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Bittman's Crisped-Braised Duck Legs


VivreManger
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Wednesday's NYTimes, in addition to the latest Cruella-Nigella bit of tarted-up Brit-food, had a Mark Bittman recipe for pan-seared duck legs then braised in aromatic vegies. I thought I would try it later today since I have the ingredients lying about.

Several months ago I used his quickie version of a cassoulet as the basis for my own recipe which was good enough to satisfy a friend from Toulouse.

Any comments out there?

Edited by VivreManger (log)
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In theory, it looks good. BUT: if one uses the standard American duckling, I question whether the time it takes to "nicely brown" the legs over medium heat is sufficient to render all the excess fat out of them. So I fear one would end up with an awful lot of fat floating on top of the reduced "braising" liquid. And Bittman doesn't say anything about skimming off whatever fat collects.

Back on 1/21/98, he printed a recipe for Pan-Fried Duckling, which he credited to Paula Peck from 1961. In it, he says to cook a cut-up duck for 45 minutes. When I tried it, I thought it needed more time to render all the fat, cook all the meat, and crisp the skin. But then I've been using another, similar NY Times recipe from 1993 that is basically the same, but with longer cooking times.

Anyway -- if you try it, please let us know how it comes out.

(edited to complete message inadvertently sent before complete)

Edited by Suzanne F (log)
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If the remainder of the fat is rendered during the braise (presumably flavoring the ingredients) couldn't one defat the (strained) braising liquid using a fat separator once cooking is completed?

Is there another type of duck leg other than American better suited to this treatment? Would D'Artagnan have it at their retail outlet?

We were thinking of this recipe for New Year's Eve.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Robert S: You could do that, but it's more difficult to remove the extra fat that way. And what concerned me is that Bittman never mentioned the possibility. Maybe he used very, very lean legs. Although for that relatively short cooking time, one would probably want a bird that starts out less "toothsome."

Yes, D'Artagnan carries moulards and muscovies, as well as pekin. But some are only special order, according to the website.

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I was able to surmount the rendering problem, keeping the skin crispy and the flesh moist, withint the allotted time, but ultimately the recipe fails the taste test.

I flattened the legs, intensifying the crispiness, and hastening the rendering by placing two bricks on top of a 10" lid on the four legs, within a 12" heavy aluminum skillet.

This is a technique recommended in the squab thread and it is also an essential step in the making of a Caucasian chicken dish.

About every 20 minutes or so I would remove this contraption along with the duck legs and pour out the accumulated duck fat. It produced nearly a cup of fat.

Normally I regard a recipe as the basso continuo on which I create my own cadenza -- Bach is in the background as I write this -- but this time in the interests of culinary science, I followed the recipe very carefully.

In the article accompanying the recipe, Bittman did suggest adding thyme and garlic to the aromatic vegetables, which I did along with some bay leaves. Before starting to cook the legs, I had slowly sauted a thinly sliced clove of garlic in the first batch of rendered duck fat which I had first removed from the legs. I then reserved the browned garlic and gribenes (tr. Yiddish for the fat bits left after rendering) for later in the recipe. BTW, the duck was Broome Lake, from Quebec. While I can get wild duck and muscovy duck in western Massachusetts, it is not regularly available and I have only seen them sold whole.

The timing was pretty close to the advertised 2 hours, at most a few minutes more. I suspect I could have done it in less time if my 12' inch skillet were cast iron rather than heavy aluminum. Along the way I had experimented with the 10" iron skillet, but it was too small for the dish, though much faster cooking.

The problem was that the dish is dull. I have been thinking about how to enliven it. First the duck legs could have been brined. Second the vegetables should be sauted with something more flavorful, perhaps throw in pancetta or other form of bacon/beef fry. In the summer I often hickory smoke whole ducks and then freeze them. Had I a bit of the skin and flesh from that duck, it would have helped. For the two cups of stock I had a bit less than a cup of very rich home-made chicken soup, which I supplemented with artichoke cooking water and a healthy TS of Bovril chicken stock. In order to keep the stock from uncrisping the skin, I wound up not using all of it, only one cup and a half. Otherwise it would have submerged the entire leg. That was a second mistake. I should have used the entire two cups, but reduced the liquid to the right duck based level before returning the legs to the pan. However before adding that liquid, I should have thrown in some cognac and red wine to the reducing stock.

A cadenza of wine and cognac would help this recipe, but at the moment it is too late for me to try it. The result would be a kind cuises de canard au vin.

A couple of other suggestions. The recipe is quite obsessed with keeping the skin as dry as possible, and free from direct contact with the cooking vegetables and liquid. It strikes me that apartheid is another barrier to flavor. If the dish were covered for part of the cooking the flavors would be stronger. The skin's crsipness could be restored by browing the legs under the broiler for a minute or so before serving.

Good luck with your own experiments.

Edited by VivreManger (log)
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VivreManger, that was an excellent post. Thank you.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Although I trashed the recipe and presumably warned others off trying it, in the interests of historical accuracy and completeness, and for the convenience of future thread-followers, herewith are the URLs for accessing it from the NYTimes.

