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
- Render the pancetta in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the wine, tomato paste and tomatoes and reduce by half.
- Add the zest, herbs and chicken stock.
- 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.
- Transfer the legs to a plate to cool. Remove and discard the herbs.
- Remove the skin from the ducks and strip the meat carefully off the bones—take care to discard all tiny bones and cartilage.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with grated cheese.
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.