Braised Duck with Leeks and Onions

When Southerners speak of duck, they’re talking about wild ducks, and more specifically, about the green-headed, grain-eating mallards that migrate south from Canada each year searching for warmer waters and for feeding grounds. I had lots of exposure to early-morning duck hunting when I was growing up in the Carolinas, but never have I witnessed such passion over the meaty birds and such communal sport than around the marshy flatlands of western Mississippi and the rice fields of eastern Arkansas. Most of the natives in the region prefer simply to roast their mallards, but one of the most memorable preparations I have eaten was this slowly braised duck with two styles of onion, served by none other than the talented wife of an Episcopal priest I knew who had been transferred from North Carolina to Mississippi. The two most widely available ducks in the United States today are the Long Island and Muscovy species, both adequately flavorful, even if fattier than wild mallards or ringnecks. A rule of thumb is that one 4-pound duckling feeds two people—so plan accordingly.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Two 4-pound ducks, dressed, pricked all over with a fork, cut into serving pieces, and patted dry with paper towels
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • 2 medium leeks, rinsed well and chopped
  • 6 cups dry red wine
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 20 tiny white onions, peeled and scored on the root ends
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in ½ cup water

Method

On a plate, combine the flour, salt, and pepper and mix well. Dredge the duck pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess.

In a large, heavy stainless-steel or enameled pot or casserole, melt the butter over moderately high heat till it is pale brown. Add the duck pieces, brown on all sides, and transfer to a platter. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat, reduce the heat to moderate, add the leeks, and cook, stirring, till golden, about 5 minutes. Return the duck to the pot, add the wine, thyme, bay leaves, and salt and pepper, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 1 hour. Add the white onions and simmer till the onions are tender, about 30 minutes longer. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, increase the heat to moderate, and cook till the sauce is thickened. Taste for salt and pepper, transfer the duck and onions to a serving platter, and serve piping hot.