January 13, 2017
Chef Keem, for many years the lead cook at
Charles and Jody Allen's Alaska Expedition
Company Driftwood Lodge, has created a
number of superb recipes over the years for
wild game and fish. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Several years ago, I had the chance to go fly fishing for silver salmon in southeastern Alaska at Charles and Jody Allen's Alaska Expedition Company's Driftwood Lodge.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to try out an unbelievable waterfowl recipe from Austin, Texas-based, chef Achim Thiemermann, known affectionately to many as simply Chef Keem.
Highly entertaining and very enjoyable to be around, Chef Keem was the creator of some epic meals that week. What else would you expect from a five-star chef?
On the banks of the Tsiu River and near the pounding shoreline of the Gulf of Alaska, his dishes that week included freshly prepared salmon and halibut, not to mention gourmet pancakes and superb soups served by guides pouring them piping hot out of battered Thermoses.
Add in a grilled cheese sandwich and I've never experienced a better shore lunch, especially after a morning spent battling big silvers in damp, chilly conditions.
But what I remember most from Chef Keem that week was a platter of hors d'oeuvres he brought forth one evening for the guests at Driftwood Lodge.
What was on the platter? Wild duck, that's what, waterfowl taken by hunters in the nearby marshes that were full of mallards, pintails, wigeon, green-winged teal and more.
The duck hors d'oeuvre brought rave reviews from everyone there that evening, many comparing it to filet mignon. While several people initially turned their noses up at the notion of eating liver-tasting wild duck, after sampling it, all of the morsels were quickly devoured by even the pickiest eaters in camp.
After having enjoyed this recipe in Alaska, I came home and began bragging about it to my duck hunting pals, so much so that a number wanted to sample the recipe.
Rustic on the outside and warm on the inside, Driftwood Lodge sits just off the banks of the salmon-rich Tsiu River. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
With that as the backdrop, here is the "The Duck Recipe," pulled straight from the Alaska Expedition Lodge's e-newsletter I received shortly after my trip:
"Located on the Alaska Gulf coast and the edge of the vast marsh of the Yakataga Area Game Refuge, we are able to combine duck hunting along with silver fishing for our guests. When the conditions are right, the duck hunting in the marsh over decoys can be some of the best anywhere for pintails, mallards, widgeon and green-winged teal. We serve duck at the lodge as an appetizer, and the recipe for our duck is the most requested recipe of any dish we serve. Forget the stuffing, oranges, apples, marmalade, etc.
Here is the "secret":
- Remove the skin and debone the breast
- Cut each side of the breast into two or three pieces for pintails, widgeon and mallards - teal are smaller and will not need to be cut after deboning.
- Coat in olive oil with a bit of chopped garlic and onion - marinade for 30 minutes
- Remove the pieces and let drain for a few minutes prior to cooking allowing the pieces to come up to room temperature
- Get a skillet smoking hot (an old iron skillet works great) and drop some pieces in, being careful to maintain the high heat so the pieces are immediately seared
- Cook for about 1 minute on the first side and then 45 seconds to 1 minute on the opposite side. Turn to make sure all sides are seared
- Serve rare to medium rare. This is key as any longer will ruin it
It is so good it is often compared to filet mignon!"
This is the basic recipe that I received from Charles and Jody Allen, who also own the DiamondBlade Knives and Knives of Alaska cutlery companies.
A couple of years later, however, I did discover a few more cooking tips for this recipe from Chef Keem himself, scattered around the Internet and gleaned through some Google searching.
Accessible only by way of a bush flight, the Alaska Expedition Company and Driftwood Lodge sits in a silver-salmon-and-waterfowl-rich portion of southeastern Alaska. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
Here are those bonus preparation tips straight from Chef Keem himself concerning the preparation of his highly touted wild duck recipe:
- "For the marinade, we need fresh garlic, shallots, rosemary, olive oil, and a coarse spice blend, i.e. "Montreal Steak Seasoning".
- "Pulse the vegetables a few times in a food processor. Combine seasoning, oil, and chopped vegetables in a medium-size bowl until you have a "wet" paste, not too thick and not too thin. You have a lot of flexibility here, so don't worry about the exact amounts. Be generous with vegetables and spices."
- "Now add the duck pieces to the marinade and let this sit for at least 30 minutes, up to 3 hours. If you can't cook the duck right away, store it in the refrigerator. However, the olive oil will solidify under refrigeration. You will have to let the mixture come back to room temperature, so the oil drips off easily before you place the duck into a pan."
- "The cooking technique for this wild duck recipe - this is the most important part!"
- "Place a dry non-stick pan on the highest setting (or highest flame), and heat until it begins to smoke. Add a few duck pieces to the pan, and let them sear in place, for about 1 minute. You might want to turn the duck pieces on a paper towel before cooking - too much oil will lower the pan temperature and prevent the meat from forming a nice crust.
- "After about 1 minute, turn the pieces over and sear for another 30 - 45 seconds. It all depends on the size of the breast strips, but you will get a feel for it pretty quickly. The meat should be "rare" inside, as the carry-over heat will finish it to a "medium-rare" on the way from the kitchen to the table."
- "Be careful not to "crowd" the pan with too many duck pieces. You want to retain the highest possible heat throughout the searing process. Serve immediately!"
- "Sometimes I make "Duck Nachos" at the Driftwood Lodge. I simply heat a platter of tortilla chips in the oven - layered with shredded cheese and sliced jalapenos. The finished duck pieces go on top and along the sides of the platter. Serve with some pico de gallo and guacamole, of course!"
Finally, if all of the above doesn't help you dial in this epic duck recipe, give this video from Chef Keem a try:
And there you have it, a recipe that takes me back to Alaska, to the wild Tsiu River and to the warm dining area of Driftwood Lodge every single time I take a delectable bite.
Is "The Duck Recipe" really that good? Well, all I can say is that every single time I have shared it with a duck hunting friend over the years, they have come back raving about how good it is, even mentioning how other family members that typically don't like duck quickly scarfed it all down.
And yes, they often compare it (without any prompting from me) to filet mignon or another high-dollar steak prepared at a fancy restaurant.
So give it a try and you be the judge. But my guess is that you'll enjoy "The Duck Recipe" as much as I have.