Sunday, December 13, 2009

Vanilla-Fig Balsamic Vinegar Duck Legs with Caramelized Garlic

Vanilla-Fig Balsamic Vinegar Duck Legs with Caramelized Garlic

After I made these duck legs, my parents snuck bits and pieces of garlic and duck meat into their mouths, and my dad exclaimed, "齿颊留香 (chi3 jia2 liu2 xiang1)!" This proverb roughly translates as "the teeth and cheeks retain fragrance [of the food]!" Yup. It's that good! Of course, you need a tasty balsamic vinegar to start with, and I came up with this recipe for the purpose of finally using the bottle of aged vanilla-fig balsamic vinegar I bought from Bella Vista Ranch!

My mom cooks delicious soy-braised duck legs and also steamed brined duck legs, but I wanted to venture outside of these two traditions. I thought about how if I use the vanilla fig balsamic, the duck would be sweet, which led me to think about how caramelizing garlic with hearty meats always tastes amazing.

Here's my recipe!
-as much garlic as you want (I used about 3/4 cup)
-some fruity balsamic vinegar (I used vanilla-fig)
-some kind of alcohol (I used Japanese rice wine b/c that's all I had)
-soy sauce
-duck legs (trim excess fat but keep the skin intact)
Like I say with other big chunks of meats for pan-frying and/or braising, dunk the duck legs into a hot bath to get rid of some blood and fat, and let them boil for a few minutes. Then, take them out and let them cool down on a plate. The duck should be white on the outside but still very raw on the inside
Arrange the legs in a baking dish for marinating. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar onto the legs on one side, put a handful of garlic in the dish (not all), add some soy sauce (not too much; it's better to add more later than to overseason before cooking!), smear the ducks evenly on one side with the marinade, then turn all the legs over, drizzle more vinegar and soy, smear, and pour some rice wine. Turn the legs skin side up because you want to marinate the meat, not the skin. You can pop the legs in the fridge for a few hours for the flavors to sink in. I was in a rush, so I went to the cooking stage immediately.

Duck after hot bath with some balsamic vinegar and garlic
Heat a frying pan with a little bit of oil on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, place the legs into the pan skin side down. After 30 seconds of vigorous pan-frying, dial down the heat to a low-medium so the skin won't burn before the duck is properly cooked. We just want to get rid of the fat at this stage.

Burning out the fat from the skin
After the amount of fat released from the skin has plateaued, take out the legs from the pan and drain the fat. Return the pan to the stove on the same low-medium heat and dump in the garlic that wasn't added to the marinade. Add just a teensy bit of rice wine to release the flavorful brown stuff from the pan. Arrange the legs back into the pan skin side up to brown. After a minute or so, pour the marinade with the marinated garlic into the pan and cover. Let it simmer for 5 minutes in medium heat.

Frying garlic in duck fat; Browning the legs skin side up before adding the marinade
Uncover the pan after 5 minutes and turn the legs skin side down, cover and let simmer for another 5 minutes. If the pan is low in marinade & juices, add more wine.

Legs turned skin side down for another cover and simmer step
Dust the legs evenly with about a tablespoon of sugar, ladle some sauce onto the sugar on the legs, and turn the legs over skin side up. Let the legs simmer uncovered for 5 more minutes. Don't let the juices go dry yet. Add more wine if its caramelizing too quickly. This would also be the time to add some more soy sauce if you think it's lacking. When the juices have reduced to half of when you added more wine and soy sauce, turn the legs one last time skin side down to create a crispy caramelized skin. Be careful not to wait until all the sauce is reduced to take out the duck. By that time the duck would've burned.
Once you plate the duck, drain the fat from the pan, and return it to the stove to make a quick and easy sauce to add some more flavor and moisture. Pour half a cup of rice wine into the pan to release all the browned duck gunk and add a bit more of the vinegar (no soy sauce this time). Bring it to a simmer and ladle it onto the plated duck legs.
Vanilla-Fig Balsamic Vinegar Duck Legs with Caramelized Garlic


  1. that looks amazing. have you ever tried cooking pheasant? i have a bunch of wild birds i have to come up with a way to cook and not dry out.

  2. I've never cooked pheasant before. Hmmm...and you're right, it must be difficult to keep the bird moist. I remember when I had pheasant at my favorite restaurant in Paris, it was still pretty dry...I've yet to master cooking chicken breast that is juicy and tender! I'll try to come up with a solution!