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Braised Duck Legs Recipe

This recipe is duck on duck on duck, marrying slow-braised duck legs with duck fat-enriched Savoy cabbage and some crispy duck cracklings.
November 23, 2015, 4:58pm
Braised Duck Legs Recipe
Photo by Wes Rowe.

Servings: 2
Prep time: 2 hours
Total time: 1 day

Ingredients

For the duck:
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 allspice berries
2 juniper berries
2 duck legs
kosher salt
duck fat, lard, or rice bran oil
1 yellow onion, or 2 large shallots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 ⅓ cups|315 ml red wine
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled and lightly smashed
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
6 prunes with pits (hard to find but totally worth the effort)
2 cups|473 ml brown stock (optional)
1 small Savoy cabbage (about 1 ½ pounds|680 grams)
2 garlic cloves, cloves peeled
¼ cup Duck Cracklings (recipes follows)
polenta (optional)

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for the Duck Cracklings
duck skin trimmings and fat

Directions

Moore describes duck as one of the most "giving" animals to cook. "When you butcher most animals, the bones and fat and everything else make just enough sauce for that one animal. But the duck makes extra sauce! It has extra fat, good fat, that you can use to make other things."

  1. Heat the oven to 400ºF. Meanwhile, grind the pepper, allspice, and juniper in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Season the duck legs with salt and the spice mixture. This is best done the day before you cook them, but it will work fine if done 2 hours ahead.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over high. Swirl in about ¼ cup|60 ml of the duck fat, then add the onion and celery. Cook the vegetables until they're brown, then spread them out in a baking dish. Pour the wine into the empty pan over low heat to deglaze. With a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits from the pan.
  3. Add smashed garlic, bay, and thyme to the baking dish with the cooked vegetables. Arrange the duck legs skin side down on top of the vegetables. Pour in the wine from the pan and enough water to come two-thirds of the way up the legs. Cover tightly with foil and bake.
  4. After 30 minutes, peek under the foil to see if the liquid has begun to simmer. If it has, reduce the oven temperature to about 300ºF to keep it at the barest simmer. Flip the legs over to expose the skin, then tuck the prunes around the duck legs. If much of the skin is still under liquid, pour a little of it off (and save it for later—you'll add it back into the sauce). If the liquid isn't simmering, keep the oven at 400ºF until it does, then lower the temperature, flip the legs over, and continue as above.
  5. Now the plan is to let the skin gently brown while the legs gently cook in the gently simmering liquid. If the liquid is too hot, the legs will dry out—hence the three times "gently." If everything goes perfectly, the skin will be brown when the meat is done. Check for doneness by poking a skewer next to the bone in the thickest part of the leg; the skewer will slide out rather easily when the meat is cooked, but you don't want the meat falling off the bone. If the skin is getting too brown before the legs are done, loosely cover with foil. This whole browning and cooking process should take about 40 minutes after the legs are flipped.
  6. When the ducks legs are done, let them cool in their braising liquid. (Slow-cooked duck legs can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated in the cooking liquid overnight.) Once cool, take the legs and prunes out of the dish, then strain the liquid into a pot. Let it settle for 5 minutes then skim off as much fat as you can. If you made brown stock, this is when to add it to the braising liquid for a richer, meatier sauce. Over high heat, bring the braising juices to a boil and reduce by one third. At this point, taste for salt and continue reducing to about half, but stop reducing if it gets too salty.
  7. Reheat the duck legs in the oven skin side up with the braising juices and prunes for a few minutes.
  8. While the duck legs reheat, cook the cabbage. Start by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Quarter the cabbage through the stem. Cut out and discard the core. Slice each quarter into rough 1-inch pieces. Boil the cabbage for a couple of minutes, until it turns bright green and tastes sweet and no longer raw but still has a little crunch to it. Drain and spread it out on a plate to cool. Melt about 3 tablespoons of duck fat in a pan set over medium. Thinly slice the 2 garlic cloves, add them to the fat, and let them sizzle for a minute or so without browning. Pour the garlic duck-fat mixture over the cooked cabbage and toss well.
  9. To serve, arrange a duck leg, Savoy cabbage, and prunes over polenta on a plate. Ladle some of the braising juices over the duck, then sprinkle the cracklings on top of everything.
  10. For the duck cracklings: This is the best and most satisfying way of using the skin trimmings and fat from your duck butchering project. You'll get about ½ cup of cracklings and 1 ⅓ cup of duck fat from one 5-pound duck. Cut the skin and fat into roughly ¾-inch squarish pieces.
  11. Place them and all the fat in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2 inches of water. Cook over medium, stirring and scraping the sides occasionally, until the fat bubbles. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking for about 2 hours. While the fat cooks, it will look cloudy at first, but then it will turn clear, which means all the water has cooked out. The key at this point is to not let the skin pieces stick to the bottom of the pan. If they do, they'll brown and then the beautiful, clear fat will brown as well. (It's not the end of the world if this happens, but the fat will take on a decidedly brown flavor.) Eventually, the skin pieces will get crispy and turn golden brown. When they do, lift them out of the fat with a slotted spoon and place them on a rack to cool. Strain the fat into a heatproof container (hot fat is hot enough to melt plastic). Let it cool and store it, covered, in the refrigerator. Duck fat will keep for weeks. To make the cracklings, take the pieces of golden brown skin and crisp them on the rack in a 325ºF oven for a few minutes. Once they are totally crispy, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Toss with salt and serve as a snack or atop any duck dish or sprinkled in a chicory salad. Duck cracklings will keep, covered, in the fridge for a week or so.
  12. Place them and all the fat in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2 inches of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the sides occasionally, until the fat bubbles. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking for about 2 hours. While the fat cooks, it will look cloudy at first, but then it will turn clear, which means all the water has cooked out. The key at this point is to not let the skin pieces stick to the bottom of the pan. If they do, they'll brown and then the beautiful, clear fat will brown as well. (It's not the end of the world if this happens, but the fat will take on a decidedly brown flavor.)
  13. Eventually, the skin pieces will get crispy and turn golden brown. When they do, lift them out of the fat with a slotted spoon and place them on a rack to cool. Strain the fat into a heatproof container (hot fat is hot enough to melt plastic). Let it cool and store it, covered, in the refrigerator. Duck fat will keep for weeks.
  14. To make the cracklings, take the pieces of golden brown skin and crisp them on the rack in a 325ºF oven for a few minutes. Once they are totally crispy, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Toss with salt and serve as a snack or atop any duck dish or sprinkled in a chicory salad. Duck cracklings will keep, covered, in the fridge for a week or so.

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