This past weekend I went to the Marché des Producteurs de Pays, a lively little outdoor event where people come from across France to sell their edible wares here in Paris. Naturally, there were lots of mountain cheeses, specialty honey, and regional wines. But I was on a mission to stock up on les pruneaux d’Agen since I knew the producers (producteurs) would be there from Agen who cultivated and dried their own prunes.
In America, duck always seems like a special occasion thing, perhaps because it’s not so easily available. But in France, it’s easy to find and braising the meat tenderizes and assures the skin will be dropping off-the-bone succulent. The prunes add a melting sweetness and you can use an inexpensive red wine as the cooking liquid. I make this often and it’s the perfect do-ahead dish as well. It reheats remarkably well and always impresses guests!
Duck with Prunes in Red Wine
- 4 duck thighs, cut in half (if you wish)
- freshly ground pepper
- a few strips of wide bacon or pancetta, cut into generous bâtons
- sprigs of thyme
- a strip or two of orange zest
- 1 medium onion,, peeled and sliced
- a couple of whole cloves
- a head of garlic cloves, separated from the head, but not peeled
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 15 to 20 prunes
- 1 bottle red wine, (see headnote)
- To begin, cut 4 duck thighs in half, separating the legs and upper thighs. If you have time, rub them all over with about a teaspoon of salt and refrigerate for 1-3 days. If not, that’s okay. Just pat the duck legs dry and rub them with salt.
- Heat a large Dutch oven or braising pot on the stovetop.
- When very hot, add in the duck pieces in a single layer, skin side down and cook, disturbing them as little as possible until the skin is very brown. Flip them over and brown the other side for a few minutes too. If they didn’t all fit in a single layer, brown the remaining pieces of duck the same way after you remove the first batch.
- Once they’re all cooked off, pour off any extra duck fat (reserve it for another use, like sautéed potatoes) and pour one bottle of red wine into the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to unleash all those delicious brown bits.
- Add the duck pieces back to the pan along with any or all of the above ingredients.
- The liquid should be covering the duck up to about the 3/4’s mark. If not, add some water or chicken stock.
- Cover the pot and braise in a low oven, 300º-325ºF (150º-165ºC) and cook leisurely for 2-3 hours. The duck is done when the meat is relaxed and comes easily away from the bone. Exact cooking time isn’t important; just check after an hour or so for when the meat slumps and begins to feel tender.
- Check and make sure the liquid isn’t boiling while cooking. It should be just steaming and barely simmering every-so-gently. If it’s too hot, turn the oven down.
- Flip the duck pieces once or twice during braising. During the last 30 minutes, tuck in the prunes. Cover, and let cook until the prunes are tender.