March 08, 2010

Week 3: Braised duck legs with red wine and prunes

This week I made braised duck legs with red wine and prunes. Emily wanted me to do something with duck breasts and prunes, similar to a dish we had for my birthday at Contigo. Unfortunately, it was the one time we didn't take photos at Contigo.

I've been looking forward to working with duck again. It has been a while since I've used it. A few years ago, I made confit of duck legs and prosciutto out of a duck breast. A little more recently, I made cassoulet and tacos out of duck confit. But I haven't had a lot of practice with fresh duck. It's a little different from chicken, there is a bit of fat to deal with and you need to leave it medium rare to keep from drying it out. (Unless you confit it.)

Since I've never cooked duck breast before, I did a little research to see how it was typically done. (Score the skin, slowly cook, skin side down.) While researching options, I came across a braised duck leg and prune dish in the Zuni Cookbook. It was a completely different dish from the Contigo one, but had similar flavors, so we decided to give it a try.

Sunday morning I went to Drewes Bros to buy a couple of legs for the dish, but I impulsively decided to get a whole duck. I figured I could cook the breasts for dinner later in the week, make some stock out of the bones, and render the fat for potatoes. They offered to break it down for me, but I wanted some practice, so I took it home whole and broke it down myself.

When I went shopping for ingredients I saw some fresh prunes and decided to use them in place of dried ones. The recipe wasn't specific, aside from insisting on the prunes having pits. The other deciding factor was that dried prunes make me a little nervous. They tend to be sold in open bins alongside nuts, and I always assume that little care is taken to prevent cross-contamination. Next time, I think I'll use dried ones both for color and a more concentrated flavor.

The duck was plated on a bed of arugula and the fried bread croutons from the Ad Hoc cookbook, along with the sauce, onions, and prunes. The arugula ended up wilting a bit more than we wanted, so I'd plate the salad next to the duck next time.

Tomorrow we'll have the breasts. I'm using the spice-crusted duck breast recipe from One Spice, Two Spice (allspice and star anise crusted). I'm also going to try to replicate the bacon-wrapped, chèvre-stuffed prunes from Gitane to accompany it. And maybe a simple salad to round out the meal.

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