”Tonight: Pinot Noir Braised Duck Legs with Roasted Pears and Onions” I wrote in my status quote on Facebook. Friends as far away as Texas declared they could be here by dinner time. Jane Owen, oboist with the Fort Worth Symphony and frequent spokesperson for the duck in Peter and the Wolf, sounded ready to make the trek if only her orchestra schedule would allow. Gail Cook, arts aficionado and book reviewer, was nursing an injured foot and requested special pampering in the form of room service. Would that I could! Alas, in the next few hours 23 commentators had joined the trail.
University of Oregon fan Todd Helton wrote, “At least wait until the ducks play first today…….then go crazy with the cooking!” For those of you who aren’t wise on the collegiate minutiae of Oregon, Ducks attend The University of Oregon in Eugene and Beavers go to Oregon State in Corvallis. I was immediately reminded of the Christmas dinner my family prepared years ago in Burlington Junction, Missouri, that included a centerpiece of Grilled Roasted Beaver. My brother-in-law, Bill, a minister, was tending one of his flock who farmed some land there. We noticed several frozen carcasses hanging from the fence and begged for an explanation. The farmer said that every couple of years he must trap a few beaver to ensure that their dam building didn’t stop the flow of his water source. He sold the pelts and said the beaver was very good eats. In old-fashioned bartering sense, he gave the pastor’s family a frozen beaver in gratitude.
Off we went, beaver in tow to figure out how to assimilate this prize into a holiday feast. Bill remembers he seasoned it with salt, pepper and garlic then slowly grilled it outdoors. (Bill was not in the habit of grilling outdoors in sub-freezing weather, but the animal was simply too large for an ordinary oven.) It was quite the showpiece and occupied a large portion to the table. It didn’t taste like chicken but the texture of the meat was somewhat stringy like chicken. Bill wrote to us later that there was enough leftover beaver to enjoy “French Trapper Spaghetti Casserole” for days.
I hope I won’t have to go into hiding in this state where ducks and beavers take themselves very seriously.
Now back to duck legs. Duck appears regularly on our table. Occasionally we will roast one but most often we purchase a Chinese roasted duck from a restaurant or Asian market. The first round is usually duck soup with noodles. Leftovers will disappear the next day as lunch snacks. One thing I know when cooking duck, you will have a considerable amount of fat to contend with. To many, duck fat is liquid gold to be cherished for use later. It is actually lower in cholesterol than butter and imparts a flavor to roasted potatoes like no other.
Duck Legs Braised in Pinot Noir with Roasted Pears and Cipollini Onions
Adapted from a Gourmet recipe
For the braised duck:
- 4 large duck leg quarters*
- 1 750-ml. bottle light fruity pinot noir (we used King Estate Acrobat Pinot Noir)
- A bouquet garni of 1 cinnamon stick, 5 whole cloves, a 4 x 1-inch (10 x 2.5 cm.) strip of orange zest and 1 Turkish bay leaf tied together in a cheesecloth bag. (When dealing with citrus peel, I always purchase organic to avoid any pesticides)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) vegetable oil
- 1 large carrot cut into ¼-inch (.65 cm.) dice
- 1 large celery rib, cut into ¼-inch (.65 cm.) dice
- 1 large onion cut into ¼-inch (.65 cm.) dice
- 2 large fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs plus 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) minced parsley leaves
For roasted pears and onions:
- 16-20 small cipollini onions, peeled and left whole. (Using a little ingenuity, I trimmed off the root end, cut out the top with a small paring knife and held the onion by a toothpick under an instant-hot water tap to soften the outer skin, which slipped right off. Alternately, blanch the onions in boiling water for a few seconds then plunge into ice water to stop cooking, then peel.)
- 2 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, quartered and cored. Slice quarters in half lengthwise.
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) honey
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml.) salt
- A beurre manié made by rubbing together 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) softened unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons (30 ml.) all-purpose flour. (I found my small mortar and pestles useful for this.)
* Available at some butcher shops, in the freezer section of some supermarkets. A good source is an Asian market where duck is probably not priced as a luxury item.
- Trim any excess fat from duck leg quarter and freeze for rendering later. Marinate the duck along with the bouquet garni in the wine for about two hours.
- Remove the duck from the marinade and pat dry. Heat the oil in a heavy braising pan or kettle large enough to hold the duck in one layer and deep enough to hold the wine marinade and vegetables.
- Season the legs with salt and begin browning, skin side down, until it reaches a mahogany color and skin is crisp. Turn over and brown legs on the other side. Carefully remove the rendered fat with a bulb baster to a heat resistant container and reserve for a future use. Remove to a plate as the legs finish browning.
- Pour off fat, leaving about two tablespoons (30 ml.) in the pan. Sauté the vegetables beginning with the onions, stirring occasionally, then adding the rest as the onions begin to soften. Season with salt to taste and continue stirring occasionally until all are tender and lightly browned.
Roast pears and onion while duck is braising:
Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C or gas mark (France) 7)
- Melt butter in an oven-proof pan or dish large enough to hold onions and pears in one layer, then swirl or brush to coat. Add onions and swirl around coating as much as possible and roast, root side down, for 30 minutes. Add pear slices and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or until the onions and pears are tender and lightly browned.
- In a cup, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, and salt. Pour over the onions and pears, tossing to coat.
- Remove duck from the pan to a warm plate and keep warm, covered with foil. Discard parsley sprigs and bouquet garni, then strain remaining liquid into a 1 quart (1 L.) measuring cup, reserving vegetables. When fat rises to the top, carefully remove as much as possible. (I have a special pitcher called a fat separator that allows me to pour out any liquids, stopping just before the fat or oil reach the spout.) Return strained and de-fatted liquid to the pan and simmer until reduced to about 2 cups (480 ml.) , if necessary. (My liquid was just about 2 cups or480 ml., so I just re-heated and continued.) Add the beurre manié a little at a time, whisking constantly to remove any lumps. When sauce is thickened, add the reserved vegetables and minced parsley. At this point I also like to add a light squeeze of lemon juice for brightness.
- Plate or platter the duck legs with the sauce spooned over or under and arrange the pears and onions around. Garnish with additional parsley sprigs.
We enjoyed a bottle of King Estate 2007 Signature Pinot Noir with this meal. King Estate Winemaker’s Notes:
Color: Bright garnet with ruby tint clarity and brilliance.
Aroma: Bing cherry, raspberry, confectionary strawberry, slight floral, spice and currant.
Flavors: Plum, bing cherry, currant, light hints of vanilla, black pepper, oak and caramel.