Yes, I know. It’s spring and I’ve dared utter the “B” word, usually reserved only for autumn and winter. Well, spring it may be, but mother nature can still give us a brisk chill in the evenings this time of year and it was just that kind of night recently that led to this toe-wiggling-good dish. That…and I spotted some plump little duck legs at our local market. And, well, frankly, I just have NO will power where duck is concerned. Plus, being able to cook it all on the stove means you don’t need to fire up the oven (though this will work just as splendidly in the oven if you so choose). I served it with red quinoa and steamed broccolini, but next time I think I will try a sweet potato and finglerling potato mash paired with swiss chard or kale.
To quaff with this dish look for a medium body red wine, like a Pinot or Cote du Rhone, well-balanced with expressive fruit (duck and fruit adore each other) to play off the prune and port notes of the sauce. I poured Chalon Vinyards Pinot Noir with this and I have to tell you that the pairing actually made me give a little wiggle of delight – a really delicious compliment to the duck (and at under $20, especially pleasant).
The recipe I’ve given below is for two. If you’re serving more people, just multiply your ingredients accordingly, taking note that the final level of liquid to meat should remain consistent (covering 1/2 – 2/3 of the meat). So, pull out your nice heavy cast iron braising pot for this, pour yourself a glass of wine and let’s get cooking!
- 2 duck legs
- 1 medium onion, sliced in thin half rounds
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
- 1/2 tsp. herbs de Provence
- pinch of dried sage
- salt & pepper to taste
- chicken broth, 8 – 16 ounces
- ruby port, 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup prunes
- 2 teaspoons butter, unsalted
Rinse, pat dry and season on both sides the duck legs with salt and pepper. (If you’ve decided to do this in the oven, preheat to 325F)
In a Dutch oven (Le Creuset or similar), with a couple teaspoons oil brought to a shimmer on medium heat, brown the duck legs fat side first. Reduce the heat a bit and let the legs gently sizzle away until a fair bit of the fat has rendered off and the skin has taken on a nice deep golden brown. Turn them over and lightly brown the other side.
Remove the legs to a plate (fat side up) so they can ponder their fate while you sauté the aromatics. Pour off any excess fat (save it for sautéing anything…you will thank me later), leaving at least 2 tablespoons in the pot.
On a medium low flame, add your onions and sauté until they are nearly translucent, beginning to soften and some of the tips and edges start to brown. Add the garlic and herbs, give a stir and sauté just a minute more, taking care not to brown the garlic lest it get bitter. Then pour in some of the chicken broth, deglazing the bottom of your pot and stirring up any delicious brown bits that have collected on the bottom.
Re-introduce your duck legs to the pot, and reward them for their patience with a happy slosh of ruby port. You will want the liquid to come up 1/2 to 2/3 of the way on the meat, so adjust with remaining stock as you need to. Now drop your prunes around in the liquid, cover and set the heat to low so your little cauldron stays at a gentle but steady simmer (if you’re cooking in the oven, put it in at this point).
Check periodically and give a little stir to make sure nothing on the bottom is getting too dark and adjust your heat if necessary. Once the liquid has reduced by about half and starts to look more glossy (an hour to hour and a half), you’re nearly there. Now reduce it 5 – 10 minutes longer, until the liquid has some viscosity and a glaze-like consistency. You’re looking for the duck to feel firm to the touch and release easily from the bone.
Taste and adjust your seasoning as you like. Plate up the legs with your accompaniments.
At the last moment before serving, finish your sauce: stir in a nut of butter, incorporating it completely. One last check for taste. Spoon generously over those beautiful duck legs, divvying up the prunes and onions. A clink of glasses…Enjoy!
© Veronica Wirth and The Buttery Fig, 2011.