Roasted Teal with Wild Plum Sauce

Rick and his cousins shot some teal(ducks) the other day. He brought home six of them and we plucked every bird but one. The one was soaked, probably from sitting in someone's wet pouch in the marsh for too long. When a duck gets too wet, the feathers will break, leaving the quills under the skin when you go to pluck it. Since I didn't want to sit there tweezing a bird that was all shot up anyway, we just breasted that one out-- which kind of sucks because teal are tiny and you need to eat them whole to be fully satisfied. So there's a tip for you-- do not let your ducks get too wet! 

Roasting a whole duck isn't hard. Because it's so small and best eaten at medium rare, it takes 15 minutes max for teal to roast in the oven. If you want the skin to be golden and crispy, you'll need a good oven that will get hot enough. Our oven stinks-- so that didn't work too well for us, judging by the photo. (Electric stoves and ovens... BOOO!) Still, it tasted good. With a better oven, maybe you'll have better luck. If not, searing the breast quickly in a hot, oiled skillet before putting it in the oven will work, too. It'll be like finishing a steak. 

There are wild plum trees all over Nebraska. We're not sure what the distribution is, but they seem to grow along highways, roads and trails. They ripen around August and September for us, though it probably depends on how long your winter lasts; the last two years, Nebraska has been having very late springs. The wild plums here are reddish orange with yellow/orange meat and may be different in your area. They are the size of large cherries. Astringent, we don't find them good to eat by themselves, but they're great in sauces and jellies. The recipe below is an easy, quick way to make a plum sauce that would be tasty with any wild game. We thought we'd serve it with teal because both are in season right now. 

But before you go eating things from bushes, please make sure that you correctly identify wild edibles before using. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- 4 whole teal, plucked
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt, to taste
- 4 small wedges of onion
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 cups of whole, wild plums 
- 1 small sprig of rosemary
- 1 teaspoon of ginger, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- dash of nutmeg
- dash of white pepper
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce

Tip: For the best chance of getting crispy duck skin, the duck has to be dry. After plucking and rinsing, pat ducks dry with paper towels. Line a large plate or tray with 2 layers of paper towels, lay ducks on top and loosely cover with another piece of paper towel on top. Leave in the refrigerator overnight or longer. The cold, dry air in your fridge will help dry the skin. 

1. First, take ducks out of the refrigerator an hour prior to roasting. Preheat oven to 450-500°F, or as high as your oven will go. 

2. To make the plum sauce, place washed plums in a sauce pan. Pour in a little bit of water and bring to a gentle boil to soften plums. Use a potato masher to squeeze out as much juice as you can from the plums. 

Once well mashed, pour plums through a strainer or food mill to get as much juice out of the fruits as possible. Discard leftover skin and pits. Place juice (it will be pulpy) in a container and set aside.

3. In a small sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté shallots until lightly browned. Pour in the plum juice and add ginger, rosemary sprig, nutmeg, white pepper, soy sauce and sugar. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes-- add water if too thick. Add more sugar or soy sauce if necessary. If too sweet, which usually won't be the case for Nebraska wild plums, add some white wine vinegar. Reheat and remove rosemary before serving. 

4. Ducks should be dry from being in the refrigerator overnight, but if not, dab dry with paper towels. Rub with olive oil all over skin and inside the cavity, then generously sprinkle kosher salt inside and out. Place a wedge of onion and 2 sprigs of thyme in each duck. Lay ducks breast up on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, preferably a flat one; we had to use a celery stick to separate the ducks because we used a turkey roaster. Roast at 450-500°F for 12-15 minutes, or until meat is medium-rare (internal temp of 135° F).

5. Allow birds to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Reheat plum sauce and serve on the side. Eat ducks with wild rice, roasted veggies or anything that you like. 

If serving to guests, please warn them about the possibility of finding shot and blood from bruising.