Note: there are a lot of varieties of duck in the market. The most common is Pekin, which this recipe uses, and is available in the meat counter at Berkeley Bowl. If you happen across another variety such as Moscovy, the recipe still works, but you may have to do the initial braise for a bit longer to get the duck tender. If you use Moulard (they are VERY large, and can be quite tough!) you will need a full hour of braising time to tenderize them.
Yield: 2 large or 4 medium servings (depending on the size of the legs)
- 4 duck legs, preferably Pekin variety, about 1.25 lbs. altogether
- 1 small onion or half a larger one, peeled and roughly diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- ¾ cup French or Beluga lentils (NOT regular green lentils)
- 4 heaping cups shredded red cabbage (one medium head)
- 2 Tbs. fruit vinegar (I used Big Paw Grub’s Dark Cherry Balsamic, available at Grand Lake farmer's market), or more to taste
- 2 Tbs. maple syrup, or more to taste
- a good sized handful (maybe 1/3 cup) of dried pitted cherries
- salt and freshly ground pepper
Braise the duck: Strew the cut onion and garlic around the bottom of a medium sized covered sauté pan. Top with the duck legs, skin side up, and salt and pepper them well. Add water to come 1/3 of the way up the duck (about 1.5 cups). Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook ½ hour or until the legs are tender and the flesh has shrunk away from the end of the leg bone just a bit. Remove legs to a plate, and place the remaining contents of the pot into a glass measuring cup. You should have a good layer of fat that separates, and can be skimmed off — you’ll need to keep a bit of it for cooking the vegetables — and about ¾ cup or so of liquid and cooked onion and garlic left in the measure, that you will use in the recipe.
While the duck is braising, cook the picked-over and rinsed lentils in water to generously cover for 15 minutes at a brisk simmer. Drain. Shred the cabbage.
You can start the sauce before the duck is finished braising: Place the vinegar and syrup in a small pot, bring to a boil, and reduce to syrupy. This is a “gastrique” and is the base for your sauce. Then add the cherries and, as soon as you have it, ¾ of the skimmed liquid and vegetables from braising the duck. Bring to a simmer, and cook until it’s the consistency of a sauce, tasting and re-seasoning. Balance sweet and tart as you like, but be sure to add enough salt too. Keep warm.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Arrange the braised legs on a roasting pan, and roast about 15 minutes, brushing several times with a little of the sauce. The skin should get brown and crisp. While the duck is roasting, sauté the cabbage shreds in a tablespoon or so of the reserved duck fat, and when they get a bit soft, add the cooked lentils and the remaining duck cooking broth, cover, and simmer until cooked, stirring a few times. This should only take a few minutes. Taste and season well with salt and pepper.
Once the duck is crisp and beautiful, remove it from the pan, pour off the fat, and put the cherry sauce right into the roasting pan, to deglaze all the good flavors from the bottom. Cook for maybe a minute, scraping the bottom with a flat wooden (bamboo) spatula to loosen all the bits; if it's too thick, thin with a tablespoon of water.
To serve, make a bed of some of the lentil-cabbage mix, top with a duck leg (or two if small), and spoon some of the cherry sauce over the top.