ROANOKE, La. — If you've ever tried to pluck a duck, you know how maddening it can be. When you think you're finally finished, some of those tiny pinfeathers seem to magically reappear.
That's why many of us opt to simply pull the breast skin apart and fillet the breast meat off the bone, or drop the ducks at a commercial picker's and pay to get a whole duck done right.
But there is a better, less-expensive method. As Mr. Miyagi instructed in "The Karate Kid": "Wax on … wax off."
Click image to see step-by-step process of waxing birds
Dennis Tietje has long favored a hot-wax treatment for the hundreds of blue-winged teal that are killed on his family's rice and crawfish farm in southwest Louisiana. It provides a nice ending to a morning's hunt: tell a few stories while making quick work of cleaning the birds.
"Crack it open like an egg," said Tietje, demonstrating the final process. "It's easy."
As he stood there holding a feather-free teal, indeed it did seem easy. The bird looked like something you'd find in the poultry section of a supermarket, wrapped in cellophane.
Here's the equipment you need: 1) a 10-gallon pot; 2) a propane burner that will hold the pot; 3) a No. 9 galvanized wash tub (or anything close); 4) enough wax to float about a one-inch layer in the heated pot.
The wax is the key ingredient here. Tietje buys 10-pound blocks of paraffin wax at a local craft store for about $25, then breaks it into chunks and adds to the pot as needed. You can find specialty duck and poultry waxes on the Internet, as well. It's supposed to do a better job than the canning/candle-making paraffin, which did the job just fine on this day.
Fill the pot two-thirds full of water and, as it warms, start adding the wax until a thick layer is floating on the water. While that's going on, clip the wings off the ducks and "rough pluck" them. With the easy-to-pull larger feathers off the ducks, the wax can get deeper into the pinfeathers.
You want to keep the wax-and-water pot at a temperature past the melting point of the wax, but not so hot that it gets "thin" and fails to provide a thick coat of wax to each duck when it's gently dipped in and out of the mixture.
From the hot wax pot, the ducks go into an ice-water bath in the washtub. This solidifies the wax. Don't get in a hurry. Let the wax "set up," and tell some hunting tales.
Then, as Tietje said, you just crack open the now hard-coated teal, like an egg, and all the feathers come off in the two pieces of wax shell.
With small ducks, like teal, Tietje uses poultry shears to makes two cuts along each side of the backbone – from bottom to top. Grab the backbone and entrails, then pull. Clip off the head and feet, and after a quick rinse under a faucet, these birds are ready for the kitchen. For bigger ducks, you can cut from the vent to the bottom of the breastbone and remove the entrails that way.
It's all as easy as, "Wax on … wax off," like Mr. Miyagi said.