Two (or Four) duck legs are marinated and braised in a mixture of duck stock, beets and shallots. The whole duck breast is seasoned and roasted on the bone. The dish is served with a reduced beet and red wine sauce and beet chips.
I love duck and beets are one of my favorite underused vegetables. Chef Richard agrees and wonders why more chefs do not use it more often in their sauces. It provides a delicious earthy sweet flavor and a lovely deep red color to the sauce. Like many of the recipes in this book this one has a cool name to boot.
First thing I made were the beet chips. Very easy if you have a mandolin slicer or it’s Japanese version and the one Richard loves, a Benriner. I have both a French Bron mandolin and a Japanese Benriner. Believe it or not, I actually use both of them for different tasks. The Bron is a lot more versatile, more sturdy (read: safe) and precise. The Benriner, which I bought first, has a superfine julienne blade that I like. It is also lightweight and easy to clean and put away. In any case, in the recipe, we are instructed to use a meat slicer to make thin slices of peeled raw beets. I have no meat slicer, so I used the Bron and it worked like a charm. In under a minute I had made very thin round slices of three beets. In hindsight, I think the first beet could’ve been sliced much thinner. I just got carried away with how easy the Bron slices these and did not notice that they are a bit thicker than they need to be. I corrected the problem with the other two beets and sliced them very thin.
The beet slices are then poached in a mixture of vinegar, sugar and water. Sort of like a quick pickle. Once they cooled in the liquid, I dried and transferred them to parchment lined baking sheets and put them in a very low oven (170 F) for about 12 hours. Vinegar smell alert here: for the first 4 hours or so, the vinegar smell was quiet strong. By the time I woke up in the morning the smell was gone and the chips were nice and crispy. The wife would’ve been pretty pissed off had she woken up to the smell of vinegar for breakfast. The chips were made three days before I actually served the dish. According to the recipe these should last with no problem in an airtight container for a week. So, I munched on a few (they are sweet, sour, earthy and addictive) and put the rest in an ‘air tight’ Tupperware.
Since this was going to only serve two people, I used one duck and did not use the optional additional two duck legs. So, the duck is broken down with the breast left on the bone and the legs trimmed and thigh bone removed. This might sound a bit odd, but I really enjoy breaking down ducks, chicken and de-boning meat in general. It’s kind of calming. Odd, I know.
The legs are seasoned with a marinade of coriander seeds, cinnamon and olive oil. Then they are wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. The breast is left as is, wrapped in plastic and placed in the fridge. I am not sure why the breast is given such a cold treatment here. Why not season it, marinate it or something. More about this later. The bones and the rest of the carcass are chopped into pieces and will go into making the stock.
To cook, first, the legs and breast are wiped and seasoned with salt and some sugar then they are seared till they get a nice brown glaze (the legs on both sides, the breast only on the skin side). In the same pan I made the stock by browning the carcass pieces and bones and then simmering them in red wine. In a small pot, I sautéed some shallots in duck fat, added cubed beets and garlic and the strained duck stock. In that same pot I put the duck legs (a perfect snug fit) and braised them in the oven for about 1.5 hours. During the last 30 minutes of cooking I put the breast in the oven and let it roast till about medium rare. The breast is then finished on the stove top in a pan, skin side down and weighed with another pan. This is done to crisp the skin good and even.
For a sauce, the legs’ braising liquid is strained, seasoned with cinnamon and reduced. Some butter is swirled in right before serving. To serve, I removed the breast from the bone even though Richard does not instruct us to do so. Does he actually serve it on the bone? Don’t think so. Each plate gets about half a breast, sliced and a leg. Some of the sauce is drizzled on the sides and one beet chip garnishes the meat. The rest of the beet chips are served on the side. The meal seemed a bit too protein heavy for me, so I made a little polenta to serve with it. That’s the yellow stuff you see in the pictures.
The Tasting Notes
Let’s get rid of my quibbles first. The wonderful beet chips did NOT stay crispy after three days in the ‘air tight container’, especially the slightly thicker ones. The thinner chips were sort of in between crispy and chewy. That still did not prevent me from demolishing them all. They are that good and worth making again. The duck breast, as I hinted above felt a bit bland compared to the marvelous braised legs. I would certainly have appreciated some more seasoning on it or a marinade.
Overall the dish was very good. The legs were sublime, meaty, meltingly smooth and full of flavor after cooking in that red wine duck beet stock and shallots. The sauce itself was amazing with a rich mouthfeel and taste. It went so well with the rich duck. I would certainly make this again just using duck legs and braise them in the same way. I’d of course serve them with extra freshly-made beet chips too.