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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- 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pour the sauce over the duck legs. Sprinkle with the fried ginger, and serve with the buttered turnips.
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.
6 ounces ginger
2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
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.
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.