Lake Ontario Wild Duck and Goose Rillettes

Lake Ontario Wild Duck and Goose RillettesBack in early December, I went to Lake Ontario for my first duck hunt with Outdoorsman Bill. This may sound like a long trip for a few small birds. After all, there are dozens of Canada geese pooping all over the lawns as nearby as Westchester. Lake Ontario, however, sees a lot of waterfowl species, and in larger amounts. Plus, shotguns aren’t allowed in Westchester (believe me, I checked). Anyway, back to Bill. Not content just hunting ducks, Bill runs a small fleet of charter boats, guides on hard water, and owns a lodge across the marina. If you’re looking for him at the inn’s restaurant, the bartender will point at the live band. While most of the other hunters are sleeping off a long day outdoors before waking up at 4 am to do it again the next day, Bill plays live music at night.

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Lake Trout Rillettes

As I’ve explained before, rillettes were originally a spread made of salted pork slowly cooked in fat, but many recipes involving other meats or fish are now common. In a previous post, I showed how to make some simple, quick smoked trout rillettes as an accompaniment to a seared trout fillet. Here is a slightly more complex dish that I prepared with the Cayuga Lake contingent.

You can keep the rillettes refrigerated for about 5 days. Serve them cold as an appetizer. I find that they pair particularly well with trout roe and yeast-free blini, with just a dash of lemon juice and some chives.

Lake trout rillettes
Yields one 1 1/2 qt terrine (at least 12 servings)

2 oz top-quality olive oil
34 oz cleaned (skinned and boned) trout fillets
10 g smoked salt
1 g curing salt
10 g salt
2 g piment d’espelette
6 oz white wine
1 1/2 oz whisky
6 oz butter, softened
6 oz goat’s milk butter, softened

  • Spread the olive oil on the trout fillets, place into sous-vide pouches, and cook in a 120 F water bath for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the trout from the pouches, and pat dry with paper towels. Season evenly with the smoked, curing and regular salts and the piment d’espelette, and reserve.
  • Reduce the white wine to 1/4 in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the whisky and let cool.
  • In a blender, process the wine and whisky mixture with 1/4 of the trout until smooth.
  • Place the butter and goat’s milk butter in an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, and beat at maximum speed for about 5 minutes. Add the blended trout mixture, and beat until smooth. Flake the rest of the trout between your fingers, add to the mixer, and beat at low speed for a few seconds, until evenly distributed but still chunky.
  • Transfer the rillettes to a 1 1/2 qt terrine mold lined with plastic wrap, cover with more plastic wrap and a lid, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  • Take out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Remove the rillettes from the mold and slice.

Guinea Hen Rillettes

As promised, here is a version of my Wild Pheasant Rillettes with farmed poultry instead of game birds.  I have a preference for guinea hen, but chicken or farmed pheasant will work just as well. The most important changes from my other recipe reside in the use of smoked salt, and the browning of the skin for added flavor.

Guinea hen rillettes
Yields 1 ramequin

2 guinea hen legs, about 3/4 lb
olive oil
smoked salt
black pepper, ground
4 thyme sprigs
6 oz duck fat
guinea hen liver (optional)

  • Sauté the guinea hen legs with olive oil in a hot pan, skin side down, until dark brown. Remove from heat, take the skin off of the flesh and reserve both.
  • Weigh the skinned legs [I got about 12 1/2 oz], and then measure 1.6% of that weight in smoked salt. Sprinkle the salt together with some black pepper on both sides of the meat, then transfer to a sous-vide pouch with the thyme and duck fat. Cook in a 166 F water bath for 12 hours. If you like a gamier flavor, you can add the liver.
  • Let the pouch cool for 30 minutes. Strain the fat and juices into a plastic container and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until just set. Bone the wings and legs, and reserve in the pouch.
  • You should have about 6 oz of boneless, skinless meat at this point. Measure 54% of this weight in duck fat, and 25% in jelly [the solidified juice] — for 6 oz of meat that’s 3 1/4 oz duck fat and 1 1/2 oz jelly.
  • In a blender, process the duck fat, jelly and reserved browned skin (as well as the liver if you used it) until smooth.
  • Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment. Shred the meat between your fingers and add to the bowl. Whip on high speed to the desired texture. I like my rillettes on the smooth side, with very few chunks; some people prefer large chunks and will whip the mixture just long enough to distribute the meat. Transfer to a 12 oz ramequin, pack well, then cover with a thin layer of duck fat. Refrigerate until solid, then wrap in plastic film.
  • Take out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Accompany with rye bread and pickles.

Wild Pheasant Rillettes

Rillettes are a spread made of salted meat slowly cooked in fat, first mentioned in 15th century cookbooks and more famously in Rabelais’ Pantagruel in the 16th century. Although they were originally made from pork, duck and goose have also become fairly common, and many other meats can be used.

