Melting Duck Legs

2008 Sep/Oct

Though duck legs are flavourful, they can be tough and in need of a good braising. You could do this in way less time than overnight, but why bother when you can sleep through the cooking process?


  • Olive oil
  • 6 whole duck legs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 big carrots, cut into big pieces crosswise or lengthwise
  • 3 big onions, thickly sliced
  • Sugar
  • Liquid: rich chicken broth, wine, beer, enough to cover the vegetables*
  • Polenta, noodles or rice
  • Snipped fresh green herbs to garnish


Turn the oven to 200°F. In a large Le Creuset-style pot – make sure the lid doesn’t have a plastic or rubber handle – heat the oil to hot and brown the duck legs a bit on both sides over medium-high heat, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Remove and reserve. In the oil and rendered fat, cook the onions, sprinkled with some sugar to encourage caramelizing, over medium-high heat until a bit caramelized. Add the carrots and continue to cook to brown the carrots a bit.

Add enough liquid of your choice to cover the vegetables, then stir in your other flavouring ingredients, combining them well with the broth. When it’s bed time, put the duck legs into the pot and push them into the liquid so that they are more-or-less covered. Put the lid on the pot, pot into oven, off to bed.

In the morning, turn off the oven, remove the pot and investigate the duck legs. A gentle burble of dark, mahogany will greet you, and an unbelievable tenderness of meaty portions. Put legs and vegetables into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, into the fridge. Fragrant liquid into another bowl, cover with plastic wrap, into the fridge.

At dinnertime, remove fat from the liquid and put duck, vegetables and liquid into a pot to heat up. Cook polenta, noodles or rice. Serve in wide bowls with snips of chives or other fresh green herb. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: use a half-bottle of cassis fruit wine. Try the fruit wines of Fieldstone Fruit Wines near Strathmore. Other flavouring ingredients: pomegranate molasses, leftover orange marmalade, preserved lemon (from Middle Eastern grocers) chopped or slivered, dried cherries (duck and fruit always make a happy marriage) or garlic. Or stir in chopped preserved lemon and half a jar of old orange marmalade.

Variations on the Duck Leg Theme
You can do the same thing with other tough cuts of meat: meaty beef or bison short ribs, shanks, old chickens, shoulder of lamb – even leg of lamb – beef pot roast. Experiment with other good braising vegetables, like fennel bulb, cauliflower, turnips and parsnips, and seasonings that suit the meat and vegetables. You’ll end up with a dish that is succulent and luscious, and that’s hard to beat!