The Lemonade Cookbook and Chinese-style braised duck legs

Whole duck legs are braised with orange, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and garlic in this dish adapted from 'The Lemonade Cookbook' by Alan Jackson.

Blue Kitchen
Sesame oil, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and orange all work together to imbue duck legs with Asian flavor without absolutely taking over.

We occasionally get offers to review cookbooks. Often, we say yes. But sometimes, the cookbooks can be a little too, well, niche for our tastes. Did you know there are multiple jello shot cookbooks?

So when we were asked to review "The Lemonade Cookbook," you can imagine our first response. Turns out, though, that lemonade isn’t the key ingredient in the book’s recipes. It’s the name of a popular chain of modern cafeterias in Southern California with an emphasis on simple preparations, bold flavors and imaginative dishes with an inventive global taste. This sounded like a cookbook we needed to see.

After years of working in fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles, Alan Jackson, chef/owner of Lemonade, saw the need for quick, affordable food that didn’t come at the expense of taste or imagination. He opened the first Lemonade location in 2007, offering a daily rotating spread of fresh, chef-driven, healthy fare. Twelve more locations have opened since.

Published this fall by St. Martin’s Press, "The Lemonade Cookbook: Southern California Comfort Food from L.A.’s Favorite Modern Cafeteria" beautifully translates Jackson’s cooking approach for the home kitchen. A full 39 of the 120 recipes are devoted to “marketplace vegetables” – on their own, with legumes and grains and with proteins such as ahi tuna and chicken. Land and sea, braises, sandwiches (including seven pot roast sandwiches), soups and stuff, sweets and, yes, lemonades (10 of them) make up the rest of the list. Lively writing by Jackson and coauthor JoAnn Cianciulli as well as gorgeous photography by Victoria Pearson bring it all deliciously to life.

I’m always happy to cook duck. This recipe makes the most of its meaty, rich flavor. Jackson accurately calls it “Chinese-style” – it uses a number of Chinese ingredients and Chinese cooking techniques without attempting to replicate a specific dish. The sesame oil, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and orange all work together to imbue the duck with Asian flavor without absolutely taking over. That’s another thing that made this recipe especially “Chinese-style” to me. The effect is subtle, as with Chinese braised, steamed or tea-smoked dishes. And while I love big, tangy, spicy Chinese dishes, it’s quiet ones like this that often wow me.

One more thing about the subtleness. All you serve of this dish are the duck legs; the beautiful aromatics in the photo above get discarded. For a spot of color, serve some orange slices alongside. And if you’re cooking for someone else, maybe have them admire the pan before you serve.

Chinese-style braised duck
Serves 2

2 whole duck legs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 large, seedless navel orange, cut into large chunks (skin and all)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1-inch piece fresh ginger, halved lengthwise and smashed

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 4-inch sections, bulb smashed

5 to 6 sprigs cilantro

1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1-1/2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Additional orange slices (optional)

1. Season duck legs generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high flame. Brown duck legs skin side down for about 10 minutes. Turn and brown other side for about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate. If there’s a lot of duck fat in your pan, pour most of it off (mine had virtually none – leave it to me to find a dieting duck).

2. Add orange, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro, and peppercorns to pan. Pour in sesame oil and broth and stir to combine, scraping up any browned bits. Return duck legs and any accumulated juices to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pan and braise duck legs until tender, about 1 hour.

3. Plate duck, along with additional orange slices, if desired, and serve. Discard braising liquid and solids.

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