Other than salt and pepper, Nigella Lawson’s “Roasted Duck Legs and Potatoes” requires nothing else but thyme and time. Indeed, not since discovering Marcella Hazan’s onion-and-butter tomato sauce, have I come across a recipe that requires so little yet delivers so much.
Having found two duck legs in the freezer that had been there since June, I had planned to prepare Paula Wolfert’s “Duck Legs with Red Wine Sauce”; however, the requirement of making a demi-glace two days ahead put that recipe on the back burner and sent me on a search for another. Perhaps it was luck, but on my bookcase, just above Wolfert’s The Cooking of South-West France, was Lawson’s hefty tome Nigella Kitchen with a far easier approach to duck legs.
I must admit that the recipe’s Spartan ingredient list gave me pause, but its long cooking time was perfect for the type of duck I had: moulard, a breed known for it rich red meat, hefty legs, and loads of fat. Since the recipe uses not a drop of oil, the rendered fat from the legs provides the ideal medium for the potatoes which roast alongside of the duck.
I followed the recipe closely, except perhaps for reducing the cooking time by 15 minutes since both the legs and the potatoes looked perfectly done after 1 ¾ hours. As the duck roasted, the aromas filled our kitchen with a holiday spirit, so welcomed during these times.
After the first bite, my better half exclaimed “OMG; it’s just delicious!” When I tasted mine, I had to agree. It felt as though we were dining out (something we haven’t been able to do for months). Dark amber in color, the duck looked beautiful. Its deep, roasted flavors far exceeded our expectations. The potatoes were crisp with creamy insides and, thanks to the fat, infused with the flavors of the duck and whispers of thyme. Even better, the savors lingered, making us both wish we had more. This truly was one of the best roast duck dishes either of us ever had.
Roasted Duck Legs and Potatoes (adapted from Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson)
2 duck legs, patted dry (the moulard breed, with plenty of fat, was perfect)
2 russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 or 7 sprigs of fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. On the stove, heat an oven-proof, high-walled, heavy bottomed skillet or small roasting pan and sear the duck legs, skin-side down over medium heat until the skin turns golden and gives off some fat, approximately 5 minutes. Be sure to brown the sides as well.
3. Turn the legs over, and take the pan off the heat. Arrange the potato pieces around the duck legs, but don’t over crowd. Strew the thyme sprigs of thyme over the duck and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, occasionally turning the potatoes, for optimal outcome, which is tender duck legs and crispy potatoes.
5. Serve immediately on heated plates.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir