Duck is one of my favorite meats. Darker than chicken and slightly more “gamey” duck has incredible flavor and versatility. I like to slow-braise the legs and serve them with the breast seared medium rare along with some roasted potatoes & braised greens.
Ingredients (serves 4):
-4 Muscovy or Liberty duck legs
-2 Muscovy or Liberty duck breasts
-Extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and pepper
-1 bay leaf
-1 medium white or Spring onion, diced
-1 bottle dry white wine
-1 tablespoon or tomato paste
-1 tablespoon of fresh thyme or oregano
-2 pieces of orange peel
-Juice from one lemon
-2 bunches of dandelion or other favorite braising greens
Lay the legs onto a cutting board and carefully cut off any excess fat. Reserve the fat for rendering or discard. Salt the legs on both sides. Let sit for 30 minutes to come to room temperature. In a Dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. When almost smoking insert the duck legs, skin side down. Sear without moving until deep, dark golden brown (2-3 minutes). Remove to a plate to rest. Pour off any excess fat from the Dutch oven. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, lower the heat to medium and add the onion and bay leaf. Salt the onion so that it begins to break down. Be sure to sweat the onion. If it starts to brown add more olive oil and turn down the heat to low.
Add the tomato paste and allow to cook for 1 minute. Stir through the onions. Add the thyme and orange peel. Stir through. Turn the heat back to medium high and insert the ducks legs, skin side up. Pour in the wine. Add enough to almost cover the top of the legs. Bring to a boil and allow the alcohol to burn off (5 minutes or so). Lower the heat to a simmer and put the top on the Dutch oven. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. When the duck legs are done, turn off the heat and set aside. Turn your oven on to 375 (we will finish the legs in the oven and slightly brown them before serving).
Take the duck breasts (be sure to take them out of the fridge half an hour prior so they come to room temperature) and salt them on both sides. Take a sharp knife and “score” the skin side of the breasts. Make a small incision all the way down the breast in a nice row. Repeat the other way so that you have a cris-cross along all the skin. This will allow the breast to remain flat while we sear it and will help render out all the fat.
Now place your duck legs into the oven with the lid off. This will allow them to be re-heated and also brown the skin a bit. Leave them in for 20-30 minutes.
Place a cast iron pan or carbon steel pan (if you don’t have cast iron use a non-stick stainless steel pan, coated with a thin layer of oil) onto the stove. Put the breasts in skin-side down and then turn on the heat to high. This will more effectively render out the fat and brown the skin versus placing into an already smoking hot pan. Saute over high heat until much of the fat has rendered off (4-6 minutes). Occasionally check with tongs to ensure you do not burn the skin. It should turn a nice dark golden brown. Flip and cook through on the other side (3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the breasts). If you are concerned about over cooking the breasts use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. The inside should read about 120-125 for medium rare. Once it’s at that temperature remove from the pan and let rest on a cutting board as it will continue cooking. It’s important that the breasts rest for at least 10 minutes as they have just undergone high stress cooking over very high heat and we want them to be tender and juicy.
While the breasts are resting get another saute pan (or wok if you have one) going over high heat. Add a bit of olive oil and add your braising greens. Cook over high heat until cooked through. If things get too hot/smokey pour a bit of water into the pan. The dandelion greens cook very quickly but if you are doing something like collard greens you may wish to add more water and cover them to cook completely through. Add salt and the juice from one lemon at the very end.
Carefully slice the breasts across the grain into pieces and arrange onto plates. Place one leg on each plate and spoon over the juices and sauce from the Dutch oven with the greens. Spoon over more sauce to your liking and serve immediately.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com