan about hunting as I’m wont to do (since he’s only 25 and wildlife is a topic we have in common) and I tell him why doesn’t he bring some duck over on Sunday and I’ll cook him dinner. A fair trade, right? Note I said “bring over some duck” not “bring over some ducks”. Last night at 7:45pm he shows up on my doorstep with six dead ducks, sodden with blood and wetland, heads dangling limply from the firm grip he has on their spindly necks.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with these?!” I ask, perfectly honest about the trepidation I’m feeling about the task before me. “I’m feeling daunted, Nathan. Daunted.”
He tells me I can “either breast ‘em out or if you want to pluck ‘em dunk ‘em in boiling water first to loosen up the feathers but I usually just breast ‘em out and dump the rest. If you’re gonna try to cut ‘em up just cut around the asshole first. You’ll figure it out. You said you wanted to do this!2” I had obviously pictured neatly plucked ducks arriving in a freezer bag, all clean and bumpy little skin waiting for score marks from knife and maybe a little light disassembly before going into the roasting pan. This was not what I asked for.
But I’m a fucking trooper, right? If I can’t even clean a dead bird how do I suppose I’ll ever take up hunting3? So I go pour myself a stiff drink and ready the front porch with spotlight and bucket. Leonard graciously helped pluck the birds (I think it may have been more exciting for him than it should have, but I’m not complaining), bare-handed, even. Scott helped pluck, too, but more importantly, he refreshed drinks and manned the camera to shoot a little video.
How to deal with a dead duck:
Tie duck up by feet under spotlight so your vegan hippie neighbors will know that they should never come talk to you, not ever.
Pluck fistfuls of feathers out, working tail to head. Careful not to tear the skin off in the process. Rub down off body (this task is made easier by wearing those yellow rubber kitchen gloves). Begin to regret that you started doing this so late on a work night.
Have your buddy grasp the head while you chop it off with garden loppers. Similar treatment of wings and feet. Drop extremities into bucket and watch blood drip all over the damn place.
Wash birds off in cold water. Take smoke break. Pace around muttering “I can’t believe I’m fucking doing this at 11 on a work night.”
Cut out breast meat using approach similar to that for dispatching a chicken or turkey. If feeling ambitious, remove legs as well. If duck was shot by your cousin, i.e., did not come from a farm, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GUT THE BIRD BEFORE ROLLING A CONSTITUTION CHECK. The guts will be a bloody shred and full of buckshot and the smell is garishly acrid and biotic.
Take a moment and come to terms with the fact that there will be no terrine of duck liver in your near future.
Dump carcasses into garbage. Ask husband to please, please take this away right now for the love of god. An ashen pallor will emphasize that you are as serious as a fucking heart attack.
Awaken at 4am in a cold sweat and the smell of duck blood still in your nose. Don’t get back to sleep for at least an hour. Go to work bleary-eyed and brag to co-workers about what a fucking trooper you are.
The front porch still smells like a killing floor, even after having been hosed down and despite being in the open air. Feathers are matted with blood in little clumps all over the lawn. The legs are too small to confit. I don’t even want to think about cooking the 12 breasts.
…But tonight I think we’ll have some seared duck breast with a molasses-juniper jus and parsnip puree, with a wilted endive and anchovy salad. Oh! Here it is already:
1No offense, but very bad form to make your guests pay for their own drinks, particularly when the “hors d’oeuvres reception” literally consisted of some bags of Doritos and Ruffles (with onion and ranch dips that may have been from dry mix packets or Nalley’s tubs, I couldn’t discern) and some type of sandwich-y pinwheels, the recipe for which was likely found in some Impress your guests with these easy finger foods!! page of Family Circle magazine. You just cannot expect people to bring you a gift and sit through a sermon for like 20 minutes and then make them buy their own drinks and serve them this dreck. That’s just bad etiquette.
2 Nathan talks like he has a chaw in his mouth, even though he hasn’t chewed since high school.
3I had been tossing the idea around last summer when I was seeing flocks of delicious-looking turkey families and coveys of quail running around all over the place while out in the field. Yeah, that’s pretty much over for me now.