If you don’t know how to cook your goose without cooking your goose, these classes will help.

My husband is a hunter. At various times of the year, the frozen block of bird bodies irreverently stashed at the bottom of our freezer under the bags of blueberries or Trader Joe’s frozen Indian dinners, may turn out to be a whole wild duck, a dark goose breast, a couple of tiny doves or a large lean turkey.

We have had varying successes over the years cooking and eating this harvest, so it was with some relief and a little skepticism (I am not a fan of sea duck) that we read an announcement for wild game cooking classes to be held at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. It seemed like a fun and indulgent way to spend a Saturday morning, and a little perverse given that the rest of the East Coast that recent Saturday was experiencing “a storm of historic proportions.”

But, the college is nearby; the price was right ($40 for a three-hour demonstration and tasting); and the whimsical class title – “Duck, Duck, Goose!” – hinted that the class might be humorous and light, qualities sometimes lacking in today’s food world, where chefs are celebrities and farmers are rock stars. (I am one who thinks they are, by the way).

A FORTUITOUS MEETING

The series of four classes (the remaining two are scheduled for later this month and in March) came about through an unusual partnership between the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Culinary Arts Department of Southern Maine Community College.

The partnership had its genesis at a Harvest on the Harbor event in Portland two years ago. Bonnie Holden, director of information and education for Maine’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, happened to be staffing a table next to Geoffrey Boardman, who chairs the college’s culinary arts department. The two got to talking.

Holden was fresh from a conference for state wildlife agencies, where the buzz was all about the locavore movement. Some states, she’d learned, were partnering with local cooking schools. Then came her fortuitous meeting with Boardman and, bingo!

Foodies Gone Wild – as the series is called – was born.

Unlike most cooking classes, these have a threefold purpose: to raise the public’s awareness of the state’s wild game; to help them understand the need to conserve wild game populations; and to encourage Mainers to cook wild game – that last in line with the hunters’ code of ethics to eat what you kill.

But if you’re not a hunter or perhaps a friend of one, chances are you’ve never tasted wild game. You can buy farm-raised duck, goose or venison, say, at the store, but it’s against the law to buy truly wild game in this country. There is talk of that changing — some restaurants would love to serve wild game, which according to the USDA, has more nutritional value than farm-raised species. But for now you’ll have to trust me that the taste of some wild waterfowl is an acquired one. Oh, and it does not taste like chicken.

Kate Kemper, 13, of Unity, leans to smell the freshly made romesco sauce to go with the venison polpettina. Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal

Kate Kemper, 13, of Unity, leans to smell the freshly made romesco sauce to go with the venison polpettina. Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal

EXOTIC AROMAS

Each of the four cooking classes combines a cooking demonstration with a talk by an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist and a tasting.

In the vast stainless steel teaching kitchen, Boardman – a friendly Brit and a bit of a wag – commandeered the gas grill, a counter-top conduction burner, a gas stovetop, and two ovens simultaneously with an efficiency of movement that chefs develop. Our audience of about 30 – mostly hunters, hunters’ wives and a couple of chefs – sat rapt as he pulled together Duck a l’Orange, smoked goose breasts and whole roasted geese. Gradually, the room filled with exotic aromas.

Boardman kept us entertained with a steady stream of quips and tips. He told us he eschews kitchen gadgets and fancy ingredients. Frozen orange juice concentrate is just as good as an expensive imported Valencia orange for the duck, he said, while a generic cooking port is an acceptable substitute for a fine drinking port. To cool down the cranberry compote he made, he opened a window, placed the pot on the windowsill and called it his “blast chiller.” (Boardman also made a traditional Cumberland sauce, explaining that strong, fruity sauces complement – mask, if you ask me – the flavor of wild waterfowl.)

As he wrapped the ducks (buffleheads, donated by hunters in Biddeford Pool) in bacon, he elucidated some differences between cooking wild and domestic fowl (see sidebar). But in the end, he said, “A bird is a bird.”

Chris Phillippe checks on the venison polpettina. Michael Seamans/Kennebec Journal

Chris Phillippe checks on the venison polpettina. Michael Seamans/Kennebec Journal

ABOUT THOSE BIRDS

While Boardman continued to prepare lunch, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Kelsey Sullivan addressed the class. Serious and methodical, Sullivan explained the agency’s responsibility to educate and license hunters, and to enforce hunting laws. He explained the state’s bird banding program – the bands’ seemingly hieroglyphic-like markings contain information that can help estimate the numbers of birds killed in a season, the number that survive, the health of the flock, and even migratory patterns.

He spoke with respect and wonder about waterfowl and their place in the ecosystem. And he outlined the symbiotic relationship between hunting and conservation: hunters pay fees to the licensing agencies (like Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) so these agencies can ensure the health and sustainability of wild game populations. “Hunters,” Holden said, “are our original locavores.”

By then it was almost noon – time for lunch. We formed a line and helped ourselves, piling our paper plates high with slices of goose, chunks of duck, sage and onion stuffing, fruity sauces and vegetables. Sadly, I cannot report that everything was delicious. The class was fun and fascinating yet I am still not a fan of wild waterfowl. But I’m working on it.

CUMBERLAND SAUCE

Cumberland Sauce is a very old recipe for a sauce that is traditionally served with wild game. In the wild game class at Southern Maine Community College, chef Geoffrey Boardman explained that strong, fruity sauces complement the flavor of wild waterfowl.

Yield: 1 quart

2 oranges

2 lemons

2½ tablespoons minced shallots

2½ cups currant jelly

1 tablespoon dry mustard

1½ cups ruby port wine

1 teaspoon salt

Small pinch cayenne pepper

Small pinch ground ginger

Remove the rind from the oranges and lemons and cut into julienne. Juice the oranges and lemons.

Boil a pot of water. Add the shallots and julienned rind to the boiling water. Allow the water to return to a boil and strain immediately.

Combine the blanched rinds and shallots in a pot with the citrus juices and remaining ingredients. Simmer the mixture for 5-10 minutes until syrupy.

Keep the sauce refrigerated until you are ready to use it. The sauce is served chilled.

Before her recent move to Maine, Rosie DeQuattro was a regular contributor to edibleBOSTON magazine. Contact her at:

[email protected]