Chili Sugar Cured Duck

Photo and Recipe By: Neal Zeller

Brining poultry is a good way to maintain and enhance natural juices and moisture. Here's a dry-cure prep that does that and adds some additional sweet and spicy flavors. Grits are a staple item, but here in Arizona, we jazz 'em up with smoked tomato and bacon. Finally, finish the dish with a savory sweet corn sauce.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Servings: 4
- 4 boned duck breasts, leave skin on
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup mild or medium chile powder
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 tbs. coarse ground black pepper

Tomato Bacon Grits
- 1 cup yellow grits, uncooked
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth, or duck stock
- 1 tbs. minced garlic
- 1/4 cup cooked and chopped bacon
- 1/4 cup finely diced white onion
- 2 tbs. chopped fresh sage
- 1/2 cup whole milk

- 1/2 cup smoked tomato purée (I'll smoke some slices of tomato when I'm smoking other meats and save them for later dishes. You can use tomato paste with some liquid smoke for a similar taste.)
Corn Sauce
- 1 cup + 1/4 cup sweet corn kernels
- 1 tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut in cubes
- 2 tbs. minced shallots
- 1/2 cup dry white wine

1. In a large flat dish or bowl, mix the sugar, salt, chile powder and black pepper. Score the skin of the duck breasts diagonally in two directions to create a crosshatch pattern. Dredge the duck in the sugar chile cure, coating both sides well. Mound any additional cure over duck. Cover dish and refrigerate. Cure the duck for at least 2 hours but no longer than 4 hours. 

2. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add grits. Reduce heat to simmer. Add the garlic, white onion and sage, then cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in milk, chopped bacon and tomato purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

3. For the corn sauce, heat the 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the 1 cup of corn kernels and shallots. Sauté until the shallots become transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve the 1/4 cup corn kernels for plating garnish. Add the white wine and cook until the wine has reduced by about half. Allow the sauce to cool slightly then purée in a blender or food processor. Add the cold butter cubes one at a time while blending. Season with salt to taste and keep warm. 

4. Remove duck from the cure and brush off excess curing mixture. Place duck skin side down in a cold heavy pan or skillet. Heat the duck over medium high heat for about 4 minutes or until the skin has crisped. Turn the duck over and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Next, place the pan (with duck skin side up) in a preheated 400° oven for 4 minutes. Remove duck to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. 

5. Slice duck on the bias. I molded the grits during plating but you can spoon the grits in the center. Place sliced duck, shingling the slices around grits. Spoon sauce around the perimeter. Garnish with the remaining corn kernels and dig in!

About Neal Zeller

There's not a lot I can add to what others, far more eloquent than I am, have written about hunting.

I hike, backpack, cycle, run, fish and hunt. And although all of these recreational pursuits - even that term falls short - add something to my life, none of them contribute more than hunting does. No other experience engages more of my senses and amplifies my life as time spent pursuing game. Animals who have spent their lives in remarkable landscapes, eluding harm, and eluding me, deserve my respect. And they have it.

I hunt, and I also eat. It's important for me to be at least partially responsible for the deaths that sustain my own life. We all owe that, at a minimum, to our food sources.

I worked in the food and beverage industry throughout high school and college, both in the front and back of the house. Wait staff and line cook. The level of craft, skill and passion by real food professionals is astonishing. And it's really hard work. There are plenty of parallels between chefs and hunters.

So when I can combine hunting, food preparation, cooking... and eating, I'm all over it.

[Photo: Arizona, Unit 24A Javelina Bow Hunt. 2011.]

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Like us, Neal Zeller is a regular guy who loves to fish, hunt and cook. If you have a great fish or game recipe you'd like to submit, send it to 
Thank you Neal for sending in this wonderful recipe!