Hundreds of species of wild birds migrate every year to northern Scandinavia from Africa and southern Europe. Every year in March, you can watch migrating birds far overhead and wonder how they find their way, and how they get the strength to travel thousands of kilometers twice every year. Read more about Scandinavian wildfowl.
The fascination with this is beautifully described in Selma Lagerlöf’s famous story The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgerson, which recounts a boy’s journey with the wild goose to the very northern part of Norrland in Sweden.
Related: Related: The Taste of Scandinavian Chicken
Many species are shot and eaten, mostly ducks and geese, but some are protected and can be eaten only locally. These are numerous different ducks and geese, just marketed as wild duck, and if you want a specific duck you must know the hunter. Eider and coot are plentiful available. In the mountains and on the moors, there are grouse, black grouse and ptarmigans, and in the south mostly pheasants; the last, which were originally imported for hunting from Asia, are bred intensively to offer shooting possibilities for trigger-happy city dwellers. Partridges are becoming rare, and so are the delicious snipe.
Some sea birds, such as puffins, are hunted locally when the bird population permits, but are not sold commercially.
The common eider duck is a beautiful sight, the male having strikingly beautiful black and white plumage. As with all ducks, the female has mottled brown plumage so it can remain undetected on the nest.
Related: Scandinavian Goose and Duck
The eider is the source of luxurious eiderdown, collected in the wild after the ducklings have left the nest, it’s an exciting thing to find, and one nest is enough to stuff a pillow. The nests, filled with regurgitated dish and bird shit, look unappetizing but are in fact easy to clean. The tiny down feathers, which the female eider plucks from her breast and stick together even in the strongest gale, so you can bash the whole nest against the rocks, and every piece of dirt will blow away, leaving only unbelievably soft and warm down.
Buying and storing
With wildfowl you must be happy with what you can get. Young birds have bendable beaks and tender feet – a young duck’s webbed feet can easily be torn with your fingers, which is impossible with old bird’s leathery feet. It would take up far too much space here to give you advise on hanging, plucking and cleaning wildfowl. Your hunter friend or butcher can tell you how.
Wildfowl are generally lean birds and can be cooked like chicken, domesticated duck or goose, though the leaner flesh must be compensated for in terms of fat, and cooked in a sauce to prevent it from drying out. Many wild birds have a huge breast and almost no other meat, and this can be cut off and grilled or fried as you would a duck breast.
All wildfowl are prepared in much the same manner throughout Scandinavia. All dish- and molluse-eating birds need a 24-hour soak in buttermilk to take away any fishy taste; after this they can be prepared like other wildfowl. The fishy taste is in the bone and tissue and seldom in the meat itself. The older the bird is, the fishier it becomes. Wildfowl that do not eat fish will not need the soak.
When dealing with coots, there is not much meat apart from the breast, so you can simply cut off the breast meat and fry it like a steak, or braise it as you would other wildfowl, except for a shorter time as there is no bone.
Pheasants must be cut up as they are very lean, and the breast will need only a short time to cook, whereas the thighs will need a long time to be tender. The thighs have numerous thin, needle-like bones, so take care when eating them, or simply take them out with tweezers before serving.
Ducks do not need to be cut up, as the thighs and breasts both become tender in a very short while.
Scandinavian Wildfowl, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Ron Knight/Flickr