Before we get to the cooking portion of the show, a little about the name for said pottage. Turner Island, where I cut my duck-hunting teeth in the early 1950s on a hand-me-down Olt D-2, is a Mississippi River island a mile above the Winfield Locks and Dam in Pool No. 25. A wooded acreage, enhanced with sloughs and potholes; in its day, Turner was a mallard and wood duck paradise. Calhoun County waterfowlers and Midwest gunners enjoyed continued successful hunting until the mid ’80s, when siltation and encroachment closed the story of Turner’s glory days.
My first taste of duck gumbo came from a World War II mess kit warmed over a charcoal fire in a duck blind called “ol’ No. 99.” If there is ever a list of mallard magnets compiled, No. 99 will be in the top 10. Maybe it was the cold of that wintry December day or the forever hunger that plagues youth, but I’ll never forget the aroma, then the taste, of Mr. John’s duck stew.
Turner Island Gumbo differs from “Cookin’ Cajun” Justin Wilson’s fixin’s and my Louisiana buddy Phil “The Duck Commander” Robertson’s concoction, but wild duck is the theme of all three pots. “I garontee!” We share many of the same ingredients, including Cajun hot sauce, but most of my deep-South brethren add some type of seafood or shellfish; sometimes even the shells. There’s even stories of squirrel, muskrat, an occasional opossum or other furry creature being part of the mix. Now you know why some duck camp guests care not for duck gumbo.
Hold on! Read on; follow my Turner Island Gumbo recipe before you give up. You may be surprised. In case you would not, for some reason, be delighted, all Labrador retrievers would kill for Turner Island Gumbo.
Turner Island Duck Gumbo
First, you make a roux. (True gumbos all begin that way.) The roux is made up of cooked olive oil and flour. Cover the bottom of your favorite pot with olive oil, heat over a low fire and stir in 1 cup of flour. Stir constantly for 30 to 40 minutes or until the mixture is dark brown. Be careful not to burn the roux.
• 1 large onion, chopped fine
• 1 small can tomato sauce
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• 2 medium cans diced tomatoes
• 2 green bell peppers, chopped
• 1 can mushroom pieces
• 4 ribs of celery, chopped
• 4 cups water
• 1 carrot, chopped
• 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 Tbsp. Louisiana hot sauce
As for the meat:
• two links of Polish sausage (we prefer turkey sausage)
• ½ chicken (normally we get this precooked at the deli)
• Deer sticks (optional), chopped
• Three mallard breasts, four wood duck breasts or six to eight green-wing teal
We prefer wood duck or teal, but any duck seems to work. Our Lafayette buddies prefer “coots.”
I “garontee!” Boil the duck breasts on the stovetop, adding celery, apple, salt and a dash of cinnamon. Skim the foam off the top. Simmer till tender, usually a couple hours. Cool and put ducks and “boil” (juices) in fridge overnight. Shred the chicken and duck meat when you are ready to begin the gumbo.
When your roux is cooked, add the onions and garlic and sauté until browned. Next, add the Polish sausage (chopped), next the green pepper, then the celery and carrot. Stir this all together as it cooks over low heat. Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, strained duck boil, water, mushrooms, deer meat, shredded duck and chicken. Bring to a boil and then cook over low heat 3 to 4 hours, tasting and stirring as you go. Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste; that’s up to you and your guests. The gumbo is best served over rice, but some duck camps serve it “straight up.”
Now, I realize this is a time-consuming adventure, but aren’t most great projects? If you’re not pleased, I’m sorry, but no apologies. What else do you have to do on those long wintry days except cook in a warm kitchen and dream of cupped wings, bobbing decoys and fantastic shots.
Since 1987, Larry Reid has hosted “Outdoors with Larry Reid,” WBGZ Radio, 1570 AM, Alton.