Today's Cook the Book recipe, excerpted from A Platter of Figs by David Tanis, is for Five-Spice Duck Legs with Buttered Turnips and Fried Ginger. Don't be put off by the fussy, fusion-sounding name; David assures that this dish is "extremely subtle, and it doesn't overpower a bottle of good wine."

You can use store-bought five-spice powder if you prefer but it is incredibly easy to make on your own, and once prepared it lasts for months.

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Cook the Book: Five-Spice Duck Legs with Buttered Turnips and Fried Ginger

About This Recipe

Yield:12 servings


  • 12 duck legs, preferably Pekin (Long Island)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons five-spice powder, homemade (recipe follows) or store-bought
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • Fried Ginger (recipe follows)
  • Buttered Turnips (recipe follows)


  1. 1

    Trim the duck legs. Season the duck generously with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the five-spice powder, and massage the seasoning into the meat. Refrigerate the seasoned duck legs overnight, or at least for several hours.

  2. 2

    Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Heat a dry cast-iron frying pan over medium heat, and slowly brown the duck legs (in batches, or use 2 pans), skin side down. As the duck legs cook, they will give off a fair amount of fat. When the skin is nicely browned, after 10 minutes or so, remove the duck legs and set aside. Pour off all but 1/2 inch of the fat.

  3. 3

    Add the onions to the pan and cook until golden, then add the ginger, garlic, and some salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes more, then drain the onions in a colander, reserving the perfumed fat for another purpose (such as for frying potatoes). It will keep for 2 months in the fridge.

  4. 4

    Put the onions in a shallow earthenware casserole. Lay the duck legs skin side up over the onions in a single layer. Put the casserole, uncovered, in the oven and let the legs roast for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock.

  5. 5

    Add the stock to the casserole and continue cooking until the stock comes to a full simmer. Then reduce the heat to 375º, cover, and cook for about an hour, until the duck legs are tender when probed with a pairing knife.

  6. 6

    Uncover the baking dish and keep in the oven to let the duck legs crisp for about 5 minutes. Remove the duck legs to a deep serving platter and cover loosely to keep warm.

  7. 7

    Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan and let stand briefly, then degrease. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Bring to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch with the cold water, add to the sauce, and simmer for 2 minutes to thicken slightly.

  8. 8

    Pour the sauce over the duck legs. Sprinkle with the fried ginger, and serve with the buttered turnips.

  9. 9

    Five-Spice Powder

  10. 10

    Grind 1 tablespoon each Sichuan pepper (or black peppercorns), star anise, crushed cinnamon stick, cloves, and fennel seeds in a spice grinder. Store in a glass jar.

  11. 11

    Fried Ginger

  12. 12

    6 ounces ginger

  13. 13

    2 cups peanut or vegetable oil

  14. 14


  15. 15

    Peel the ginger and cut into thin slices. A mandoline is helpful but not necessary. Cut the ginger crosswise into slivers. They should look like flimsy matchsticks.

  16. 16

    Heat the peanut oil to 400ºF in a small, deep pot. Carefully fry the ginger a handful at a time until the slivers are barely golden, about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle the ginger lightly with salt. Leave at room temperature until needed, up to several hours.


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