Many of us have been turned off duck by the roasted version: By the time the legs are done the breast is dry. However, if we give up the idea of cooking the duck whole, we can start to do justice to this wonderful bird.
In this recipe from Gascony in the south-west of France, no less than four of the most emblematic local products are employed: Duck, Agen prunes, Armagnac brandy and Madiran wine. Naturally, it is not necessary to use all these local varieties – any red wine, brandy and prunes will do fine. Just remember however: “If it’s not fit to drink, it’s not fit to cook with”
Ingredients for two people:
2 or 3 duck legs
150 g prunes (Agen prunes if possible)
500 ml full-bodied red wine
1 onion or 3 shallots, chopped
1 branch of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
100 ml Armagnac
a few branches of thyme
a few sprigs of parsley, chopped
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon duck fat
1 tablespoon flour
salt and pepper
Place the duck legs in a large bowl and add the chopped vegetables and herbs. Pour over the wine and leave in a cool place for 12 to 24 hours, turning the legs a few times.
Soak the prunes in half the armagnac for a couple of hours.
Remove the duck legs from the marinade, pat them dry, removing any clinging vegetables. Fry them gently in the duck fat until golden on both sides. Remove the legs. Stain the vegetable out of the wine marinade, reserving the wine for later. Over a fairly brisk heat, fry the vegetables in the fat in the pan, stirring frequently until soft and starting to colour. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, pour some of it off to leave about a tablespoon. Sprinkle over the flour and continue to cook and stir for half a minute. Return the duck legs to the pan and pour over the reserved wine marinade. Simmer for a good hour, turning the pieces once or twice. Skim off the fat as it rises to the surface.
After an hour, strain the vegetables and herbs out of the sauce and return the sauce and duck to the pan. Add the prunes along with the rest of the Armagnac and simmer for a further hour and a half.
At the end of this time, if the sauce appears too thin, remove the duck and rapidly boil it down to sauce consistency.
Any style of potato goes with this stew, though if you fry some potatoes in duck fat, as I did, you’ll be transported to the rolling hills of the South-West of France. This is truly Gascony on a plate!