Brian Deloney isn’t a duck hunter himself, but he is a popular man among those who hunt.
The man can cook.
Deloney, proprietor and top chef at his Little Rock restaurant Maddie’s Place, has become something of a “duck chef to the stars” for the batches of gumbo he prepares for local hunters to enter in the World’s Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff each November in Stuttgart.
It’s a simple agreement. The hunters bring Deloney the ducks; he makes the gumbo.
“I have tons of friends who hunt so I’m never short on duck or deer,” Deloney said during a quiet, weekday moment at his restaurant before the bustle of the noon rush.
Deloney has been running Maddie’s Place for seven years and has been making gumbo for the cook-off, part of the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest and Wings Over the Prairie Festival, for around five years.
Each team is required to cook 3 quarts of gumbo and 50 percent of the meat must be duck. Teams begin to cook at 10 a.m., with judging at midafternoon.
Deloney’s team’s entry placed 10th last year, its best showing so far.
“I pack it up, they take it down and everything,” Deloney said of his hunter teammates Larry Allman and Matt Cofield. “They did say if we won they’d give me all the credit.”
Deloney didn’t grow up hunting — though he has taken up deer hunting and skeet and target shooting since — but from a young age he liked to cook, especially on evenings when his mom was away at Junior League meetings.
“My dad was not a very good cook and I started dabbling in the kitchen for me and my brother,” Deloney said.
Deloney spent time in Fayetteville, working in a pizza place among other jobs, and his parents agreed to send him to the Culinary Institute of New York. After an internship in Connecticut he returned to Arkansas to work at Cafe Prego and the Afterthought.
He met his wife Angela, a UALR graduate, and they moved for a time to Austin, Texas, where he worked at a Caribbean seafood joint, before a life-changing move to New Orleans.
“Shoot yeah, that was the best time,” Deloney said of New Orleans. “We loved it.”
Not only is New Orleans considered one of the best food cities in the nation, with famed pastries, seafood, steakhouses and Cajun cooking among its many offerings, it allowed Deloney a chance to work with one of the country’s premier chefs — Emeril Lagasse — at one of his establishments in the French Quarter.
“We played and played and played on Emeril’s dime,” Deloney said of the experience that allowed him to introduce real variety to his cooking.
“Most of the time it worked,” Deloney said of the dishes he concocted. “We could buy anything we wanted so we did.”
Deloney transferred to Delmonico’s Steakhouse in Las Vegas, then Angela became pregnant with twins and the couple moved home to be near family. Deloney was executive sous chef at the Capital Hotel before opening Maddie’s Place, where his New Orleans influences show in the restaurant’s family friendly environment and southern cuisine.
“This place just kind of fell into my lap,” Deloney said of Maddie’s, which thrives on a loyal clientele and good word of mouth at its location among other established eateries in the Rebsamen area of Little Rock.
Though he can’t bring wild game into the restaurant because it doesn’t undergo FDA inspections, Deloney enjoys cooking it. It takes three days to make a pot of gumbo for the cookoff. Deloney includes duck stock, roast bones and duck breast, adding vegetables and light chicken stock to “mellow it out.”
“Duck has a strong flavor that really comes through,” he said.
The duck breasts are braised for hours and diced up, then combined with andouille sausage, trinity vegetables, tomatoes and spices and then it’s all allowed to simmer.
The secret ingredient, the key to it all, Deloney said, is the roux, which takes a half-day to prepare and combines three ingredients, not the least of which is “good cheap beer.”
Deloney prefers his hunters bring him whole ducks rather than breasts they’ve had processed because the parts and pieces add to the flavor of the gumbo. He estimated 40-50 ducks equals 6-8 gallons of gumbo.
Though many wild game dishes are one pot concoctions to break down the toughness of the meat, Deloney doesn’t stop at gumbo. He has thrown pig roasts and been known to serve friends seared duck breast medium rare.
And Deloney swears french fries cooked in duck fat are “probably one of the best things in the world.”
He really only cooks game for his hunter friends, Deloney said, but he’ll stack his work up against anyone, which, technically, he does each November in Stuttgart.
“As long as you bring me the ducks I can make anything,” Deloney said.
