Duck is one of our very favorite things, particularly legs and thighs. Braised in the oven, they hit the plate all crispy skinned, moist and loaded with flavor.
We've braised duck legs in marsala wine with dried sour cherries, with port and dried cranberries, in red wine and even added dried figs and pancetta, but this time inspired by a recipe from the Cast Iron Cookbook by Joanna Pruess, we used hard apple cider as the braising liquid.
Flavoured with sauteed onions and garlic, the juice and rind of oranges and lemons and finished with wedges of apple and navel orange, the key to using this method is to saute the duck legs first until the skin is richly colored and the fat rendered before adding the flavoring ingredients and the liquid - cider in this case.
While I followed the recipe in some ways, I changed the preparation method by braising the duck uncovered in the oven, rather than on top of the stove. That way, you're sure to get crisp, perfectly colored skin and tender moist meat that's cooked evenly throughout. It's also a lot easier because you can forget about it and let it cook until a half hour out, when the apples and orange wedges are added.
Served with mini steamed parsley and butter coated potatoes, we quite simply loved it. The citrusy tang of orange and lemon and the tart apples really cut through the richness of the duck and made for a fabulous divine extra special dinner on an extra special Christmas day.
Braised Duck Legs with Apples, Oranges and Cider (from JBug’s Kitchen inspired by Cast Iron Cookbook)
4 whole duck legs, thighs attached
Salt and course ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Juice and rind of 1 large orange
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
2/3 cup calvados or other apple brandy, divided
2 - 10 ounce bottles hard apple cider (I used Woodchuck Amber)
2 tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
1 large navel orange, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons Wondra instant blending flour
Salt and pepper as needed
Wash and dry duck legs well, trimming any excess fat away. Season well with salt and pepper. Heat heavy Dutch oven over medium high, add duck legs skin side down and brown in a single layer until skin is golden colored. Remove fat from pot as it accumulates and save for another use. Turn legs over and cook until browned on the other side, then transfer to a plate.
Preheat oven to 350. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from Dutch oven and return pot to heat. Add onion and cook until onion is golden brown. Add garlic, sautéing for 1 minute. Stir in 1/3 cup apple brandy, the juice of the orange and lemon and the cider. Return reserved duck legs and any accumulated juices to the pot, arranging duck in a single layer with skin side up. Bring pot to a high simmer, then place in oven, uncovered for 1-1/2 hours.
Add apple and orange pieces and return pot to the oven, uncovered to cook for another half hour. If mixture seems dry, add water as needed. Remove duck legs and place on a platter. Skim any additional accumulated fat from Dutch Oven – (I placed a layer of paper towels on top of the pot to blot up the fat, then very quickly and carefully removed it with tongs), leaving as much of the braising liquid as possible. Place pot over medium heat and whisk in instant blending flour, whisking until sauce is thickened. Add remaining 1/3 cup brandy along with zest from orange and lemon. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve duck legs over steamed potatoes or noodles. Garnish with parsley. Serves 4.