Skillet Duck Legs with Olives and Anchovies
Duck has in most cases been something you eat in a restaurant. I love duck, and I love serving it at home to family and guests. I hope that this two-step method of cooking cut-up duck pieces in a big skillet or casserole will make you comfortable with cooking duck at home. First you fry the duck by itself for about an hour, slowly; the skillet takes all the fat out of the bird and melts it into a frying medium which leaves the skin golden and crispy and the meat moist, flavorful, and, amazingly, not at all greasy. In the second stage, you build a small sauce and infuse the duck with its savor.
I prefer cooking just the duck legs here, as they require minimal trimming and the meat stays moist through the long cooking. If your supermarket doesn’t have duck legs, ask if they can order them; call a few specialty butchers or even a local restaurant provisioner if necessary. Duck legs are worth looking for, because they’re not only convenient and delicious but often less expensive than whole duck.
If a whole duck is all you can get, though, it will work fine in this recipe. See below for a simple cutting-up procedure.
IT’S EASY TO CUT UP A DUCK
To make this wonderful dish with a whole duck rather than duck legs, here’s a simple way to cut it up. I suggest you have a heavy chef’s knife, kitchen shears, and a small cleaver.
Rinse and dry the duck. Save the giblets and neck for soup (or cook the neck in the skillet, as I would). Trim and cut excess skin and fat, and cut them up for the skillet.
Grasp a wing near the body and bend it back firmly, exposing the armpit—you’ll feel the connecting joint. Cut through it to remove the wing; repeat on the other side. Slice off the outside thin wing piece for the soup pile; cook the meatier wing pieces in the skillet.
Set the breast facing up, and slice a line right down the middle, exposing the cartilage where the breast halves meet. Now cut through the cartilage and bone with your shears or knife, following your line, splitting the duck open.
Open the breast halves and spread them apart, like opening a book, with the spine down the middle. Now cut the duck apart along the spine, chopping with the base of your knife or cleaver at the tough parts. One cut is all you need; leave the backbone attached to one of the long duck halves.
Cut each half crosswise, dividing the breast meat from the leg meat—there’s a natural dip between them.
Now you have four big pieces, two small wings, one neck, and lots of fat and skin to fry, following the recipe.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturecrisp, garlicky, salty, savory
- 4 large duck legs (about 3 pounds), or a whole duck (4 to 5 pounds)
- ¾ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 6 tablespoons or more extra virgin olive oil
- 3 plump garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovies
- 1 cup flavorful black and green olives, pitted
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (2-inch tender branches with lots of needles)
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup or so turkey broth, Simple Vegetable Broth, or water, if needed
- A 12-inch heavy-bottomed sauté pan or casserole pan, with 4-inch sides or deeper
Cooking the duck legs in their own fat:
Trim the excess skin and all the visible fat from the duck legs; cut the skin and fat into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of the salt on all sides of the legs.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into the pan, and set over medium heat. Arrange the legs in the pan, skin side down, and scatter all the skin and fat pieces in the spaces between them. As the fat starts to sizzle, lower the heat slightly and partially cover the skillet, leaving a gap of an inch or so for moisture to evaporate. Let the fat sizzle away, as you occasionally nudge and shift the leg pieces so they don’t stick to the bottom.
After 15 to 20 minutes, turn the legs over–the skin should be gold and lightly crisped already. Cook the legs on the flesh side for about 15 minutes, shifting them a bit, then turn them skin side down again and continue cooking for another 20 minutes–cook an hour altogether–until they are thoroughly crisp and deeply colored. Lift the leg pieces from the pan, letting fat drip off, and put them in a bowl. Carefully pour out the fat into a heat-proof container, but leave the crusty bits on the bottom and sides of the skillet.
Flavoring and finishing the duck:
Return the skillet to the stove; pour in 3 more tablespoons of olive oil, and set over medium heat. Stir in the garlic slices, and cook for a minute or two, until they start to sizzle. Drop the chopped anchovies in a hot spot; cook, stirring, for a minute or more—the anchovies will melt away in the oil. Now drop in the olives and stir them around, scraping up some of the browned bits in the pan as you do, for a minute or more, until they’re starting to cook.
Put the duck legs back into the pan, toss in the branches of rosemary, and get the duck cooking again, turning the legs over in the oil and seasonings for a minute or two. When everything is hot, pour the red wine vinegar in several clear spaces around the pan; toss and stir everything as the vinegar steams and the acidity cooks off. After a minute, sprinkle on another ¼ teaspoon of salt and pour in the wine, also on hot spots, and stir for a minute, then cover the pan completely.
Cook covered for 4 or 5 minutes over low to medium heat, then uncover and turn everything well, coating the duck with the liquid and using it to deglaze the browned bits in the pan. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary; drizzle over a tablespoon or two of olive oil if the sauce needs more viscosity.
Cover the pan, and cook another 4 to 5 minutes. Uncover, and give everything a final stir so the duck is well coated with thick sauce and bits of olives. If there's loose, wet sauce in the pan, cook and stir until it is thickened. But if the duck is dry and there are stuck brown bits on the pan, pour in a bit of broth to loosen things up and get the duck moist and glistening with the sauce. Remove from the heat and serve. Let the duck rest in the pan, partially covered, if you want; refresh and reheat it with a bit of broth before serving.
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