Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives




For me it doesn’t get any better than duck. Steak can be great, fish exquisite, but canard tops them all. There’s no arguing with taste, so instead of arguing with me just know that if we end up marooned on the same island, and my side has the ducks and your side has the emus or llamas or cows, and there’s only sufficient forage and fresh water for one set of domesticated farm animals, yours will have to learn to swim. Before I wrote this I ran through the blog wondering how often I’d written about duck before. To my surprise, the answer was once. If you’re living someplace warm, and fancy some grilled duck breast with peaches, have at it. The rest of us in New England are glancing skyward, like GAME of THRONES extras with their first speaking roles, muttering, “Winter is coming.” Grilling may not be in our cards these days, but as lovers of duck we are resourceful. We’re plundering one of Rialto’s most well-known dishes for its flavor combinations—Slow-Roasted Duck with Green Olives–and translating them into something much simpler. A homey pasta dish. Herewith, Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives.

If you want to know about the different varieties of duck, who eats what, the kind you’re likely to find in a market here, etc. then click on the once in the paragraph above.  If I just repeat the information everyone will take it as sure sign that I’m either lazy or standing at the ticket counter to Geezerland.

This is a preparation of minimal steps, with  has none of the obstacles traditionally associated with cooking duck at home, no aerosol clouds of vaporized duck fat, no arcane techniques for insuring that legs and breast reach the same degree of melt-in-mouth tenderness in the same week. Here’s a summary.

  • Render the fat from some pancetta in a large heavy bottomed pan.  When most of the fat has melted off, take the pancetta out.
  • Sear 4 duck legs on either side in the pancetta fat.  Take the legs out of the pan.
  • Sauté the usual suspects–onions, carrots and celery–in the pan.  Add some garlic, then the remaining stuff for the ragu (e.g. red wine, tomatoes).  Cook for a little bit.
  • Put the duck legs back in the pan with the ragu and simmer for one and a half episodes of HOMELAND or HOUSE OF CARDS.
  • Take the legs out of the pan, remove the meat from the bones and add it back to the sauce.
  • Let simmer while you make pasta.  Serve the ragu over pasta with some grated cheese.  DO NOT EAT IN FRONT OF THE TV.  When people taste this dish they’ll think you’re a god and you don’t want all those hosannas to be diluted by concern over whether Quinn lives or dies or Frank Underwood is impeached.  Kevin Spacey and Claire Danes can wait.

Jody goes into a bit more detail, but that’s basically it.  Of course, once you serve it, you’ll never be allowed to take it off the menu.  Enjoy.  Ken






Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives


  • 2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, cut into ½-inch dice
  • 4 duck legs, about 1½ pounds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • ½ cup carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • ½ cup celery, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup diced peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • A couple of thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1½ cups chicken stock + additional if needed
  • 3 ounces pitted green olives
  • 1 pound high quality dried pasta (We used paccheri, a tubular pasta from southern Italy.   Normally paccheri are smooth, but we like paccheri rigati, the ribbed kind–it picks up the sauce better.)
  • A block of parmesan cheese for grating


  1. Render the pancetta in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a plate.
  2. Season the duck legs with salt, pepper.  Add the duck pieces to the pan, skin side down,  cook to render the fat and sear the skin until golden brown, about 10 minutes.   Flip and cook on the other side to for a few minutes.   Remove and reserve on a plate.
  3. Increase the heat to medium and add the onions, carrot and celery to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes.. Add the garlic and cook 1 minutes.
  4. Add the wine, tomato paste and tomatoes and reduce by half.
  5. Add the zest, herbs and chicken stock.
  6. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Return the pancetta and duck legs, skin side up, to the pan. Cover with parchment and then a lid or foil. Braise on top of the stove until the meat starts falling off the bone, about 1 ½ hours.
  7. Transfer the legs to a plate to cool.  Remove and discard the herbs.
  8. Remove the skin from the ducks and strip the meat carefully off the bones—take care to discard all tiny bones and cartilage.
  9. Add the meat and olives back to the ragu. Reheat and cook 15 minutes.  If the sauce seems dry, add a little stock or water.
  10. Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a boil.  Add the pasta and stir until it returns to a boil.  Cook to al dente.  Scoop the pasta out of the water and dump directly into the pan with the sauce.  Cook a few minutes to meld the pasta with the sauce.
  11. Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with grated cheese.



Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 3-1-2

Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 3-2-2

Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 3-3-2

Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 3-4-2

Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 3-5-2

Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives 2-1-2




Jody Notes: 

Ragus are the essence of comfort. My mother used to make a very simple spaghetti sauce with ground beef, onions and tomatoes. When I walked through the door after school and the aroma told me there was a pot on the stove, no matter what kind of day I’d had, I felt like everything was going to be ok.  A ragu is like firewood, it warms you twice.  First through the long cooking that fills the house with those wonderful smells, and second when you bury your head in a bowl.

Duck often seems daunting but in this recipe it’s as easy to cook as chicken leg, and it doesn’t taste like chicken! I keep all the fat from the pancetta and duck in sauce for flavor and ease. You can discard the fat and add a little olive oil before adding the vegetables to the pan in Step 3 if you prefer.  

Make some of this now, pop it in the freezer, and you’ll have it for a Sunday supper in January.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all.




Duck Ragu-0186



40 thoughts

  1. Great article Ken! Bad idea to read it empty stomach.

    Ken, I would like to connect with a chef in Chicago to partner with for one of our groups. Do you happen to have anyone in mind?

    Happy Holidays! Say ciao to Jody. I got the thank you card for PMC and I love the cover picture.

    *Beppe Salerno* *Managing Director* *Tourissimo * *mail | * *web | * *| *Subscribe to our Blog

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    • Hi, Beppe! Thank you–did you notice that we managed to produce a recipe that contains neither bottarga nor preserved lemons? Glad you liked the post and the cycling photo. Of the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone in Chicago who is also a cyclist, but I’ll ask Jody if she knows anyone. Buon Natale! Ken

  2. duck legs thawing faster than I had thought. cooking a day before serving enhances flavor? dries it out? could I make it 2 days early and freeze? (would actually be great to include freezing/pre-cooking info on all recipes). This one, like many of yours (I have to say ‘many’ because you recently featured chicken livers..) I will confidently and happily be testing and serving to very good cook/friend coming for dinner.

    • Hello, Nora–You can easily make this ahead. It won’t dry out (assuming everything is covered and you don’t have large pieces of duck protruding beyond the top surface of the sauce). You can freeze it, but if you’re going to be serving it in two days, you might just want to refrigerate the legs for a day, make the sauce the following day, refrigerate it, then serve it the day after that. A day in the fridge will intensify things, but it really is good to go as soon as you make it. Your friend will appreciate your efforts whatever you do. Happy Holidays! Ken

    • It creates a tighter seal so less water evaporates, especially in the case of large traditional Dehilleran saué pans, where the lid is just an unfitted disk that sits on the rim of the pan, and isn’t fitted. The advantage to have disks, vs fitted tops, is that they’re quickly interchangeable with a lot of pans, as long as they balance. Fitted lids work with the pan/pot they’re designed to fit, but only cover others poorly, with lots of gaps for steam to escape. Happy holidays! Ken

  3. Wow. You got me at Duck. I was fortunate to take cooking lessons in NY with Ariane D’Aquan!
    I have duck sausage, duck
    Bacon, whole duck and breasts
    I bow down to you for this wonderful assortments of duck recipes!
    Just as an aside: Stop and Shop carries all the duck from Dartagnon
    So…duck, duck Goose! I also make an authentic cassoulet…. Happy holidays to you and your family! Thank you for always creating recipes with great ingredients! With love. Sharyn

  4. Quick questions, I hope. Would using duck breasts work as well or at all? Duck legs are hard to find but I can get breasts. Thanks. And ps, this sounds amazingly good.

