Braised Duck Legs Venetian Style

After months of sheltering in place and thinking we deserved a treat, my better half suggested splurging on a delivery from D’Artagnan, a purveyor of organic meats, poultry, and sausage as well as luxury items like foie gras, wild mushrooms, and truffles. Known for high quality, they cater to some of the finest restaurants in New York City. As might be expected, they’re also expensive.

Buy when they’re running a free-delivery promotion, the cost of an order, albeit not reasonable, is at least less intimidating. After filling our “cart” with enough items to qualify for the free-shipping discount, we were still hesitant—the total still equaled the price of a dinner for two at a fine-dining restaurant. So we left our order in our basket, until the next day when we received an email from D’Artagnan offering an additional discount to “close the deal.” We took the offer.

Among the items we chose were four duck legs, which we divided into two packages. Last night, we prepared one of them following a recipe that I discovered on Diane Darrow’s blog, Another Year in Recipes. Darrow found the recipe in the now out-of-print Venetian Cooking, by H.F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo.

Like so many authentic Italian recipes, this one uses a minimum of ingredients and a modicum of preparation to deliver a truly delicious dish. I was especially surprised by its requiring so little liquid to braise the duck. Like Darrow, I modified the original recipe, which calls for an entire duck, but even there only a ½ cup of water and 4 tablespoons of tomato sauce are required. Yet the duck legs were tender and juicy, accompanied by more than enough sauce for both the duck and the generous portions of polenta I served on the side.

I did make one mistake in preparing this dish: I failed to remove the excess fat from the legs. Consequently, especially because of the breed of duck I used, there was an abundance of fat that needed to be removed from the sauce before serving. This may have been a felix culpa, however, since the fat seemed only to have added to the rich flavor of the dish.

We thoroughly enjoyed the legs. The meat fell off the bone and was both moist and tender. The rich earthy flavor of the dark meat was perfectly complemented by the aromatics of the sauce. The flavor lingered on the tongue, almost making me want to use the British spelling “flavour.”
As suggested by the authors, I served the duck with polenta, which provided the ideal accompaniment for the sauce.

Braised Duck Legs Venetian Style (adapted from a recipe in Venetian Cooking, by H.F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo)


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 duck legs, about 14 ounces each
1 small onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
2 tablespoons plain tomato sauce  (I used Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato sauce with onion and butter. The recipe can be found here.)
2 ½ tablespoons water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

The chopped vegetables

1. Place butter and olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron or similar casserole over fairly high heat.

Butter and olive oil

2. Trim the legs of any excess fat. Thoroughly dry the legs with paper towels. (As you can see in the photo below, I failed to remove the fat.)

3. When the butter is sizzling add the duck legs skin side down. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Browning the duck
Browning the other side
The browned legs

4. Reduce the heat just under medium and add the vegetables to the pot. When the onions become translucent, add the tomato sauce and water.

Adding the vegetables
The sauteed vegetables
Adding the tomato sauce

5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Return the legs to the pot and turn to coat with the sauce. When the sauce comes to a simmer, leaving the legs skin side up, cover the pot and reduce the flame to very low.

Legs returned to the pot

7. Cook the duck for 2 hours or more, turning occasionally and adding additional water, if necessary, to keep the sauce from sticking.

After 1 1/2 hours

8. After 1 ¾ hours, start testing for doneness with a fork.

After 2 hours; done

9. When tender, remove the legs to heated plates. Skim the sauce of any excess fat. Then sauce the duck and, if using, any accompaniment like polenta or mashed potatoes.

Duck plated with polenta and peas

Wine Pairing: Valpolicella Ripasso, Pinot Noir

3 thoughts on “Braised Duck Legs Venetian Style

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