I have no idea how people can even attempt all of the crazy new year’s diets in January. Sure, the first week of the year, I was so sick of cookies and sweets that I toned it down a little, but now, a couple of weeks later and deep in the throes of a bleak, miserable winter, all I’m thinking about is comfort food. I’m thinking oatmeal every morning, French onion soup, polenta smothered in melted cheese. And this time of year, I simply cannot go without a weekly dose of braised meat. Or red wine, for that matter.
So, in this week’s edition of “Sarah’s Red Wine-Fueled Braising Adventures”, I’m coming at you with duck legs. They were braised in red wine with porcini and cremini mushrooms, lots of shallots, and fresh thyme. The meat was tender and succulent, the skin crackling crisp, and the mushrooms deep, dark, and intense. It was the kind of splurgy at-home dinner that almost makes long, cold winters bearable.
Start off by searing a couple of duck legs. You’ll want to score the skin first, to help render out the fat quickly. Pop them in a pan and let the skin sizzle until it’s crisp and golden, then transfer the legs to a plate and pour off all the fat. You’ll be amazed (and maybe a teeny bit horrified) by how much fat comes off of 2 legs–I was able to fill a half-pint jar! You can save the fat and use it to cook potatoes, fry an egg, you name it…it’ll help you get more bang for your duck.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Don’t hate on my puns.
After the skin has been crisped and the fat has been poured off, saute a bunch of mushrooms and shallots. I went with whole cremini mushrooms and boosted their flavor with reconstituted dried porcini. If you live somewhere that has a more diverse selection of mushrooms available (that you can afford without selling a vital organ!), feel free to use a more exotic combination. It nearly killed me with joy and jealousy to walk through markets in Paris this past fall and see the variety of mushrooms available.
Pour in a glass of red wine and bring it to a boil, scraping up any tasty bits from the bottom of the pan. Nestle the duck legs back into the pan, among the mushrooms and shallots, add the porcini water and enough stock to cover the duck meat, leaving the skin exposed. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then transfer to the oven and wait for the magic to happen.
An hour and a half later, the duck should be tender with impossibly crisp skin. To add to the comfort factor, serve it over a vegetable puree or smooth, creamy mashed potatoes.
Yup, it’s winter and this is how I cope.
- ¼ c. dried Porcini Mushrooms
- 2 (about 1 ½ # total weight) Duck Legs
- 3 large/8 small Shallots
- 8 oz. Cremini Mushrooms, stems trimmed even with the caps
- 1 c. Red Wine
- about 1 ½ c. Chicken Stock (homemade or low-sodium)
- 4 sprigs Thyme
- Place the dried porcini in a small bowl and cover with about ½. c. boiling water.
- Remove any excess fat from the duck legs and score the skin. You can either use a sharp knife to cut through the skin in a crosshatched manner as I did or prick it all over with the tip of a knife. Avoid cutting into the meat itself. Rub the duck with a bit of kosher salt and black pepper.
- Sear the duck legs, skin-side down, in an ovenproof skillet (I used my 11-inch cast iron skillet) until the skin is dark and crisp, 10-12 minutes over medium-high heat. You can render the fat from any trimmings, as well. When the skin is nice and crisp, flip, and cook for 2 minutes on the meat side. Be very careful as you are doing this—the duck will throw off a lot of splattering, very hot fat. Transfer the duck legs to a plate and pour all of the fat except a very thin coating on the bottom of the pan into a heatproof jar. Keep the fat in the refrigerator for future use—it’s great for cooking potatoes!
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Peel the shallots and trim the hairy root end but leave enough at the bottom so the bulbs will remain attached. If you’re working with large shallots (as I was), cut each 1 into 2 or 3 large pieces; if you have smaller shallots, just leave them whole. Pull the soaked porcini out of their soaking liquid (reserve the water), give them a squeeze and a rough chop.
- Return the skillet (the same one you used for the duck) to medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots and mushrooms until golden, about 8 minutes. Season. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute, scrapping up any bits that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan. Return the duck legs to the pan, nestling them, skin-side up, among the mushrooms and shallots. Add the reserved porcini water, then enough stock to cover most of the meat, but leave the skin exposed. Tuck the sprigs of thyme around the pan and transfer to the oven.
- Braise the duck until the meat is very tender when poked with the tip of a knife, about 1 ½ hour. If the liquid gets too low (you do want it to reduce quite a lot to make a sauce), add a splash more stock. When the duck is ready, transfer the legs to your dinner plates and pull the mushrooms and shallots out with a slotted spoon. Remove the thyme stems and assess the braising liquid. You will most likely need to skim fat off the top. What’s the consistency like—still watery or is it saucy? If it’s saucy, great—just taste, season, and serve. If it’s a little loose still, just put it over high heat and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon, then season and serve.