This recipe combines everything I love about the glorious Cajun foodways I write about. This dish takes flight in a tough wild duck stuffed with aromatics, greens, and the sweet kiss of Louisiana yams. It’s slow-simmered in a spicy stock just long enough for the meat to yield its tenderness into a cauldron of rich, savory gravy. Now, we’re cooking Cajun.
Cajun men love to cook. I’ve often written about how the food culture of South Louisiana includes methods, techniques, and recipes that come directly from the hunting lodges, fishing camps, and oil industry outings that are mostly male-only kitchens. In these parts, men take great pride in their recipes and are eager to share their knowledge.
Now, I’m not talking about your standard kitchen fare, but when it comes to wild game, heavy beef, whole hog, seafood of any kind, or most anything cooked over fire, propane or smoking embers, Cajun men are as fluent in cooking terminology, and culinary methodology as anybody.
My friend Ted Beaullieu is one of those men. I am privileged to have been invited to be a part of a group of men that get together periodically and take turns cooking up a manly spread. At one of these gatherings, Ted cooked up a wild duck dinner that was the inspiration for my recipe today.
Green-winged teal is a breed of duck that show up first in the sights of seasoned duck hunters of South Louisiana. It’s a small, fast-flying, warm-weather bird that migrates early in the coastal marshes and rice-field flyways of Acadiana. The 16-day, September teal season ensures that Louisiana duck camps have a steady stockpile of duck meat in their freezers. Although with a limited amount of all-dark meat, the feeding habits (aquatic grasses and agricultural crops) of these birds make for good eating. And Ted’s recipe makes it easy to bring out that flavor. It is a unique technique, as it uses a boiling method to render the birds tender. As with most long braises, my inclination (and training) is to brown the meat in fat before adding stock, but with Ted’s method, this is not only unnecessary but gets in the way of the ultimate goal—the gravy. You see, these birds are covered in liquid, and it is the long, slow boil that reduces the stock into a thick gravy.
In my version, I’m adding sweet potatoes in two stages. First, I like how the sweet potatoes reduce along with the birds that add a sweet, thickening to the gravy, and the final addition of diced potatoes at the end provides color and contrast to the final dish. Additionally, I add a couple of pieces of smoked meat to my braise for the flavor it gives the gravy. Oh yeah, this is duck camp cooking at its best, and an easy technique to add to your home kitchen repertoire.
- 8 teal (cleaned)
- 3 cups chopped mustard greens
- 2 cups diced sweet potato
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- ½ tablespoon Cajun seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 pieces smoked meat (ham hock, smoked sausage, or smoked turkey necks), optional
- 8 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 6 cups cooked white rice, such as Supreme, for serving
- Hot sauce, for serving
- Inspect the ducks and pull out any remaining pin feathers with a pair of pliers.
- Combine the greens, 1 cup of the sweet potatoes, onion, and celery in a large mixing bowl, and season with Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper. Stuff the cavities of each duck with as much of the mixture as will fit.
- Place the stuffed teal in a pot (or Dutch oven) and add any remaining stuffing mixture along with the smoked meat. Add enough chicken stock to cover the teal. Place on a stovetop burner and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and let cook uncovered, checking periodically to make sure there is still liquid in the pot.
- Over the course of 1 to 2 hours (depending on the size of the pot and the amount of liquid), the stock will reduce, and the teal are done when most of the liquid cooks off and thickens to a gravy consistency.
- At this point, finish the dish by adding the remaining 1 cup of diced sweet potatoes and 2 cups of water (or remaining stock) to the pot. Cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender and the liquid reduces down to a gravy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Serve each guest a couple of teal with a double spoonful of gravy over a mound of cooked white rice. And be sure to have some ice-cold beer and a loaf of hot French bread nearby. Serve with hot sauce on the side.
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