Imagine: a weekend escape from the gloomy Atlantic to France’s Mediterranean coast. You speed past verdant fields, some erumpent with the brightest red poppies. You wind along the longest motorway, wind down down down until you find yourself at the ocean. But it’s a soft, somnolent ocean tempered by a clustering of bays. The sun embraces your skin, it plays against building walls. Brightly colored sailboats dot the harbor.
Here, you count eight ducklings with their mother under the piers. Here, countless artists have found inspiration in the townscape that seems to melt into the Mediterranean. Here, Catalan pride seeps deeply into the earth, finds its way through labyrinthine streets.
After a day of laying out on the warm pebbles of the beach and an evening whiled away at dinner over the water, you wake to a bustling farmer’s market. The narrow aisles are chock full of temptations: tomato and sardine flatbreads, delicate North African pastries, local wines. But you are drawn to a stand presided by a small man and a gigantic cast iron pan. He lifts the lid, revealing golden brown duck thighs simmering in a sweet broth of Banyuls wine and melted onions. You are poured a cup of Banyuls, straight, as you consider. The man stumbles between French and English. He learns where you’re from and sings you Hotel California.
Yes, you will take some of his duck stew. You will bring it to the beach and eat it, slowly, looking out at the ocean, before starting your drive back to Gascony.
Cuisse du Canard aux Banyuls
(as inspired by our trip to Collioure)
- 4 large duck legs, 8—10 oz. each
- 1T thyme leaves, plus 4 whole sprigs thyme
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1T black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 2T extra-virgin olive oil
- 21/2C onion, diced
- 1/2C carrot, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2T balsamic vinegar
- 2C banyuls
- 3C chicken stock
- 1/4C parsley
- Trim excess fat from duck legs
- Season with thyme, orange zest, and black pepper
- Cover and refrigerate for a few hours and as long as overnight
- Take the duck out of the refrigerator 45 minutes before cooking. After 15 minutes, season the legs with salt
- Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes
- Add olive oil and wait 1 minute
- Place the duck legs in the pan, skin side down, and cook for 8—10 minutes, until the skin is deep golden brown and crisp
- Turn duck legs over, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 2 minutes on the other side
- Transfer duck, skin side up, to a braising pan; try to use a pan that just fits the duck legs
- Preheat oven to 325°
- Discard half the fat from pan and return to stove over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and a pinch of pepper
- Cook until vegetables are caramelized, about 10 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon to scrape up crusty bits.
- Add balsamic vinegar and banyuls.
- Bring liquid to a boil, and cook until it has reduced by half, about 6—8 minutes
- Add 3 cups stock and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Pour broth and vegetables over duck legs, scraping vegetables fallen on top of duck back into the broth. The liquid should not quite cover the duck.
- Cover pan very tightly with plastic wrap (yes, it can go in the oven) and then aluminum foil. Braise in oven for about 2 1/2 hours, until duck is very tender. To check for doneness, remove plastic and foil and pierce a piece of the duck with a knife. If the meat is done, it will yield easily and be tender but not quite falling off the bone
- Bonus step: to brown the duck legs, turn oven up to 400°. Transfer duck to a baking sheet and return to oven for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer broth into saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat to thicken
- Transfer duck legs into bowls and ladle broth over. Garnish with parsley