If you're looking for a festive and delicious main course for your New Year's Eve guests, this recipe for Braised Duck Legs with Orange and Cranberry, from our Feel Good Food Cookbook, is just the ticket. Serve with wild rice or fingerling potatoes roasted in the reserved duck fat for a sublime dinner any day of the year.
This is a simpler take on the classic, canard à l'orange, which is made with just the legs. Faster and less messy than roasting a whole duck, it’s also a festive holiday dish to make when cranberries are plentiful. Cage-free Moulard ducks from Hudson Valley Duck Farm are widely available frozen and more tasty and larger than their commercially raised counterparts, but this recipe works equally well for regular Pekin-style duck legs.
4 whole duck legs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup sherry wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 cup red wine
2 cups rich Chicken Stock (pg xx)
2 bay leaves
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
a few whole cloves or star anise
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 medium oranges
1/4 cup fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons orange marmalade, Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Trim and season duck legs with salt and pepper and cook on medium-low heat, skin side down, in a large skillet with canola oil. Continue cooking until some of the fat is rendered and the skin takes on a rich mahogany color, 8–10 minutes, or more. Turn and cook 2–3 minutes longer. Remove legs to a plate; strain and reserve the tasty rendered duck fat for another use.
Place sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar caramelizes and becomes a rich amber color, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully so the sugar does not burn. To the same pan, add wine, stock, bay leaves, thyme, whole cloves, and peppercorns. Zest and juice 1 orange, add them to the saucepan, and bring to a simmer.
Place duck in an ovenproof casserole dish and carefully pour liquid around the legs. The liquid should reach halfway up but not cover the legs. Place in the oven and cook, uncovered, 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325°F and continue cooking for another hour if using larger Moulard duck legs, a bit less for regular duck legs. Check the braising liquid after 30 minutes, adding a bit of water if it seems too low. The legs are done when a paring knife pierces the thigh with little resistance. Allow legs to cool in liquid for a few minutes, then remove to a platter and strain braising liquid, allowing it to stand for a few minutes so fat that rises to the top can easily be skimmed. Over high heat, cook remaining liquid until reduced to about 1 cup, 8–10 minutes, adding the cranberries at the end and taking care not to let them burst. (Dried cranberries may be used although they are often sweetened and lack the sour contrast.) Whisk in the marmalade or liqueur, if using. Trim the peel and white pith from the remaining orange and cut it into slices, adding them briefly to the sauce and then as garnish on plates or serving platter.
Serve with wild rice pilaf or fingerling potatoes roasted in the reserved duck fat for a sublime dinner. Roasted brussel sprouts or butternut squash puree adds a seasonal accent to the meal.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Cranberries and Pecans
Wild “rice” is actually a grass seed that cooks very slowly. Its chewy texture and nutty flavor make a wonderful accompaniment to cool-weather meals. I use this recipe frequently as a stuffing for our Thanksgiving turkey. Leftovers make a tasty salad; just add a splash of a fruity vinegar, toss with chicory or radicchio, and garnish with orange segments.
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water with bouillon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced white or cremini mushrooms
1 cup wild rice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup toasted and coarsely chopped pecans
Heat the stock and bring to a boil. In a heavy-duty 8 qt casserole, heat olive oil and gently sweat onion, celery, and mushrooms with a generous pinch of salt for 5–6 minutes. Rinse the rice, drain, and add to the vegetables, stirring well with a wood spoon to coat grains with oil, then add the warm stock. Stir again, making sure none of the grains stick to the bottom of the casserole dish. Check seasoning as it comes to a simmer, cover, and cook about 45 minutes, or up to an hour, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is softened. At this point, stir in the dried cranberries. When ready to serve, fold in most of the pecans, reserving a few for garnish.