Feature

Spanish duck: The year’s hottest bird, with olives and sherry

If you’re new to cooking duck, don’t consider it simply an alternative to chicken.

Duck is the new pork, said Hank Shaw in Duck, Duck, Goose (Ten Speed Press). Everywhere you go these days, you can find adventurous variations popping up on menus: duck consommé in Minneapolis, crispy duck tongues in Kansas City, duck leg meat that’s been braised, pulled, and stuffed into tacos in Austin.

If you’re new to cooking duck, don’t consider it simply an alternative to chicken. “In fact, it is better to associate duck with beef than with other poultry: Think of the breast meat as a steak, and the rest of the bird as the brisket.” You can pan-sear a breast to create a memorable meal, but other parts should be braised until they’re fork tender.

This braise comes from Andalusia, a region of southern Spain. Combining sherry, orange, dry-cured ham, and green olives is “just about the most Spanish thing you can do,” and the duck legs should come out succulent inside, with a crisped skin that’s one of dining’s great pleasures. Serve the dish with roasted potatoes or rice, and have extra sherry on hand for drinking.

Recipe of the week

Spanish duck with green olives and sherry

  • 2 to 3 lbs duck legs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, thinly sliced stem to root end
  • ¹⁄³ lb serrano ham, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry Spanish sherry
  • Zest of 1 orange, cut into wide strips
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup poultry stock
  • Juice of 1 orange (about ½ cup)
  • 12 green olives, pitted and halved
  • Minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325. Using a sharp knife, trim any excess fat from duck legs and pierce skin all over, being careful not to prick the meat. Using a cleaver or heavy kitchen shears, separate drumsticks and thighs and salt well.

In wide, heavy ovenproof pot, set duck pieces skin-side down and turn heat to medium. Add oil. Brown skin sides well, without turning, and transfer to a plate.

Turn heat to medium-high and add onion and ham. Sauté, stirring often, until they begin to brown. Add garlic and cook another 1½ minutes. If a lot of fat has collected, move onion, ham, and garlic to one side, tip pot slightly, and spoon some fat out. Add sherry and bring to a boil.

Mix in orange zest, thyme, bay leaves, and honey. Nestle duck pieces, skin side up, in the pot. Add enough stock and orange juice to come up to the level of the skin. Do not submerge duck pieces.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer pot to oven. Braise until meat yields easily when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove cover, add olives, and cook for another 30 minutes, until duck skin is crispy. Transfer duck pieces to plates, spoon sauce over them, and garnish with parsley. Serves 4.

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