Duck Camp Tamales

Duck has long been one of my favorite proteins. Who could argue with a bird that is acceptable to eat medium rare? The breasts eat like the finest steak, and duck legs can be braised down in their own fat, just like pork in the confit style. They are truly incredible culinary birds.

Duck hunting can seem a little more adventurous than passing long hours in a deer stand. In a duck blind you can be a little more social, chatting with friends and family, until somebody sees or hears ducks in the distance. Then, the expert duck hunter gets on the call, mimicking duck noises to lure them in. Everybody stays still and quiet, watching over the pond with a sharp eye for any sign of approaching waterfowl. When they get close enough, coming down near the decoys laid out as a booby trap, everyone in the blind pops up at once and pulls the triggers of their twelve-gauge shotguns.

Proper duck hunting takes place at dawn. I never appreciated rising before the sun and wading through the marsh in the dark, but as soon as the sun rises and the ducks start flying, it is always worth it. We usually head back to camp by mid morning, leaving plenty of time to relax or to cook up our catch. One of my favorite ways to prepare duck is tamales, using corn masa and corn husks to encapsulate tender braised duck meat. These duck camp tamales always pair well with a glass of whiskey and an open fire, too.

Duck Camp Tamales
Yields 24
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  1. 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  2. 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
  3. 2 teaspoons chili powder, divided
  4. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  5. 8 duck legs
  6. 1 white onion, large dice
  7. 6 cloves garlic
  8. 1 (16-ounce) package cornhusks
  9. 2 cups masa harina
  10. 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  11. 1 cup warm chicken stock
  12. 1 cup warm water (105° to 110°)
  13. 1 cup lard, room temperature
  14. Salsa, for serving
  15. Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro
  1. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon chili powder and thyme. Rub duck on all sides with salt mixture, and arrange duck legs in a shallow dish in a single layer. 
Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 325°.
  3. In a large ovenproof skillet, arrange duck legs in a single layer, skin side down. Cook duck legs over medium heat until fat renders, about 20 minutes. Turn duck legs, and add onion and garlic to pan. Cover and bake for 2 hours; remove lid, and bake until duck skin is golden brown, about 1 hour more.
  4. While duck is roasting, soak cornhusks in warm water for 1 hour.
  5. In a large bowl, combine masa, remaining 1 teaspoon chili powder, cumin, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1 teaspoon pepper. Add stock and 1 cup warm water; stir until a thick, smooth dough forms. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat lard until creamy. Gradually add masa mixture to lard, beating until combined into a dough.
  6. Remove duck from pan; discard onion and garlic, and reserve fat for another use. Let duck stand until cool; shred duck meat. On cornhusks, spread 2 tablespoons of dough, leaving a small border around edges. Place 1 tablespoon shredded duck in center of dough in a line. Fold husk over, forming dough around the duck, and tie tamale with a strip of cornhusk or kitchen twine. Repeat with remaining cornhusks, dough, and duck until all dough and duck have been used.
  7. In a large pot with a steaming 
rack, add enough water to reach just under steaming rack. Place tamales on rack, and cover with a damp towel and lid. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to maintain steam without a hard rolling boil. Steam tamales until cooked through, adding more water if necessary, about 1 hour. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with salsa, and garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Louisiana Cookin
story and recipe by jay d. ducote


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