Try this sampling of duck reciepes from some of Arkansas’ waterfowl hunters:
Barbecue Duck Enchiladas — submitted by John Gordon
- 4-6 mallard breasts, meat filleted off the bone (you will have 8 to 12 halves)
- 1 10 oz jar green enchilada sauce
- 1 24 oz bag shredded Mexican style cheese
- 20 corn tortillas
- 6 oz canola oil
- 1 18 oz bottle of your favorite barbeque sauce
- 1 8 oz can of beef broth
- 3 bay leaves
- Slow cooker
- Small omelette pan
- Pair of tongs
- 13 ½ x 8 ½ x 2 baking dish
- Cook duck in the crock pot eight hours with bay leaves and beef broth. Remove and pull it apart.
- Drain the cooker and place the duck back in cooker and stir in the barbecue sauce.
- Heat the oil in omelette pan on medium until it is hot.
- Using tongs, place a tortilla in the oil and cook on each side for a few seconds, then place it on a paper towel to drain. Continue until all the tortillas are cooked.
- Pour a thin layer of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.
- Place a tortilla near the edge of the dish.
- Add a small amount of duck on the tortilla, add cheese on top of the meat then roll it up tightly to form an enchilada.
- Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you have two lines of tortillas in the dish.
- Pour the remaining sauce over the tortillas.
- Scatter the remaining duck meat over the tortillas.
- Top with a heavy layer of cheese.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is thoroughly melted.
- Serve alone or with Spanish rice or refried beans.
Greenbriar Duck Kabobs by Cheryl Hearnsberger — submitted by Doug Weeks
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 white onion chopped
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup Tamari soy sauce — do not substitute — available at Whole Foods
- 1 TBSP flour
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 TBSP sesame seeds-toasted
- 10 duck breasts cut in 1 inch cubes
- 12 wooden skewers soaked in water
- 8 oz. can pineapple chunks-drained
- Toast sesame seeds in dry pan and put aside, removing seeds from pan after toasting. In a food processor, combine first six ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour marinade into a glass casserole dish or large plastic zip type bag. Stir in sesame seeds. Reserve 1/2 cup of marinade. Stir to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for six hours overnight. Soak skewers in water for 30 minutes. Drain.
- On each skewer, alternate several duck pieces with 1 or 2 pineapple chunks. Grill kabobs until medium rare. Do not overcook!!
- GRILL for 15-20 minutes, turning kabobs constantly while brushing several times with reserved marinade, being careful of flare-ups. Some charring on the kabobs is ok.
- Serve on a lettuce lined platter, taking kabobs off the skewers. Serve with toothpicks.
- Be careful serving this dish. Your guest will accuse you of serving beef tenderloin kabobs. They won’t believe it’s duck!
Grilled Duck Poppers — submitted by Alan Perkins
- Duck breast filets from four Arkansas rice-fed mallards (or substitute other when necessary)
- 1 pound of bacon
- 1 brick of cream cheese, refrigerated to be firm for slicing
- 1 bottle of zesty Italian dressing, favorite vinaigrette, or make your own marinade
- 1 jar of jalapeno pepper slices, or fresh sliced or julienned jalapeno
- 1 box of toothpicks
- Clean the duck breast filets, remove any shot and rinse thoroughly with cold water to remove as much blood as possible.
- Place breast in a plastic storage bag or container and marinate for at least three hours — preferably overnight. There are many good marinades. I like to create my own with lemon juice, vinegar, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil and seasonings when I have time. But you can use zesty Italian dressing or balsamic vinaigrette as a quick alternative.
- Marinate the duck breasts in the refrigerator for three hours or more, up to a day.
- Fire up your grill and get it hot.
- Remove the duck breasts from the marinade, and butterfly them so there is a cavity in the middle. If cooking entrees, you can leave the filets whole, or cut into smaller chunks for appetizers.
- Stuff cream cheese and jalapeno peppers (more or less jalapeno, depending on preference for heat; can substitute salad peppers for a milder result).
- Close the duck breast filets over the cream cheese and peppers, wrap with bacon to seal the opening and secure with toothpicks.
- Once the grill is hot, grill breasts approximately four minutes a side, depending on the heat of your grill and the thickness of your breast chunks (rare to medium rare is best). Do not overcook.
- Remove from grill and eat while hot.
- If you don’t like that, you don’t like nothing. … Almost anything tastes good when grilled with a bacon wrap, but the cream cheese and jalapenos are what make these pop.