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Grilling the Gadwalls . . . and the Mallards . . . and the Teal

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by Dan Clarke

Robert T and Plate of ducks PicmonkeyRobert's ducks, ready for the grill.

Robert Tabarez' project of the year was the construction of a covered backyard kitchen at his home in Davis. He did most of the work himself and on completion invited a few friends over to celebrate. We had talked food and wine often enough for me to know that Robert knew his way around a kitchen—be it indoors or outdoors. Barbecued ribs and duck? I'm in! That our friend Les Lederer was bringing wines from his cellar made the invitation even more appealing.

Open-air, but with a roof for sun (and, occasionally, rain) protection, the outdoor kitchen might even be called a pavilion or something grander as it includes room for seating upwards of a dozen guests. Two overhead fans help cool the environment and create enough air circulation to deter flies and mosquitoes. A Mirage 6-Burner Built-In BBQ Grill provides 95,000 BTUs of cooking power. Adjacent is a separate single burner sometimes used for boiling water for pasta or melting butter for sauces. Of course, there's a sink and running water and a refrigerator, too. In short, it is a complete kitchen.

Robert is a life-long outdoorsman—the kind of guy who bags his own game and even makes his own venison sausage. Growing up in Yolo County northwest of Sacramento, he has the ability and connections to source food locally. The pork ribs he would serve on this evening were purchased from his cousin Fred, who operates Manas Meat Market in nearby Esparto. Our second main course item, the duck breasts, came from birds he had shot on Sacramento Valley refuges last season (Mallards, Gadwalls and Teal).

Robert treats his ribs in a straight-forward manner, first applying a dry rub and letting the pork rest for 4-5 hours. He cooks the ribs over direct heat, turning every 15-minutes or so, during the 45-minutes to one hour cooking time (no par-boiling or pre-cooking before they go on the grill). He brushes on Bulls Eye barbecue sauce just before serving.

Over the years, my friend has prepared duck many ways, but tonight's treatment is one of his favorites. The recipe is from American Game Cookery by John Ashe and Sid Goldstein. For this dinner we are having wild duck, but Robert has used this same method for the more generally available domestic duck breasts. Either way, he assures us, this recipe is a winner.


Grilled Duck Breast

with Raspberry-Sweet Onion Relish



4-6 duck breasts


2 cups chopped raspberries

3/4 cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion

4 teaspoons raspberry vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1/2 tablespoon dried sage

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons Crème de Cassis or more to taste


1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage or 1/2 teaspoon ground sage



Robt T at Grill PicmonkeyTime to pay attention.In a nonreactive bowl, combine all ingredients for relish and mix thoroughly. In a separate nonreactive bowl, mix all ingredients fo marinade together; add 1/3 cup of the relish and stir well. Place duck in marinade for 2 to 4 hours, refrigerated, turning occasionally. Refrigerate remaining relish.

Prepare grill. Grill duck breast, skin down over hot temperature for 5 to 7 minutes. Turn and continue grilling until done, 3 to 4 minutes. Duck should be medium-rare. To serve, slick duck breast on bias and arrange on individual serving plates. Garnish each serving with 2 raspberries and a sprig of mint. Dollop relish over the duck.

Served with the duck were green beans and a wild rice mixture, which had been augmented by crimini mushrooms, celery and red onions sautéed in butter and a little soy sauce.

All the wines Les brought were well-received. With appetizers before dinner, our options included Six Hands Viognier from the Sacramento River Delta just south of us and Walter Hansel Carneros Chardonnay, both good wines, but most elected to try the André Vatan Sancerre. For those of us used to California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, it was a treat to revisit what this grape can produce in France's Loire Valley.Robt T plated duck PicmonkeyGarnished with relish, raspberries and mint.

The dinner itself called for red wine and we had a selection from which to choose; vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from Marimar Estate and a Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot, Côtes du Rhônes Villages from Féraud-Brunel, and a Zinfandel. As it happened we didn't get around to drinking the Zin, which likely would have been good with the ribs. Pinot Noir was an excellent match with the duck, given its raspberry treatment. The Rhône was surprisingly well-suited to the duck, also, and its Grenache and Syrah characteristics worked well with the ribs.

Leza Cobbler PicmonkeyFresh peach cobbler, a perfect ending.While Robert did a great job with the preparation and grilling of our main course, he had a little help with the rest of the meal. His wife Leza and daughter Hailey prepared a beautiful salad of arugula, beets, glazed walnuts and goat cheese and Leza made a fresh peach cobbler for the dessert (with the peaches coming from the fruit and vegetable stand at cousin Fred Manas' ranch.

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