    • I wish I could say YES, but the answer is probably NO. The breast is much dryer, and denser, than the legs and I’m afraid it would dry out before it becomes as tender as you’d like, which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try it if you really want to. If I couldn’t get duck legs – and I realize this answer isn’t going to make anyone happy – I’d consider the dish with chicken thighs. Good luck. Happy holidays! Ken

    • Hi, Jin–It’s been a crazy week. I hope your drooling is back under control. I’m happy the post worked for you. It is a good recipe–I recently adopted it for use with some leftover venison from Christmas Eve dinner. Happy New Year! Ken

  5. I love duck – we had it on Christmas Day instead of turkey which we both find dry and tedious even when its surprisingly good, which is rarely. This is a super recipe and you write so well. Now that we are only on monthly terms with each other I forget what a tonic you are, how well you write, how funny and erudite. I could go on, but it may become uncomfortable. Please forgive me for forgoing the Happy Holidays sentiment beloved of Americans and wishing you a thoroughly English and non secular and rather belated Happy Christmas… Sophie

    • Hello, Sophie–I love your comments about turkey. After a turkey meal I always push away from the groaning board in a tryptophan haze, staring in bafflement at the remains of the meal and feeling like a character in a culinary Norman Rockwell painting who has just discovered that sentimental does not mean satisfied. That said, a braised turkey thigh… but I digress. Our children have been here for the final holiday in this home (condo), one longer than the other because of school break, the last hurrah before our lives are about to become pandemonial. After the first of the year, we begin packing/donating/discarding/donating half of our worldly chattel in preparation to sell our home. In February, painters and plasters inhabit our space while the Garum Factory heads to Africa. Upon our return, we’ll finish cleaning up for the realty photographers (“Buyers don’t want to imagine *your* life in this space–they want to imagine *their* life in this space,”) then put the place on the market. We expect it to sell quickly. We don’t know yet where exactly where we’re moving. Desires for loft-like hipness conflict with the need for space to accommodate visitors. Someplace, undoubtedly, within the city limits of Boston. Each time I hesitate before adding a book, a child’s pinched clay pot, a wonky corkscrew whose arrival I remember to the list of things to be pitched overboard, I remember a poem by Masahide (student of Bashō):

      Barn’s burnt down —
      I can see the moon.

      Sailing is undoubtedly easier after one has scraped away some of the barnacles from the keel, but nobody every said it was painless. While we’re undergoing this metamorphosis TGF may have to go into suspension – it depends on how chaotic things become. I deeply appreciate your words about the blog. You are my ideal reader – reflective, literate without being snotty or academic, a lover of food and wine, and gifted with a sense of humor. Thank you. We may squeak out a post before or soon after Tanzania, but if we don’t, rest assured, we will be back. Much love. Ken

  6. Ken,

    While Jody’s recipe is much more precise and rigid, I have to say I like yours better – especially the timing references to TV shows. What a hoot! I just bought some duck breasts (on sale) and might adapt this approach… Yes, they’re much more “red” than the legs, but still amazing…

    Rock on, Jon


    • I would never comment on that comparison, but I am glad that you appreciated my units of time. when Jody and I were writing IN THE HANDS OF A CHEF we had to come up with a style sheet. Both of us really liked Coleman Andrews’ writing, particularly his instructions in his book about Catalan cuisine, along the lines of “Chop an onion finely and sauté in olive oil until transparent,” but of course our publisher insisted on, “Chop a medium onion (4-6 oz.) into 1/4-inch dice. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan over medium. Add the onion and, stirring frequently, cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.” To our regret, most people prefer the latter. Enjoy. Ken

  7. I’ve search about food in Garum, Blitar, Indonesiabut i saw your blog about food. I love you post but why you dont update the blog again since 2016? Its over than 3 years.

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