29 January 2008

Duck Legs Braised With Red Wine and Lime

From the New York Times magazine (27 January 2008), a recipe from Daniel Patterson, chef at COI Restaurant in San Francisco
Duck Legs Braised With Red Wine and Lime

4 duck legs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and sliced
Peeled zest of 2 limes, pith removed and cut into thin strips
2 teaspoons minced serrano chili
1 cup red wine
2 teaspoons lime juice, more as needed
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (coriander)

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 C). Season the duck with salt and pepper. Place a stew pot over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When hot, add the duck, skin side down, and cook until golden brown. Rotate the legs and cook for 30 seconds more; transfer to a plate.

2. Turn the heat to medium-low, add the onions and a little salt and cook covered, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lime zest and serrano chili. Add the red wine, ½ cup of water and a pinch of salt. Nestle the duck legs, skin side up, on top of the onions. Bring to a boil, and then cover, place in the oven and cook until the duck is tender but still toothsome, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3. Transfer the duck and 1/2 cup of the onions to a plate; cover to keep warm. Purée the remaining onions, the cooking liquid and lime juice in a blender. Adjust to taste with salt and lime juice. Stir in half of the cilantro.

4. Mound the reserved onions in the centers of 4 plates. Put a duck leg on top of each, and pour the sauce around the duck. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over each plate. Serve as a hearty appetizer. Serves 4. Adapted from “Aroma,” by Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson.

Apparently, Chef Patterson made up this recipe, especially the saucing technique to make up for braising without stock.

I had forgotten, though, having lived in California for 15 years, the wasteland that is an upstate New York supermarket in February. The produce section, filled with distressed-looking vegetables from South America and limp West Coast greens, was less than inspiring. I felt sorry for local vegetarians.

Fortunately we were an omnivorous group, so I turned my attention toward the meat counter, where I found some nice duck legs. I bought red wine, onions, limes, cilantro and serrano chilies to cook them with, imagining kind of a coq au vin by way of Vietnam.

What I failed to imagine was the resulting dark, watery and oily cooking liquid, which rather unpleasantly put me in mind of the Exxon Valdez. I’m usually pretty good at predicting what will happen during any given cooking process, but as I stood in our friend’s kitchen eyeing the pot, it was clear that the limpid, viscous sauce that I was going for had not materialized.

So I did something that I’d never done with a stew. I strained the liquid and then blended it with some of the onions, chilies and lime zest from the pot to thicken it into a sauce, which I seasoned with lime juice and cilantro. I flinched a bit as I did it; having been trained in French technique, with its long-cooked stocks and slow reductions, this seemed like a cheap shortcut. But there was no arguing with the sauce’s dynamic flavor or its smooth texture.

The basic technique is simplicity itself: use some of the vegetables that cooked with the meat to emulsify the cooking liquid into a sauce, much like making a soup. The softened fiber of the vegetables thickens the sauce and binds the free fat, capturing all of the flavor of the braise. Herbs, spices or other aromatics added to the blender can refresh the long-cooked flavors, and a little acidity, like cultured cream, citrus or vinegar, balances its richness.

A water braise is slightly different from a stock braise. It’s especially important to brown the meat well, developing crusty bits on the bottom of the pan that will flavor the cooking liquid. And don’t remove the fat! The fat is what will give the stew its flavor and the resulting sauce its silky texture. Once the sauce is made, don’t bring it to a vigorous boil, which can cause it to break.

This is quite puzzling to me though. I've always braised duck or chicken in red wine without stock - coq au vin for example. I reduce the braising liquid which always thickens. Also, 1 cup of red wine is really not enough. Use the whole bottle!

Back to work today after yesterday's public holiday for Australia Day (if Australia Day falls on a weekend, the following Monday is a public holiday). It was also a very warm day.

Sue B came over with me after work to check out the gardening work (after all, she had been nagging about one particular weed that was taller than a person).


jh an Mickey Mantle said...

deer daniel,
tonite mi mom made monster cheez on melba toste. it wuzza troo taste treet. she diden't havta thicken anythin! den she went to da mooviez to see untraceable wid da grate an byootiful diane lane ... she sed it wuz prettee scary but not az grate az silence uv da lamz! (she goez to da mooviez a lot!)
dat'z it.

Daniel said...

silence of the lambs. hmmm... lamb... nice in a curry.

Lindsay Knapp said...

i did read it, dammit!