Duck, Duck…Dried Plums or Prunes
There is something that has annoyed me to no end for quite awhile. And I know I’m not the only one who frets about this rather unforgivable injustice.
It’s when someone refers to me as “ma’am.”
Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was “Miss”?
What happened to those days?
I know it’s only semantics. Still, it’s a bruiser. No, I may not like it, but I have glumly accepted it.
That’s what irks me about prunes. Oh sure, they get to be called “dried plums” now. What’s up with that?
Like the rest of us “ma’ams,” I’m sure they felt labeled “old and decrepit” beyond their years with that moniker. But somehow, they’re fortunate to get a new name, one that’s peppier and more youthful. We should all be so lucky, right?
I couldn’t help but think of that amusingly when I spied a recipe for “Red Wine-Braised Duck Legs with Dried Plums.” It’s a classic French country recipe, though, back in the day it was known as duck with prunes.
The recipe is from the new “Wine Country Table: With Recipes that Celebrate California’s Sustainable Harvest” (Rizzoli), of which I received a review copy. It’s written by veteran award-winning cookbook author Janet Fletcher, who makes her home in the Napa Valley, in collaboration with the Wine Institute.
The book takes readers on a tour through 23 farms and wineries throughout California’s wine country. It highlights the farms and wineries doing it right — being responsible stewards of the land.
Wind your way from the North Coast with wineries such as Handley Cellars, a second-generation family-owned winery, and Domaine Carneros in Los Carneros, famed for its bubbly, as well as its hilltop chateau; to Southern California with its farms that include Resendiz Brothers, which specializes in cut flowers.
Along the way, enjoy a taste of wine country specialties such as “Roasted Tomato Soup with Tortilla Crisps,” ” Lamb Meatballs with Artichokes and Olives,” and “Zinfandel-Poached Pears with Mascarpone Cream,”
This duck dish spotlights Gold Country, particularly Taylor Brothers Farms, the world’s largest producer of organic prunes. The Taylor Brothers grow on more than 1,000 acres. And those trees are prolific. Just one mature tree can yield 5,000 plums in one year.
This duck dish makes use of a dozen dried ones. The duck legs get rubbed with a mixture of salt, juniper berries and black pepper, then air-dried in the refrigerator overnight to add flavor and ensure the skin dries so it will crisp more easily.
The next day, the legs are braised in the oven with red wine, thyme, bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, and the dried plums.
The duck ends up fall-off-the-bone tender, with all the fat under its skin rendered. While the skin isn’t shatteringly crisp like Chinese Peking duck, it definitely is toothsome, not pallid.
The garlic cloves get melty and are wonderful squished onto a bite of duck or spread on some grilled bread. The dried plums are the perfect accent with a deep, wine-y fruitiness. In fact, while Fletcher suggests the dish be paired with a Merlot or Pinot Noir, I actually used Zinfandel for the braising and served the remainder with the finished dish. I found the concentrated dark fruit and plum notes in the wine really amplified by the dried plums in the dish.
Dried plums? Or prunes?
Whatever your preferred name, just call them plain delicious in this rustic, satisfying dish.
Red Wine-Braised Duck Legs with Dried Plums
4 duck legs, about 2 pounds total
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 juniper berries
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs, tied in a bundle with kitchen twine
12 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
12 pitted dried plums
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Trim any excess fat from the duck legs. In a mortar, pound together the peppercorns and juniper berries until medium-fine, then add the salt and pound until fine. Alternately, finely grind the spices in a spice mill. Season the duck on both sides with the spice rub. Place the legs on a rack set inside a tray and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the duck legs from the rack and arrange them in a single layer in a ceramic or terra-cotta baking dish. Roast for 1 hour. Remove the dish from the oven and leave oven on. With tongs, set the duck legs aside on a plate and pour off the fat in the baking dish, reserving it for another use if desired (such as sauteing turnips, carrots or potatoes to serve alongside).
Add the wine to the baking dish and deglaze with a wooden spoon, scraping up any meaty residue on the bottom of the dish. Return the duck legs to the baking dish. Put the thyme bundle, garlic cloves, and bay leaves in the dish. In a small saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer and pour it over the duck.
Return the baking dish to the oven and braise the duck legs for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and add the dried plums. Baste the duck with the pan juices and push the dried plums down into the liquid. Continue to cook until the duck is very tender and the dried plums are soft, about 30 minutes longer.
Transfer the duck and dried plums to an ovenproof serving platter and keep warm in the turned-off oven. Discard the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Transfer the pan broth to a saucepan and cook over high heat until reduced to a sauce consistency (about 3/4 cup).
Spoon the sauce over the duck and dried plums. Garnish with the parsley and serve immediately.
Wine Suggestion: California Merlot or Pinot Noir or Zinfandel
Adapted from “Wine Country Table” by Janet Fletcher
More Duck Dishes to Love: Paula Wolfert’s Duck You Can Eat With A Spoon
And: Venetian Duck Ragu