Diver ducks, migratory waterfowl that feed on fish, mollusks, and aquatic invertebrates, get a lot of praise on the wing but a bad rap at the table. Despite this reputation, hunters sure shoot a hell of a lot of them each season.
According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the take of shovelers, scaup, ring-necked ducks, eiders, oldsquaw, scoters, buffleheads, goldeneyes, mergansers, and canvasbacks is well beyond a million birds annually.
That results in millions of pounds of meat that many hunters just won’t eat. We should change that. Here are some tips to make diver duck meat a treat rather than a burden.
The chief complaint for most hunters in this case is the fishy flavor in diver duck meat.
The first and possibly most important step in eliminating this unwanted flavor is trimming away all the fat. Fat on a corn-fed mallard is delicious for a reason: It tastes like corn. The same relationship between what a bird eats and the flavor of its fat goes for all other waterfowl.
If you remove the fat (and skin) from divers, you’ll reduce the amount of fishy flavor released when cooking. Do this extra trimming before the meat ever goes into the freezer.
Next, use a brine to get rid of the rest of the fishiness. You can do a dry or wet brine consisting of salt and pepper to draw out that oil. Simply let the breasts sit in the brine for an hour at room temp, then rinse and pat the meat dry.
After your diver has been de-fished, there are two great options for making it shine on the dinner plate: cook to either medium-rare or the pulled meat consistency of a Boston butt.
For the medium rare execution, I like to lather the meat in a sugary sauce, like teriyaki, combined with apricot jalapeño jam, before placing the breasts on a hot grill. You should get a nice mix of smoke and char from the burnt sugars. Pull the meat just before it hits medium-rare (130-140 degrees) and let it rest before slicing.
If you want to go with the shredded meat option, get out the pressure cooker. Place the breasts in an inch of water and let the pressure roll for about 10 minutes. When it’s done, shred the meat and smother it in whatever liquid you like—there’s no wrong answer. I’ve done everything from cream of mushroom soup served over noodles to barbecue sauce placed on a hamburger bun.
Divers are amazing birds to watch fly. If you choose to stop that flight with a load of steel shot, then you better learn how to butcher, prep, and cook them. With just a bit of practice, the whole process will become easier than shooting them.