Shameful confession: I've been afraid of duck. I know I'm old fashioned, but the idea of rare poultry was a turnoff. Just couldn't get my head around it - or was it my heaving stomach? Anyway, duck breast is a non-starter for me.
I also sampled some potatoes cooked in duck fat - I have to admit that the heavy flavor did not appeal to me, although I realize that my more goormay readers are wincing as they read those traitorous words.
The only other duck-based product I have tried was that orgasmically delicious tea-smoked duck that I ate at Harmony - but it was really more about the tea and the smoking than about the duck - when it arrives at the table all you can smell is tea smoke. And then there was the disastrous episode when I tried to make tea-smoked duck myself... my Dutch oven still smells of smoke and I can't get the melted ceramic off my burner.
I have read about duck confit in many places and all are enraptured but, again, the idea of duck cooked in quarts of its siblings' fat just didn't seem appealing. Maybe once it's immersed in with all those beans and sausages in a cassoulet but, all by itself? Don't think so.
However, on impulse, I had purchased four duck legs, thinking to widen my culinary horizons, then hastily stuffed them into the freezer where they languished for a couple of months, shaming me each time I rummaged past them for some more familiar ingredient. Finally, I could stand the humiliation no more. I pulled them out to thaw and went looking on the interwebs for some duck wisdom.
Again with the confit! Lots of recipes for that.
Then I stumbled across this recipe for duck legs that seemed not only simple, it didn't involve immersing the meat directly into its own fat. Rather, it is suspended on a bed of mirepoix while it cooks. Okay, now we're talking! I followed the recipe except the part about lemon grass, which I couldn't find that day either and the ginger, which I grated rather than minced.
Basically, you just season the duck legs with kosher salt and pepper, then coat them with a serious layer of Chinese five spice; make mirepoix (adding minced ginger and lemon grass to the traditional chopped onion, celery and carrot) and tumble it into an ovenproof pan, drizzle the veggies lightly with canola oil; and lay the seasoned duck legs on top. Into a 350F oven for 2 hours. No turning, no basting, no nothing for two hours! My kind of recipe, leaving plenty of time for kitchen cleanup, reading, working on that hellish jigsaw puzzle that pal Wenirs sent, and walking the dog, all before the duck comes out of the oven.
Now, the recipe did suggest deboning the duck when it emerges and mixing it back into the veggies after pouring off the inordinate amount of duck fat that renders into the bottom of the pan but one look at those poor, tired, fat-soaked leavings changed my mind. I simply plated the legs next to some wild rice and broccoli and never looked back.
The duck was perfect.* It was tender and moist with a crisp, crackling skin that tasted of the five spices. The Amateur Gourmet (new blog to me although it has been in existence since '04) promised that this recipe would be a keeper and he wasn't kidding; it's definitely going into my recipe file for lots of future meals. It's good enough to serve to guests, an easy and relatively unusual party dish that would leave me free to spend time with my friends instead of frantically stirring things in the kitchen.
I'm still not okay with rare poultry but I am liberated. I am no longer afraid of duck.
*I made this again subsequently and came up with two cautions:
First, it's worth it to go looking for the lemon grass and the ginger - they add a lot of flavor.
Second, be careful when the recipe says you can walk away for two hours once the duck legs are in the oven. The first time I made the recipe, that was fine; the second time, I nearly burned the legs and the mirepoix was definitely toast. Next time, I'd start checking at 1.5 hours. I wouldn't have eaten those fat-soaked veggies, anyway, but if they had burned they would have made a mess of the legs and, as it was, the legs were just a tad on the dry side.