I chose wild pheasant today to satisfy my never-ending wintry game cravings. You can substitute it with partridge, grouse, or any other game bird you can get your hands on. If you prefer to (or have to) use farmed pheasant, guinea hen or chicken, I have another recipe for you! You can also find a great recipe for duck or goose rillettes here.

The rillettes can easily be kept for a couple of weeks.

Wild pheasant rillettes
Yields 1 ramequin

1 wild pheasant, about 1 1/4 lb
kosher salt
black pepper, ground
4 thyme sprigs
8 oz duck fat

  • Cut the wings, legs and breast off the pheasant carcass. Weigh these pieces [I got about 12 1/2 oz], and then measure 1.6% of that weight in kosher salt. Sprinkle the salt together with some black pepper on both sides of the meat, then transfer to a sous-vide pouch with the thyme and the duck fat. Cook in a 166 F water bath for 8 hours. If you like a gamier flavor, you can add the chopped carcass, heart and liver.
  • Let the pouch cool for 30 minutes. Strain the fat and juices into a plastic container and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until just set. Discard the carcass if you used it. Bone the wings and legs, and reserve in the pouch with the breast meat.
  • Remove the skin from the meat and reserve both. You should have about 6 oz of boneless, skinless meat at this point. Measure 58% of this weight in duck fat, and 30% in jelly [the solidified juice] — for 6 oz of meat that’s 3 1/2 oz duck fat and 1 3/4 oz jelly.
  • In a blender, process the duck fat, jelly and skin (as well as the heart and liver if you used them) until smooth.
  • Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment. Shred the meat between your fingers and add to the bowl. Whip on high speed to the desired texture. I like my rillettes on the smooth side, with very few chunks; some people prefer large chunks and will whip the mixture just long enough to distribute the meat. Transfer to a 12 oz ramequin, pack well, then cover with a thin layer of duck fat. Refrigerate until solid, then wrap in plastic film.
  • Take out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Accompany with bread and pickles.

Ice Fishing, and Quick Seared Trout with Smoked Trout Rillettes

During a family trip to the Adirondacks earlier this month, I decided to continue my exploration of the great outdoors with a half-day of ice fishing and a day of hare hunting. While the hunting was, like last time, a failure that I will save for another post, the fishing was pretty successful.

Forget the comfort of heated fishing shacks, complete with TVs and mini-bars. Fisherman Gary made it clear that these, as well as any other forms of shelter, were good for ice drinking, not for ice fishing. And judging by the amount of fish I caught, he certainly knows what he’s talking about! We went to a quiet pond near Lake Placid:

As New York Game & Fish magazine so rightfully pointed out in a recent issue, “ice angling always begins with cutting a hole in the ice to fish through”. We had about 6″ of ice that day, 3″ being the minimum for safe fishing. Gary was a great guide, who knew exactly where to drill the holes and showed me how to do every step.

You clear the area around the hole with a shovel, and remove any leftover ice from the water using a skimmer. Then you’re ready to install your tip-up. Here’s an old wooden model that Gary got from his father:

Basically, the line is under the water, and any fish biting the bait will cause the red flag to pop up. When that happens, you just run to the hole, make sure the fish is still biting, and pull out the tip-up and the line together. You can have up to 5 tip-ups and 2 jigs per person, so things can get pretty hectic at times. Here’s my first fish of the day:

I ended up catching 2 splake (a hybrid resulting from the crossing of a male brook trout and a female lake trout), 2 brown trout and 4 yellow perch. I released 3 of the yellow perch as they were much smaller and not so interesting to eat in my opinion.

Back home, I wanted to come up with a recipe that lets the fish speak for itself, can be prepared with the limited tools and ingredients you have access to while on a fishing trip, and yet offers a special touch. I topped the fish with buckwheat greens and served it with multi-colored carrots, but feel free to replace them with whatever you have. The smoked salt and piment d’espelette do make a difference and are sold in containers small enough that you can take them anywhere.

Smoked trout rillettes
Yields 4 servings

4 oz of small trout fillets, skin on
olive oil
1 oz butter, small dice
smoked salt
piment d’espelette
4 slices French baguette

  • Saute the fish fillets skin side down with olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Press a couple times with a spatula, flip and remove from the heat.
  • Discard the skin, and transfer the flesh to a bowl. Add the butter, season with smoked salt and piment d’espelette to taste, and mix with a fork.
  • Toast the bread, and spread the rillettes on top.

The picture above shows a brown trout (top) and a splake (bottom) before filleting. I have a slight preference for the splake, though both taste very good, and both are way more flavorful than the rainbow trouts you typically find in stores. Just make sure you don’t overcook them!

Seared trout
Yields 4 servings

4 trout fillets, skin on
salt
black pepper, ground
olive oil

  • Season the fillets with salt and pepper. Sauté skin side down with olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Press a couple of times with a spatula to crisp the skin, flip and remove from the heat. Serve immediately.