How to Kill, Pluck, and Clean a Duck

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No, seriously. If you’re squeamish about animals, death, blood, guts, etc., I’d recommend skipping this post. Otherwise, read on. It’s really fascinating.

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Last week I ventured to Oberlin, Ohio to visit Danny, one of my oldest friends. After some deliberation, we decided to drive out to Amish country, where Danny knew a farmer from whom we could purchase a live duck. We made the trip out there, and a few minutes of duck-chasing later, we had our dinner.

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Now, assuming you’ve managed to get your hands on a live duck like the one pictured above, this should prove to be a pretty comprehensive guide to taking it from life to table. So without further ado:

Instructions for killing, plucking, and cleaning a duck.

Understand that this will require two people minimum to do it right. First, one person should remove the duck from its cage and hold it upside down. Believe it or not, once the bird is hanging upside down and you are holding its wings and feet, it will remain utterly calm. This is true, and I didn’t believe it until I saw it. But Danny promised me this would be the case, and as usual he was entirely right. So now that one person is holding the bird, the other should pick up the knife and prepare to slaughter the bird. A number of different knives would probably work, but it is extremely important that you ensure that your knife is very sharp. You want to minimize any and all pain for the bird, so the sharper the knife the better. We used a sharpened kitchen knife. As far as the killing stroke goes, it’s mostly up to your best intution. You can just cut the throat or you can cut the head clean off. I knelt facing the duck, placed my left hand around the back of his head and said a prayer for him. I passed the knife once across his throat deeply, and then brought it back across the other way, severing the head. There was no cry, no apparent pain. But keep in mind that once the duck has been killed, the body will continue to move as it bleeds out, so the person holding the bird must keep a tight grip on it.

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Believe it or not, that was the easy part. The next few steps are actually quite difficult, but still executable. First, once the bird has bled out and stopped moving, you must immediately dunk it in scalding (i.e. just short of boiling) water. This will make the feathers infinitely easier to pluck. Once the duck has been sufficiently dunked in water (wear work gloves if you can), string the bird up from the ceiling.

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Now that the duck is strung up from the ceiling, begin to pluck. And do so vigorously. Seriously, it takes a long, long time to get all these feathers out, but it’s very doable. Once the feathers are all plucked (or almost all plucked), it will look like the bird shown below.

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Next, take the bird down and find a clean area to set the body down. You’re now going to clean the bird (we did not skin it, as duck skin is delicious). This will be messy, so watch out for your kicks, they’re probably going to get duck intestines on them. For this step, you’ll again need a very sharp knife. You can use the same knife you used to kill the duck if you like. Begin by cutting off the tail joint of the duck. You’ll be able to feel this at the back of the duck, it’s a bump where the tail used to be.

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Okay, this is where the whole thing gets tricky. From this point on, you have to be very careful not to sever any intestines, otherwise your duck meat is going to get really gross, really fast. At the base of the tail you’ll see a small nub, which is an oil gland. Remove that carefully, making sure not to puncture it. Right near the gland you’ll see the anus, which is just a small tube. Again, do NOT puncture this or cut it off. Instead, take some twine and tie it off. Now it’s time to remove the intestines and internal organs. It’s hard to even explain how to do this. Danny did a really expert job. But I found a great photodocumentary on butchering chickens (I’ll post the link at the end of this post), which contains an excellent approximation: “place your hand inside the bird and pull the organs away from the cavity wall. Turn your hand from side to side to help dislodge the connective tissue. Grab hold of all that you can, including the lungs which are at the back of the bird, and pull it all out of the hole you’ve made.”

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Obviously, that all sounds a little strange and ambiguous. But it is indeed what you do. Use your fingers to detach all the organs, making sure not to tear anything apart, and pull it all out. When you’re done, you should have a pile like the one picture below. Make sure to keep the heart (the yellow blob) for cooking purposes.

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When you’re done cleaning the inside and outside of the duck, reserve any organs you want to keep and place them, with the duck, in a bucket of ice. When you’re ready to cook the duck, roast it in a pan as you would any bird.

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*Tutorial for butchering birds: http://howlingduckranch.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/butchering-chickens/

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