Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes

We wanted to celebrate with a Christmas feast with some of the husband's family; however, I also wanted something relatively easy and mostly in one pot.  So, last week the French, via the Zuni Cafe, came to the rescue.

This recipe looks like it takes a while (and technically it does because you have to let it braise for a few hours), but the prep work is minimal and the clean up easy.  The hardest part about the whole recipe may have been slicing the onion.

I have never been much of a duck consumer; however, this blog has pushed me to make duck three times in the past two years, and each time, I have been delighted by the results. Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner of the Zuni and writer of the cookbook from which this recipe originates, suggests that one should use Muscovy duck legs.  Admittedly, I have no idea whatsoever which ducks sacrificed their legs to the cause, for all I did was approach the butcher and ask for four legs.  Either he was flirting with me or he has a good memory (or a third, less narcissistic option, he mistook me for someone else), for he remembered my previous duck part purchases. (Hey, let's go with flirting with me, just because that feels like an added gift for the holidays.)

Judy Rodgers also suggests that this dish is particularly good with roasted polenta.  (Mmm, polenta.)  However, we made the buttermilk and garlic potatoes from this cookbook (a recipe for another time), which were divine.  Since we made this into a family feast, there was wine and cheese and crackers and apple crisp (recipe to come later).   However, the star of the show was this incredible braised duck.  The sheer act of reducing the wine from a bottle down to one cup created this intensified braising nectar of the gods.  The clove and the orange peel were subtle and smacked of the holidays.  The only drawback of this dish--I found it a little oily (you do cook the duck with the skin on, which you could remove), but I often find the food at the Zuni to be a little heavy handed with the oil.  The husband and the family suggested that I might be losing my mind because they found the duck to be transcendent.  And what more do you need than a little transcendence around the holidays?  You make the call.  My only real regret is that I didn't take many pictures.  The food was just too distracting.

Finally, I miss my family in Illinois this year.  My dad, my sister, the nieces and nephews, my mom, my brother, my sister-in-law.  I haven't been back to Illinois for Christmas in probably six or seven years--ever since the husband and I got caught in a blizzard on the way from the airport to my mom's house.  Perhaps next year, we shall brave the hinterlands of Knox County.  But in the mean time, let's embrace the French, their beautifully braised duck, and family in California.  Happy holidays.  

One Year Ago: Grilled Cepes

Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Adapted from  Zuni Cafe Cookbook

4 servings

4 duck legs (10-12 ounces each)
4 cups medium-bodied or hearty red wine, such as Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon
2 cups Chicken Stock
2 medium yellow onions, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1 1/2 inch wedges
2 ounces garlic cloves (about 1/2 cup), unpeeled
1 bay leaf
2 wide strips of orange zest
1 whole clove
12 prunes, preferably with pits

1.  One to three days in advance, trim lumps of fat, ragged edges or meatless flats of skin from the duck legs.  Rinse the legs, lay between dry towels and press to absorb surface moisture.  Season all over with salt (a scant 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt per pound of duck).  Cover loosely and refrigerate.

2.  In two separate saucepans, reduce the wine and the chicken broth to one cup each.  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

3.  Press the duck between towels to wick off excess moisture.  Place a dry 10-12-inch skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot enough that the duck hisses on contact, add the legs, skin side down, and leave to set a golden crust, about 10 minutes.  The duck will begin to render fat within a a few minutes; reduce the heat if the fat starts to smoke.  Turn the legs over and brown for just a few minutes on the flesh side, then arrange skin side up in an ovenproof pan.  Pour off the rendered fat from the skillet.  If any golden bits remain in the skillet, add the reduced red wine to the pan and simmer briefly, stirring, to dissolve them.  Set aside.

4.  Place the onion wedges and prunes in between the duck legs.  Add garlic, bay leaf, orange zest, and clove.  Add enough of the reduced wine and stock, in about equal doses, to come to a depth of 1/2 inch; save any extra wine and stock for extending the sauce.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Cover tightly, place in the oven, and cook for about 1 hour.

5.  Turn the duck legs over.  Cover the pan tightly and return to the oven and cook for another hour.

6.  Turn the legs over again, turn the heat up to 375 degrees, and return to the pan to the oven uncovered.  When the legs feel tender and slightly browned, about another 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven.  Turn off the oven and place a serving platter to warm in the oven for a minute to two.  Leave the duck legs to rest for another 5 minutes, then carefully lift from the sauce to the warm serving platter.

7.  Skim the fat from the braising liquid, and then taste the liquid.  If the sauce is too thin, set the pan over medium heart and reduce to the texture of maple syrup.  If the sauce is too rich, dilute with a little water.  If there is not enough sauce, add some of the extra wine and stock, then simmer to bring to a syrupy consistency.

8.  Serve each duck leg with 3 prunes and a few onion wedges and garlic cloves.  Spoon a few tablespoons of sauce over each leg.


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