Two things led to this week’s recipe. First, fall is officially here. That makes me officially very happy; it’s my favorite season of the year for many reasons, none of them having to do with football or season premieres.
One place I enjoy fall the most is in the kitchen. Braising and roasting various meats (usually surrounded with various aromatics, vegetables and herbs) or making stews and soups are some of my favorite ways to cook. And they produce some of my favorite things to eat. Which brings me to the second thing.
One of my absolute favorite things to eat is duck. If we’re in a restaurant (particularly if it’s French) and duck is on the menu, I know what I’m having. The only thing that has a fighting chance in this situation is lamb, but duck usually wins.
We were in a restaurant Friday night, Wasabi in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Obviously not French, but in addition to the amazing bowls of authentic Japanese ramen made with pork broth cooked for days that had brought us there, they had small plates of grilled duck skewers.
Tasting the delectable bites of duck – salty, crispy and wonderfully juicy – and feeling the chill in the air as we left the restaurant, an idea of something I wanted to make and eat began to form. Duck legs, more interesting and flavorful even than duck breasts, roasted or maybe braised, surrounded with vegetables and seasoned with herbs that took them in a French direction.
As I started looking around for inspiration, the ever reliable Mark Bittman came through with a technique for cooking duck that he calls crisp braising. To me, it’s a hybrid of braising and roasting. Unlike straight roasting, the meat is partially submerged in a braising liquid to keep things moist – I used broth, wine and water. And unlike straight braising, you cook the dish uncovered, allowing the non-submerged duck skin to crisp up.
This is an easy recipe that comes together in a little more than an hour – an hour and a half at the most. The toughest part may be finding duck legs. Here in Chicago, the Paulina Meat Market reliably carries them, frozen. You can thaw them in a bowl of running water in 15 minutes or so.
The resulting dish not only combines two of my favorite cooking methods, it’s a mix of one-pan rustic and “I’m eating duck cooked with leeks, thyme and wine” elegant. Perfect for my favorite season.
Braised/Roasted Duck Legs with Vegetables
2 duck legs, a little more than 1 lb. total
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick diagonal pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each (I used Yukon Gold)
2 leeks, white and pale green part only, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pat duck legs dry with paper towel and trim away excess fat, reserving fat. Season duck legs on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them skin side down in a large, ovenproof, dry, unheated skillet and place over a medium flame. Add reserved duck fat to the skillet to render it. Cook duck legs on the skin side 6 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn legs and brown them on the other side for 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Remove any unrendered fat pieces from the skillet. If you have more than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan (basically enough to coat the pan), spoon the excess off. Save it, though – you may still need it. Add the carrots and potatoes to the pan, toss to coat with duck fat and season with salt and pepper. Sautée vegetables for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Stir in the leeks (you can substitute onions, if you like) and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add garlic and thyme to the pan and cook just until fragrant, 45 seconds or so, stirring. (Here’s where you may need to add a little extra fat to the pan. My duck wasn’t particularly fatty, so I actually had to drizzle some canola oil in the pan to not scorch the garlic.)
Return duck legs to pan, skin side up. Add bay leaf, broth and wine. Liquids should only come about halfway up the side of the duck legs; use less if necessary. increase heat and bring to a boil. Transfer pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Check liquids at this point. My wine and broth and mostly cooked away, so I added some water (not enough to come up to the original levels, but enough to keep vegetables moist).
Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and cook duck for another 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately, spooning vegetable mix onto individual plates and topping with duck leg.
Related post: Chinese Duck Pasta with Mushrooms