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
kosher salt
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.


Peter M said...

Duck is very under-rated and I'm guilty of not cooking it enough...delicious winter dish!

Anonymous said...

Duck is a favorite of mine. This looks great.

Anonymous said...

I adore chestnuts and am constantly looking for recipes that contain them. I'm a little intimidated by cooking duck but I will definitely give this a shot!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Peter, thank you! I always wish I cooked it more often too - we have access to such lovely birds from Quattro's game farm here. It's certainly the time of year for it, isn't it?!

Anonymous, mine too! So glad you like the recipe.

Anonymous, chestnuts are just magical this time of year, aren't they? Braised duck's easy - the only tip I'd give is be sure to cook on very, very low heat. If the sauce bubbles too quickly, the duck can get tough. But as long as you stick with a slow, low braise, you have nothing to worry about! Let me know how it goes.

Joanna said...

I've just been to the butcher, but now I feel as if I've made all the wrong choices - why on earth didn't I buy duck?? The polenta looks great, that's something I haven't made for ages. I always think I don't really like chestnuts, but I am willing to give them a go after reading this.

Next I have to investigate the braising chain, sounds like a very good idea

Thanks Amanda, lovely ideas and photos as always
Joanna x

David Hall said...



Joanna (another one) said...

Long-time lurker coming out of the woodwork to say that this post is not fair!! Even if I could leave work right now and buy all the ingredients on my way home, I'd have to wait at least an hour before I could eat this. And I want it rightnow. Chestnuts and duck are 2 of my favorite foods, and red wine certainly never hurts -- I will have to try this soon, at least. :)

winedeb said...

I see myself serving this dish on a crisp, cool fall night in front of a fire, maybe even an outdoor fire. Your dish and a big glass of red wine, such as a Zinfandel, oh my, what a dinner!

swirlingnotions said...

Amanda, I am so glad I asked for your take on an autumn braise! This is magnificent. We have an actual Italian chestnut tree in our yard (we call it the "sputnik" tree because, despite the romanticism of it all, the spiny shells are really, really painful when they fall on your head or roll under bare feet), but after several failed attempts at roasting the suckers, I resorted to vacuum packs from the market, which actually aren't bad at all (truth be told, they're better than my fresh-roasted).

I can't wait to make this. And I hope it dries out a bit up here so I can enjoy it in the manner WineDeb suggests--around an outdoor fire, with a big glass of lusty red wine!

Thanks again, Amanda!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Joanna, thank you! If you don't like chestnuts much, why not substitute a bunch of wild mushrooms? That's very traditional in Piedmont too, and just as delicious! I'm sure whatever you got at the butcher is going to be heavenly, and I can't wait to read about it, but fyi, you give me food envy too! ; )

David, thank you! I love the vote of confidence, and I'm so pleased you like!

Joanna the lurker, welcome! I'm so pleased you like the sound of the duck. It's a damn nuisance about braises, isn't it? They're infinitely craveable, but there's no substitute for the time they take to cook. Look at it this way, while the duck braises, you can stir the polenta and have the other half of the bottle of wine. It's a good way to kill an hour, no?

Winedeb, you make me absolutely long for an outdoor fireplace! And a big glass of zinfandel - how glorious! You lucky, lucky girl.

Swirlingnotions, thanks again for the shout out. I love the nickname for your tree! The damn things are time consuming, but so very good. I must confess, though, I often go with jarred chestnuts for cooking. I hate that the flavor's a little different, but I guess I'm a little lazy. Home roasted chestnuts are one of my favorite after dinner treats. I should make them more. And we roast them on the fire at my parents' house at Christmas. Envy your outdoor fire so, so much...

Kevin said...

This sounds really tasty. I have not tried cooking duck yet but it is on my list of things to try. I like the use of the chestnuts. Bookmarked.

mike said...

Chestnuts are a great idea with the richness of duck. This looks like a keeper.

Anh said...

I am a big fan of duck and always keen to try new recipe! Yours sounds really lovely! I will be trying it out after I clear the duck pies I made recently :)

Wendy said...

