Spice up your holiday meals with grilled wild duck poppers

Utah hunters rarely serve their own turkeys at Thanksgiving: State regulations limit hunting season for gobblers to the spring for habitat conservation and biological reasons. So, unless I’ve carefully packed and frozen a big bird from the preceding May, we’re having other game meat featured at the big feast—such as mule deer, goose or our favorite family treat, wild duck. My kids still reminisce fondly about the year that we made a “Duckoosealope” from wild goose and duck stuffed with homemade sage and garlic antelope sausage. Think Turducken, Utah outdoors-style. Regardless of what we’ve been lucky enough to bring in from the field, our goal is always the same: use every bit of meat possible from each hunt, maximizing flavor while minimizing food waste.
One of our favorite ways to use smaller pieces of trim from butchering is to make “popper” style stuffed jalapeño appetizers. They’re a quick and easy snack to make in the field after a day of hunting using any type of game. Just plan ahead by packing the dipping sauce in a separate container before leaving home, prep all the other ingredients in camp while the fire gets going, and cook the poppers over medium flames on a grill rack. They’re equally delicious when made at home using a gas grill or by roasting the poppers on a sheet tray in a 375-degree oven (a great option when the weather isn’t cooperating). Instead of losing all that cheesy goodness to the inevitable oozing while the popper’s cooking, I make a savory dipping sauce and keep the grilled bites relatively minimalist.
Don’t have dates on hand? No problem. Although they give a nice sweet note to balance out the heat of the jalapeño with the rich duck and salty bacon, these nuggets are just as tasty sans fruit.

Savory herb & cheese dipping sauce

(makes about 2/3 cup)
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor (or, by hand, mince the garlic and chives, shred the cheddar, and combine ingredients in a serving bowl):
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small chunks
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
4 ounces cream cheese (softened at room temperature)
1 small bunch chives, cut in 1-inch pieces (to fit in processor)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Process using on/off pulses until all ingredients are combined and garlic is evenly distributed.
Remove from processor into a lidded serving container and refrigerate or keep in a cooler until ready to serve.

Wild duck poppers

(serves 6-8 appetizer portions)
8 jalapeños sliced lengthwise (seeds and ribs removed)
8 large dates, pits removed and halved lengthwise
16 small strips (about 1 ½-2 inches long by at least ½-inch wide and ½–inch thick) wild duck trim (thighs and legs are especially great for this!), or substitute in goose, venison, elk or whatever you have on hand
8 strips thick uncured bacon, cut in half cross-wise
To assemble the poppers: to the inside of each jalapeño half add a strip of duck and a wedge of date. Stretch the bacon slightly between your fingers to make it fit completely around the jalapeño evenly. Secure closed with a toothpick.
Grill over indirect heat (or bake on a sheet tray in a preheated 375 degree oven) for about 15 minutes or until all the bacon is crispy; turn as needed to brown evenly on all sides. Test duck with a meat thermometer to make sure that it has reached a temperature of 165 degrees.
Serve immediately with dipping sauce.