Chris and I were not able to spend Christmas with our families this year, due to the small factor of us being in China, so when Christmas Eve rolled along, we found ourselves planning a special meal for just the two of us. We spent the afternoon strolling along Zhongshan Road, the main shopping street, enjoying the Christmas trees and occasionally getting harried by vendors trying to sell watches. We found an excellent grocery store with a lot of good fresh produce (including hand-pulled fresh noodles!), and picked up some duck legs for dinner.
These braised duck legs are oh-so-rich, flavorful, and even though duck legs are inexpensive, they have that “special” factor that makes them worthy of a holiday meal. Keep the browned skins out of the braising liquid and they will crisp up beautifully, while the meat beneath becomes tender and soft. When the duck is done, the braising liquid reduces to a syrupy, sweet and savory wine sauce, with the added tang of dried cranberries.
Serve it with the rest of the bottle of wine you used to braise it in, and use the rendered duck fat to roast potatoes or sweet potatoes. Serve this dish with a green salad or some light vegetable dishes, as a counterpoint to the richness of the duck.
Red-Wine Braised Duck Legs with Cranberries
Adapted from Gourmet 1996
4 whole duck legs, trimmed of excess fat
1 tbsp dried thyme
5 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry red wine, plus extra
1 cup dried cranberries (preferably unsweetened)
2-3 cups chicken broth
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Score the skin of the duck legs with a sharp knife (but don’t cut the meat). This will help the fat to render.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the duck legs, skin side down, for 10-15 minutes until skin is crisp and dark-brown. Periodically spoon off the rendered duck fat, using a bulb baster if you have one (if not be careful not to burn yourself). Turn legs over to brown the other side briefly, about 2 minutes.
Fit the duck legs snugly into a baking dish (a 9×9 dish was sufficient for mine) and set aside. Deglaze the skillet with the red wine, scraping up any browned bits, and reduce the wine until thick. Add ½ cup cranberries, the thyme, and garlic. Pour liquid around the duck legs. Add enough broth to cover legs, but leaving skin above braising liquid.
Braise in oven for about 2 hours, until meat is tender. Remove legs to a plate. Strain the liquid into a small saucepan, discarding fruit and herbs. Skim off the fat with a spoon. Add ½ cup dried cranberries and another splash of red wine. Boil until reduced to a syrup and cranberries are softened.
Spoon sauce over duck legs just before serving.