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Thaw of the wild

Freezing wild birds? Preparation is key to enjoying a decent meal long after your last hunt

Sweet Mustard Soy Breasts sizzle on the grill. ©DUC/Jeope Wolfe
Sweet Mustard Soy Breasts sizzle on the grill. ©DUC/Jeope Wolfe

If you had a successful harvest last fall, you may still have game in the freezer. Even those packages of “suspect” quality that have drifted to the back or bottom corners of your deep freezer can yield a decent meal, even now.

Freezer burn can be the biggest detractor from a meal of frozen game, but all is not lost if you find it.

Whole, plucked birds tend to deteriorate most rapidly if not frozen in airtight packages and even a skinned breast will show the telltale white spotting of freezer burn. In both cases you must remove any signs of freezer burn before cooking. With a plucked bird it’s best to skin the bird once it’s thawed and remove the meat from the bones before cooking. You should trim any discoloured meat from breasts or legs.

Here are a couple of recipes that work well for “spring-thaw” birds:

Asian Grilled Breast Strips ©DUC/Jeope Wolfe

Asian Grilled Breast Strips

4-6 mallard breast steaks sliced into 1.25 cm (1/2”) strips


250 ml (1 cup) Asian fish sauce

125 ml (1/2 cup) white sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) rice wine vinegar

30-45 ml (2-3 tbsp.) sambal oelek

4 cloves garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper


1.) Marinate strips for 3-4 hours.

2.) Take strips out of marinade and dust lightly with salt and black pepper.

3.) Grill over high heat for 5-8 minutes, turning several times to brown evenly.

4.) Serve with white rice and spring greens.


Sweet Mustard Soy Breasts

4-6 mallard breast steaks, whole


250 ml (1 cup) dark soy sauce

250 ml (1 cup) honey (or brown sugar)

250 ml (1 cup) Dijon mustard

60 ml (1/4 cup) sesame oil


1.) Marinate breasts for 3-4 hours.

2.) Grill breasts over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes, flip and grill for another 5-8 minutes until breasts are rare/medium rare.

Liberally and tightly wrapping in all directions until airtight and sealed – using as much as ten feet of plastic wrap on a single whole plucked goose – can keep frozen meat in a good state up to a year. ©DUC/Jeope Wolfe

How to ensure quality frozen birds

Although nothing compares to fresh game, you can still enjoy frozen ducks and geese right through the following summer. The key is taking extra time to properly prepare and package the meat, says Pat Kehoe, who offers his tried-and-true tips:

  • Airtight packaging is the best way to ensure a quality product long after the season is over. Avoid temptations to freeze meat in a freezer bag or freezer paper without extra treatment.
  • Vacuum sealers work well, especially on boneless breast fillets, but I’ve seen folks struggle when a sharp bone of a whole bird pierces the packaging. I don’t use a vacuum sealer but instead use plastic wrap to first seal whole, plucked birds and breast fillets, then place the meat in freezer bags. I buy a bulk roll of wrap at the start of the season, and then liberally and tightly wrap the meat in all directions until airtight and sealed. I use as much as ten feet of wrap on a single whole plucked goose, and find that treated this way a bird can keep up to a year frozen.
  • I prefer the wrap to freezing meat in water as thawing in water can lead to loss of flavour and change in texture. Although in a pinch, freezing in water is better than freezing in a bag without any treatment at all.


Pat Kehoe

Pat Kehoe

Pat Kehoe is Ducks Unlimited Canada’s director of international partnerships. Like many who share his delight in gourmet wild game dinners, Kehoe believes that with the right treatment, any waterfowl species can be prepared and served with pride.

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