Duck is one of my favourite meats, but it does tend to be a bit expensive. Duck legs, though, are the cheaper option in most supermarkets. A while ago I got into a discussion with someone who was looking for new and interesting ways to cook duck legs. I can’t quite remember what conclusions we came to but afterwards I started wondering what was wrong with the traditional methods. To my shame, I hadn't made this sort of dish for years and I needed reminding just how good it can be.
There’s nothing new or revolutionary about this recipe. It’s the method of Normandy cooking that I first picked up years ago, although there’s no guarantee that it would be considered truly authentic in the Vallée d'Auge. Very much the same method of cooking is often used in Normandy for chicken or guinea fowl, although they will usually require less time to cook.
I did use a genuine Normandy cider for this dish but it’s not the only place in the world that makes excellent cider. Most decent dry ciders will produce a good result in this dish but there are some modern styles of cider that are very dry and, although they're often excellent to drink, they can give a slightly unpleasant, bitter edge to the flavour when used in cooking. It’s best to err on the fruity or slightly less dry side. Incidentally, there are many fine ciders made in Normandy but, if you’re ever in the Cotentin peninsular, then I’d recommend the cider of Le Père Mahieu. (I’ve no connection whatsoever with Le Père Mahieu, I just really like their cider).
This dish might typically be served with potatoes sautéed in duck fat and very nice that would be too, but I served it with boulangère potatoes cooked in chicken stock to keep the overall fat content down a little. Some green beans or fresh peas would be good too. It will serve 2 people.
Sorry about the quality of the picture. My excuse is that the light was really bad and my camera doesn't cope well with poor light. (In my camera’s defence, it would like to point out that it was only bought for holiday snapshots and since it’s already celebrated its 11th birthday, it would like to be shown a little more respect and understanding. That's all I need - argumentative hardware.)
2 duck legs
2 large or 4 small shallots, chopped
2 tbsp calvados
500 ml cider (see above)
250 ml chicken stock
1 dessert apple – ideally, choose an apple that’s quite firm and not too sharp
½ tsp caster sugar
1 - 2 tbsp crème fraîche
Place the duck legs, skin-side down, in a dry frying pan over a medium heat and allow them to brown a little for around 5 minutes. This should render some of the fat from the legs. Turn the legs over and fry briefly for around one minute. Remove the duck legs, lower the heat and add the shallots to the pan. (There should be enough fat in the pan but, if not, add a little butter).
Fry the shallots gently for 8 – 10 minutes until they have started to soften. Add the calvados to the pan and increase the heat. As soon as the calvados has pretty much evaporated, return the duck to the pan and pour in the cider and the stock (The duck should be largely, if not completely, covered). Season and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down, partially cover the pan and allow it to bubble away very gently for 1¼ - 1½ hours. Turn the duck legs several times while they’re cooking.
Towards the end of the cooking time, peel, core, quarter and slice the apple. Melt a little butter in a frying pan, stir in the sugar and gently fry the apple slices for around 5 minutes until soft, but not falling apart. (If you want to limit the amount of fat, use just a tiny amount of butter and a little chicken stock).
At the end of its cooking time, the duck should be tender and the liquid in the pan should have reduced by around three quarters. (If there’s still quite a lot of liquid in the pan, boil it for a while after you remove the duck).
Remove the duck and pass the sauce through a sieve to remove the shallot. Discard the shallot, skim some of the fat from the sauce and return the duck and the sauce to the pan. Reheat the duck and add the apple slices. Finally stir in the crème fraîche and allow it to heat through gently for a minute or two. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve as soon as possible.