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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fiji Water, for the Perfection Takes Time campaign. All opinions are my own.
Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs #perfectiontakestime #duck
Recently I realized something, and it made me a bit wistful. I realized that I don't take my time in the kitchen anymore. I mean, YES—I'm always in the kitchen. Always testing recipes. Always making dinner. Always moving a stack of cookbooks from the table to the floor. Always fretting over lack of counter space...lack of daylight...lack of clean dishes. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Spending my time instead of taking it.

Sixteen years ago, when I moved into my first real apartment...not a dorm room, not a house or apartment shared with college roommates...just me, I took my time in the kitchen. I was just coming into my own. I was learning cooking processes and techniques. I used to make lists, explore ingredients, and prepare meals that took time. Golden-skinned chicken that was roasted in the new stoneware dish I was so proud of. Chuck roasts so tender and beckoning that burning my fingertips just to get an early taste didn't hurt a bit. Pink hams wrapped in a shiny glaze. Pork loins propped up by a bed of sturdy vegetables. You know, the type of food that envelops the entire house in a sense of calm.

And I did it just because I enjoyed it.

Honestly, it bummed me out a bit to think that I've devolved. I mean sure, life is more hectic than it was then. Life as an adult will do that to a person. But, I was the one who let that feeling get away. Fortunately I know how to get it back. Maybe not in the exact same way that I had it when I was 23—but in a way that makes sense for 39-year-old me.

Today's fast-paced world can make it easy for anyone (or at least me) to forget that sometimes slower is better. I'm ready to take back some of my time in the kitchen. I'll use it to tease my family with intoxicating smells from the oven. Scents that will have them waiting at the dinner table (that they set) 20 minutes early in anticipation of what's to come.

Starting with these braised duck legs.
Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs #perfectiontakestime #duck
Now, they way they came about was kismet, really. With my recent realization still turning about in my head, I was offered the opportunity to work with FIJI Water on their Perfection Takes Time campaign, which just so happens to be "a celebration of everything delicious that takes time and care to prepare". Coincidence? I think not. I'm definitely of the "everything happens for a reason" school.

What does focusing on delicious things that take time and care to prepare have to do with FIJI Water?  More than you might guess. Now, let me begin by saying that if you've seen me with a disposable water bottle in my hand anytime in the last 15 or 16 years, it's most likely been a FIJI bottle. Over time, my kids and husband have a separate times all asked me why I like FIJI the best. I've always told them that I think it tastes the best. It's soft and sort of airy, and I don't really know how else to describe it. My response usually elicits shrugs and "hmmm's". But I guarantee they were thinking about it the very next time they brought that bottle to their lips.

Back to the connection. In case you weren't familiar, FIJI Water actually does come from Fiji. Their water process starts over 1,600 miles above the nearest continent with tropical rain that is purified by equatorial trade winds. The rain water falls into a pristine rain forest that's surrounded by ancient, dormant volcanoes. As the water is slowly filtered by volcanic rock, it gathers minerals and electrolytes (which just so happen to be one of the reasons behind that softness I mentioned earlier). The water then collects in a natural artesian aquifer deep below the earth's surface, protects it from outside elements, thus preserving it. Natural pressure pushes the water towards the surface, and right there at that source is where FIJI is bottled.

Pretty darn cool.
Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs #perfectiontakestime #duck
So, in true my true walking-contradiction form, I wanted to get started immediately. Hurry, hurry, hurry-up and slow down. So, where to begin; what was going to help me get that feeling back? Sixteen years ago, the thought of cooking duck never even crossed my mind. Like, ever. I wasn't something that I grew up eating. But I could roast the heck out of a chicken or a turkey.

Along with all of the other things that have changed since then, duck is now a regular protein in our rotation. A peek into the fridge revealed four beautiful duck legs just begging to be rendered into slow cooked bliss. It does bear mention that while I have worked duck into our meal rotation, not everybody in my family is entirely sold on it yet. But each and every one of them is coming around, and it's revelatory dishes like this one pulling them in one by one.

I made these on a weekday. I started early so I could get some good light to photograph by. That day my youngest son happened to be home from school, because he wasn't feeling well. The first step of the recipe is simply rendering that sought-after liquid gold from the duck legs—duck fat. It's a slow and steady process that is good at reminding me why slower can be better. Four legs wearing their crispy skin like rock stars, and one small jar halfway full of liquid gold later, I was ready to start step two.
duck legs, from start to end of braise
Step two increases the area of that comfort bubble that's forming around the stove. The duck legs are nestled partially into an infused bath that enchants the entire house with it's intoxicating smell over the next 90 minutes. On to step three, and a final searing of the skin that temporarily lost its crispness. Soon the succulent dark meat sports a sticky, burnished surface that crackles as you bite into it.

This realization, this process, this step back towards doing what enjoy in the kitchen again was amazing for so many reasons, but I'll leave you with two of them:
  1. Halfway through braising, my son walked into the kitchen and told me it smelled like Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the day I look forward to most all year because of the time I take in the kitchen. Relevant.
  2. The duck leg that I set in front of my son came back with nothing more than bones on it. No skin. No meat. Just a content smile that I recognized as an echo of my own.

I needed this reminder.

Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs
Tender, fall-off-the-bone braised duck legs finished with a sweet, sticky Asian-inspired glaze.
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Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Keywords: braised entree dairy-free nut-free duck Asian

Ingredients (serves 4)
    for braising:
    • 4 duck legs (8 ounces each)
    • 1 (500 mL / 1.05 pint) bottle Fiji water
    • 1 cup duck stock (or chicken stock)
    • 1/4 cup dry sherry
    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
    • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
    • 1 teaspoon white or black peppercorns
    • 2 whole star anise
    • 2 chiles de arbol, stemmed
    • 1 (3-inch) piece of cinnamon stick
    for the glaze:
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
    • 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate paste
    • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
    • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
    • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
    Set a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Rinse the duck and pat it dry with paper towels. Set duck skin side down in pan and let it cook gently until the skin is crisp and the fat has rendered, 30-35 minutes. Low and slow is the key—you don't want to burn the legs or the precious fat that is rendered.

    Lift the duck legs out and set them on a rimmed plate. Carefully pour the duck fat through a strainer and into a jar; reserve (you'll need some for later). Wipe the skillet out and set it aside (you'll also need this later).

    Preheat the oven to 350° F.

    Set a 5 or 6 quart braiser or Dutch oven on the stove and add water, stock, sherry, vinegar, soy sauce, coriander, fennel, peppercorns, star anise, chile, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then carefully set the duck legs into the liquid, skin side up; the duck should be covered about 2/3 of the way. Cover the pot, then slide into the preheated oven. Let the duck braise until very tender, 80-90 minutes.

    While the duck is braising, make the glaze by combining everything in a small pot. Bring to a boil and allow to bubble for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, until reduced by 1/3 and thick. Set aside for brushing on duck.

    Lift the duck legs from the pot and set them on a rimmed plate (you can discard the reduced cooking liquid and solids).

    Set your reserved skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the reserved duck fat (store the rest covered in the fridge for another use). Once the pan and oil are hot, carefully lay the braised duck breasts in, skin side down. Cook for 3 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

    Flip and brush a thick layer of the reserved glaze on crisped skin. Continue cooking with skin up for another 1-2 minutes to crisp up and brown any skin on the bottom. Flip the legs again and cook for 1 minute, while brushing glaze on the side now facing up.

    Flip one last time and brush a final layer of glaze over the skin side (now facing up). Remove from heat and serve.
    Asian-inspired Braised Duck Legs #perfectiontakestime #duck
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