Friends, I am not lying when I say you MUST save this recipe. Bookmark it. Print it out and put it in your recipe box. Cook it tonight and memorize the recipe. It is the easiest, most delicious, restaurant-quality dish to impress your friends, your family, or just yourself. In all honesty, the hardest part is finding duck legs. So find some duck legs.
If you live in Brooklyn or can get to Williamsburg easily, I highly recommend checking out the Brooklyn Kitchen. I could, and probably will at some point, write an entire post about this place, but the important thing to know right now is that they also have a butcher counter (called the Meat Hook). They sell amazing meaty treats like duck, pork chops, rack of lamb, bratwurst (not yet Wisconsonite-tested) and, I never thought I’d say it appreciatively, chicken livers. I did initially try to buy short ribs and find that they were short on stock (buh-dum-ching), but it all worked out in my favor when I impulsively asked, “how ’bout those duck legs?”
(another side note: they do take special orders, something that may hopefully solve my how-to-find-smoked-pork-butt dilemma!)
So I bought these duck legs, along with some chicken livers for Dan and a ham hock to make soup (upcoming post!), with no particular recipe in mind. Luckily, the talented Mr. Mark Bittman had just the recipe I needed. Far less complicated than duck confit and, dare I say, just as good? I honestly don’t think I will ever bother with duck confit now that I have this recipe, and I bet you won’t either.
To round out the meal, we made a pot of whole wheat couscous and picked up a bottle of wine from our local Frenchmen-run wine shop. If you don’t have a good place you can walk into and just say “something that pairs well with duck,” try poking around online (or in a book!) for something that is a bit tart or acidic to cut the fattiness of the duck. I believe we had a merlot, and it was excellent. Couscous pairs really well with this dish, too, because it is a good blank canvas for all of the fatty ducky goodness that will pool around the veggies in the bottom of the pot. It is also really, really easy to make.
Please do note that this recipe is easy, but not particularly quick. It will take about 30-45 minutes to prep and cook before you put it in the oven, but then all you need to do is set a timer, reduce the heat, set another timer, and eat. All told, I would budget about 2 hours for the whole dish.
Crispy-Skin ‘Braised’ Duck Legs, serves 4*
Courtesy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
(*Note: This recipe can easily be adjusted for more or fewer people, so long as the duck legs can all fit comfortably in your skillet or dutch oven)
4 duck legs with skin
8 ounces carrots (or more!), peeled and chopped
3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chicken stock (or bullion + water)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On the stove, heat a cast iron* skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Place the legs in the pan skin side down and cook slowly until deep golden brown and crispy. You will want to move them around the pan and rotate them, but do not flip them until they are completely browned. This will take about 10-15 minutes and will render out a lot of fat.
Once they are browned, flip them over and sear them for 1-2 minutes, then remove from pan and let rest on a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Don’t worry that they are not completely cooked, they will be baking a good while)
Scoop out excess fat that will have accumulated in the bottom of the pan, leaving just enough to keep the vegetables from sticking. Increase temperature to medium-high and brown the vegetables, stirring occasionally.
Return the duck legs to the pan, skin side up, resting them on the bed of vegetables. Make sure they are not touching, as this will make the skin soggy. Pour in stock or broth until it reaches about half way up the duck. You want as much liquid as possible without touching the nice crispy skin.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking another 30 minutes. Once done, the dish can be held at 200 degrees for about an hour (or, you’re using a dutch oven, this is a good time to pop on the lid and let the whole thing sit until you’re ready for it).
Serve with couscous, crusty baguette, or any other sauce-soakin’ starch of your choice.
*It is extremely important that you use cast iron or another material that is safe both on the stove top and in the oven. Do not try putting your regular old frying pan in the oven. Really. Don’t.