Duck Legs Braised in Zinfandel

As I mentioned at the end of our last post, we’re turning the alphabet back for another Alice Waters book that we picked up a used copy of during the holidays. The Chez Panisse Café Cookbook (book number 14), with beautiful food illustrations by David Lance Goines, is a joy both to read and to cook out of. I certainly enjoy a cookbook full of well photographed pictures of the finished recipes, but there is something really refreshing about an old school cookbook like this one with its colorful block prints that so perfectly evoke the Northern California Art and Crafts ambiance of Chez Panisse itself. I could easily imagine myself sitting in the upstairs bar sipping a Negroni and waiting for my dinner reservation while I read the book.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, Kate and I are big fans of duck, and we feel even better about eating it since we discovered the wonderful locally raised ducks from Mainely Poultry. This meal of plump duck legs braised in fruity-peppery Zinfandel was just the ticket to bring a taste of California to our cold Maine winter. We started the evening before by seasoning six duck leg and thigh quarters with salt and pepper, what the kids nowadays call “dry brining,” I suppose, and letting them get to know each other in the refrigerator overnight.

A few hours before dinner time, we preheated the oven and sautéed diced carrot and yellow onion in duck fat until lightly browned. The sautéed veg went into the bottom of a baking dish where it was joined by a bay leaf, thyme, sliced garlic, orange zest, and a cup of Renwood Zinfandel. The duck legs went into the dish next and we bathed them with a cup and a half of hot homemade chicken stock before covering them and putting them in the oven. After about an hour, we uncovered the pan to give the duck skin a chance to crisp.

As Alice suggested in her recipe notes, the perfect starter was leeks vinaigrette. We had never made it before, and there isn’t a recipe for it in this book, so I resorted to the internet and came up with this one from Bon Appetit. Although it wasn’t the main event, this was very quick to put together and is a definite keeper as a light first course. The white and pale green part of a couple of large leeks poached until tender and halved lengthwise dressed with a tangy vinaigrette of minced shallot and garlic, sherry vinegar, both Dijon and whole grain mustard, thyme, and olive oil whetted our appetites without filling us up.

After enjoying our starter, I took the duck out of the oven, arranged the golden duck legs on a platter and covered them with foil to keep warm while I strained and reduced the braising liquid, while made a lovely sauce to gild the duck. The tender dark meat of the duck was succulent with the slight toothsomeness that identifies a bird that had a quality life outdoors. And, of course, I’d be lying not to admit that we licked our plates to get the last drops of the herby, citrusy wine sauce that the duck had been braised in.

Since we only ate two of the duck legs the first night, I added the meat of one of the remaining legs to bowls of miso soup topped with fried eggs for breakfast the next morning, and the meat of the other three legs, along with the rest of the braising liquid, a quart of chicken stock, and a few cups of cooked Rancho Gordo Good Mother Stallard beans went into a spectacular duck and bean soup which fed us for two more meals. Oh the glory of leftovers!

Up next: Mastering Pasta.

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