Friday, October 19, 2007
Wine Braised Duck with Chestnuts & Polenta - a Recipe
Game season. Are there any 2 words in the English language as simultaneously invigorating and cozy? Not in my book, and the food of northern Italy is a glorious way to celebrate.
Piedmont – a region in the northwest corner of Italy – is famous for its pheasant, hare, quail, and wild duck. All of which are in season at the same time as the area’s renowned white truffles, wild mushrooms, and red grapes. As you might imagine, October’s a wonderful time to visit.
I love this traditional Piedmontese recipe for its rustic simplicity and bold flavors – the herbal bay and smoky chestnuts meld with the wine into a rich, heady sauce that’s just what I want on a rainy evening.
Traditionally, the sauce from the duck might be served first over pasta, but I like to heap it, along with the meat, vegetables, and chestnuts, over polenta that’s seasoned with plenty of butter and parmesan cheese. Piedmont’s game birds have long been paired with golden polenta, and here I’ve used a coarse, stone-round version from Wild Hive Farm. If you prefer set polenta (customarily it’s favored in the region), make it at least 2 hours ahead, omit the butter, cut it into thin slices once set, and grill or broil just before serving.
Lia Huber of Swirling Notions is getting a braising chain going, and you can check it out here.
Serves 4 – 6
6 duck legs
extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, large dice
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
½ bottle red wine
4 oz. roasted chestnuts (jarred is fine if you prefer)
2 cups coarse-ground yellow polenta
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (loosely packed) finely grated parmesan cheese
Remove the skin and fat from the duck legs – this usually takes some combination of brute force and a sharp boning knife. I urge you to reserve the skin and render out its fat over low heat – this freezes well and makes an excellent seasoning throughout the year.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the diced onion. Season with kosher salt and sweat, stirring often, until slightly translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened. Add the garlic and stir for one minute more.
Season the vegetables with plenty of black pepper and add 3 of the bay leaves and teh chestnuts (unless they are jarred - in which case wait until the duck has 30 minutes left to cook). Arrange the duck legs, fleshy side down, over the vegetables. Add the wine and raise the heat to medium high. Bring the liquid to a bubble, cover partially, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or until tender.
Meanwhile, place a large pot with 6 cups of water on the stove. Season the water with 1 tbsp kosher salt and the remaining bay leaf. Place a smaller pot on the stove with 4 cups of water. Bring both to the boil and reduce the smaller pot to a gentle simmer. Cover the smaller pot.
Whisking constantly, sprinkle the polenta into the seasoned water, being sure to sift it in through your fingers so clumps don’t form. As soon as the polenta and water are combined, reduce the heat as low as it will go – you’re looking for a lazy bubble here. Continue to stir the polenta with a wooden spoon.
Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, add a ladle or 2 full of simmering water from the smaller pot each time the polenta starts to thicken – about every 5 minutes. After about 45 minutes, the polenta will be creamy and pull away from the side of the pot. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and stir in the butter until completely melted and combined. Next stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Correct the seasoning with black pepper and more salt if necessary. Serve the duck and vegetables over the polenta with plenty of the cooking juices.
Finished soft polenta keeps, covered over very low heat, up to 1 hour.