Many years ago, I learned a classic civet of duck cooked in a rich wine and blood sauce from the most wonderful female cooks in the Lot-et-Garonne, chef Marie-Claude Garcia of La Belle Gasconne restaurant and my dear friend Vétou Pompèle. They taught me to always “cook” the wine lightly by lighting it on fire before adding the meat and aromatics to simmer. Duck breasts, wings, or legs work equally well in this dish, all taking on a striking dark color from the wine. Rather than adding the traditional dash of blood often used in a civet, I use a few squares of dark chocolate to thicken the final sauce. The delicate deep purple prunes from Agen, France, that I add at the end of simmering give a luxurious texture and sweetness.
Featured in: In French Gascony, Duck Fat Is King »
What You Will Need
- 8 fresh thyme sprigs, plus more for serving
- 1 6-inch piece celery with leaves
- 1 large bay leaf
- 4 duck legs (2½–3 lb.)
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium carrots (about 10 oz.), sliced into rounds (2 cups)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 1 yellow onion (about 7 oz.), chopped (1¼ cups)
- 1 bottle (750 ml) hearty red wine from Southwest France such as Buzet, Côtes de Gascogne, Madiran, or Cahors
- 2 whole cloves
- 18 large prunes from Agen (7 oz.)
- 1 oz. bittersweet chocolate (68%–75%), coarsely chopped (scant 3 Tbsp.)
- Create an herb bundle (bouquet garni): Place the thyme sprigs, celery, and bay leaf in a neat pile, then secure them together by wrapping tightly crosswise around the center with a piece of twine. Set aside.
- Prepare the duck legs: Remove the skin and reserve for another use. Using scissors, trim away any excess fat from the legs and reserve 3 heaping tablespoons (discard the rest). Season the legs on all sides with 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper total.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat, add the trimmed duck fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until around 2 tablespoons liquid fat has rendered into the pan. Discard the solid pieces. Transfer two of the duck legs to the hot fat in the pan; let cook without disturbing until well browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and repeat on the remaining side, about 3 minutes more. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining two duck legs. Remove to a plate and add the carrots, garlic, and onion to the pan; cook, stirring, until softened slightly, 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a 6-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, add the wine; bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, use a long-handled lighter to ignite the wine. Let the flames die down on their own, about a minute, then lower the heat to a simmer and let cook 5 minutes more. Add the cloves and bouquet garni, and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper. Add the duck legs to the wine mixture, then add enough water to almost cover the legs (about 1–1¼ cups). Cover the pan and lower the heat to maintain a low simmer; cook, turning the legs occasionally, until the meat has pulled away from the end of the bones and feels tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
- Remove the legs to a large, shallow serving bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Add the prunes to the cooking liquid, and discard the herb bundle. Transfer a third of the sauce and vegetables to a blender or food mill and process until almost smooth. Transfer the blended mixture back to the pot to thicken the sauce. Turn the heat to high. Add the chocolate, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced and slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
- Pour the sauce, prunes, and vegetables over the duck legs. Garnish with more fresh thyme, and serve.