Must make polenta, must make polenta, must make polenta... I've only ever used it in cakes before. Love duck though! Maybe this will give me the shove I need.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Kevin, thank you! I like the chestnuts too. Braised duck is a good place to start, because if it tastes tough, you just keep simmering until it doesn't anymore - just like any stew. Hope you enjoy.

Mike, thanks! I like the combination too.

Anh, thanks so much, but duck pies sound like another realm entirely! How delicious those must be!

Wendy, honestly, it's not something I do that often, because it takes so long. Risotto's one thing, but polenta's usually 45 minutes of stirring, so you've really got to be in the mood. Which occasionally I am. And the reward is certainly there - especially when you add plenty of parmesan cheese at the end! Then it's just plain addictive. Let me know...

Gloria said...

This recipe is nice Amanda, I like the polenta, now duck many time that I didn`t because we don`t find sometimes. I will try. If you like I have a appetizer's recipe of antichokes at my blog. Gloria

Mercedes said...

Oh, my boyfriend adores duck, particularly French and Italian recipes (as opposed to Asian preparations which are fattier), but I never cook it for us because I'm not really a meat eater. However, someone recently gave me a tip that wild duck is a bit leaner and more flavorful, so I've been meaning to give it a try...

The Passionate Palate said...

OMG!!! My mouth is watering, literally. These are some of my favorite flavor combinations. I must admit that I've never made duck, and I love it. So, what am I waiting for? Nothing, now that I have your fabulous recipe.

I am putting together a Piedmont wine and food tour for the 2008 truffle season, and am chomping at the bit to go. I can't wait to savor all that great cuisine during the cool fall.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Gloria, thanks so much! I can't wait to check out your artichoke recipe - you know they're my favorite - and I'm so pleased you like the sound of this duck!

Mercedes, the flavor difference can actually be remarkable! Sometimes it's far gamier, which I happen to love. And it's definitely leaner - needs a gentler touch because of that, of course. Let me know if you decide to try it.

Passionate Palate, thank you! I'm so glad you like the sound of the recipe! And I can't believe you're putting together a Piedmont trip! What a coincidence, and I am so jealous. It's a brilliant idea, and I know it'll be extraordinary! There is no better place to eat in October. How wonderful!!!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I have never had duck and this would be a wonderful way of trying it for the first time, Amanda!
I love polenta!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

That polenta looks delcious and so creamy! There is an art to polenta and I certainly think that you prepared it masterfully!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Patricia, thank you! I love polenta too - so comforting! I can imagine - judging from what I know of your palate from your recipes - that you might really enjoy duck. It might be fun to start with a seared breast that's sliced thinly and drizzled with some savory sauce. The flavors here in this braise are intense and sticky, but they might be a fun place to start too. Do let me know if you take the plunge!

Jenn, welcome home! It's lovely to have you back! I find that the trick to polenta is to stir constantly and add hot water each time it starts to thicken slightly. Plus a bunch of butter and parmesan cheese never hurt anything, did they? Hope you had a great time.

Annemarie said...

This sounds wonderfully autumnal. there's a new farmer's market near me keeping me in all the game I can imagine, and there are so many chestnuts to gather for free during autumn walks, that this may be just the ticket.

Cynthia said...

I love your food, Amanda.

Truffle said...

Oh my! What a gorgeous dish. I can't get enough of duck so this one has my name all over it!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Annemarie, thank you! It is that sort of classic autumn flavor profile, isn't it? Sticky and rich - my favorite way to eat! Sounds like you've got some amazing resources where you are. Let me know how it goes!

Cynthia, thank you, you lovely lady! You're awfully kind to tell me that.

Truffle, thanks! I'm a duck lover too, and it's the best time of year for them, isn't it? Enjoy!

Christine said...

Beautiful dish, so perfect for this time of year. And your instructions are superb.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Christine, thank you! It's a dish I really enjoy this time of year, and I'm so glad everything makes sense! Thanks for letting me know, and enjoy your duck!

swirlingnotions said...

Hi Amanda . . . just wanted to let you know I included a link back here in my "Braisy Chain" roundup.

Thanks again! And I hope you're enjoying your hiatus :-) .

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