I believe that, because of the one-week rule, today is the last day that one can easily down-load the text for free.

Bittman's comments: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/25/dining/25MINI.html

Recipe:

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/25/dining/251MREX.html

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Made those today, and thanks to VivreManger's notes, my effort brought a delicious result: thank you very much.

First of all, i succeeded to get almost all the fat out, both by scoring the skin and putting the weight (two cast-iron pans) on top of legs during the browning/srisping stage.

For liquid i used a cup of red wine and a cup of chicken stock.

The vegetables were sweet potatoes, onion and some yukon potatoes. Garlic, bay leaves and coriander served as aromatics.

The duck legs were from Maple Leaf farms.

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I made Bittman's recipe tonite, following the instructions verbatim. I used "Grimaud" brand duck legs purchased in San Francisco. Obviously couldn't "trim the excess fat" because the underneath the skin is at least a 1/4" of fat. I scored the skin (which he doesn't suggest) to help render the fat, and after browning the legs, had almost a cup and a half of duck fat, although obviously there was much left to be rendered. I knew that the "aromatic" vegetables would be pretty inedible (confit-ed in fat), and I actually like my poultry well done and crunchy, but the meat was so incredibly dried out after the time prescribed in the recipe that I could easily dice it up into small little garnishes. I could have cooked this recipe properly, so to speak, but with two kids all jazzed up just home from school, and demanding attention, I just let it take its course...what a waste.

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Made those today, and thanks to VivreManger's notes, my effort brought a delicious result: thank you very much.

Yes, I had the same good results - scored the skin and removed the fat as I went along - there was less of it than others mentioned (Broome Lake) - however I found that the 2 cups of broth had nearly cooked away by the time the dish was done. The recipe does not mention this, but under the circumstances how could it be otherwise?!

llwb

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  • 4 months later...

The first line in the duck leg recipe is "4 duck legs, trimmed of excess fat." Maybe it should read 'trimmed of all visible fat.' Everything, that is, that you can trim.

In my experience, a great deal of the subcuteneous fat is rendered during the initial browning, and that which is rendered during the braising - and it is braising; most braised meats contain fat, after all - didn't seem excessive to me. But I suppose refrigerating and skimming the juices is an option.

I did use supermarket ducks. (As you might suspect given my bent, I use supermarket ingredients for testing almost all of my recipes.)

I've made that recipe since publishing it, and loved it. Maybe I have a higher fat tolerance?

mb

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I followed MB's basic outline for cooking/searing duck legs, then added my own "Thai inspired" twist, rather than cooking them with the standard mire poix and tomatoes. It was one of the best things to ever come from my kitchen. I seared the legs, poured off the fat, then braised them in a mixture of green curry paste, shallots, coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind concentrate, lemongrass and galanga, and for veggies/fruit I used tiny Thai eggplants and fresh pineapple. Absolutely divine.

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Back on 1/21/98, he printed a recipe for Pan-Fried Duckling, which he credited to Paula Peck from 1961.  In it, he says to cook a cut-up duck for 45 minutes.  When I tried it, I thought it needed more time to render all the fat, cook all the meat, and crisp the skin.

The Pan Fried Duck recipe appears in "The Minimalist Cooks at Home" book. One version flavored with garlic and thyme and the other flavored like the original Paula Peck recipe, with sherry and soy.

It's interesting that Suzanne F thought it needed more time in the pan. In the preface to the recipe MBittman notes that he reduced the cooking time of the original recipe to 45 minutes from an hour.

PJ

"Epater les bourgeois."

--Lester Bangs via Bruce Sterling

(Dori Bangs)

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  • 4 months later...

I hope you all wiill pardon me-

It is late and I skimmed this thread after reading the M.Bittman Q & A.

Mostly b/c I have some duck legs in the freezer awaiting emancipation (and a recipe!):-)

Re: the greasiness factor:

Try parboiling the legs- then brown and cook.--- Or grill!

We cooked two duck breasts- used the same type and same recipe. Parboiled one for 20 minutes! and did nothing to the other. Same marinade. Same grilling technique.

The parboiled one was amazing! Crispy. Juicy. Almost lean and very very flavorful.

The latter- Heavy, downtrodden, ducky, oily, just plain unpalatable!

The parboil eliminated the unsavory elements while retaining the essence of the duck. I kept thinking that our 20min parboil was too much but the duck was perfect! It eliminated all the oils without us having to strip the skin. The leaner skin added to the flavor, crispiness and "look" while maintaining the integrity of this particular dish.''

I am going to try it with the duck legs at some point but maybe some of you will try it sooner?

M

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The parboil eliminated the unsavory elements while retaining the essence of the duck.  I kept thinking that our 20min parboil was too much but the duck was perfect! It eliminated all the oils without us having to strip the skin. The leaner skin added to the flavor, crispiness and "look" while maintaining the integrity of this particular dish.''

I think Cooks Illustrated has a similar approach - they steam duck pieces before roasting

J

More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!
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