It was opening weekend for ducks in Seneca County, NY and many lucky hunters ended their morning with mallards and other local ducks in the bag. Some birds were plucked whole, yet the majority of ducks were most likely breasted out by making a small slit in the skin along the breast bone, pulling the skin back to expose the breast meat, and then removing the meat by carefully running a boning knife along the breast bone and ribs to create 2 perfect skinless, boneless breast fillets. It’s relatively simple. Yet, there is still good meat on the legs, which can easily be removed. Pull the skin and feathers off the legs (though you should try to keep some fat connected if possible and therefore a bit of skin if it is easily plucked), pop the leg at the hip joint and remove it with a knife or kitchen scissors, then remove the foot by breaking it off and cutting any connecting tendons with a knife or scissors. It might seem like there is not much meat on the legs or that they could be tough, but the recipe below may change your mind…
Duck Leg Rillettes (can substitute other fowl, such as goose or turkey)
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Put duck legs, carrot, celery, herbs, and pork belly in a small stock pot or 2 quart saucepan. Put in 3-4 cups of water so it is just to the top edge of the meat. You don’t want too much water. Set pan over medium high heat and cover tightly with a lid. When the liquid comes to a boil, turn down the heat to medium or even a bit lower. Strongly simmer the meat, steam will be escaping out, for a few hours until the meat is completely tender and easily pulled from the bone. Make sure the liquid does not all burn off, yet it will cook down quite a bit. You’ll need about 2 cups of stock for later. Turn off the burner and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
Carefully remove the duck legs from the broth. Pull the meat off the bones and place in a shallow dish. Strain the cooking liquid through a colander so it is just a broth, including the suspended fat.
Shred and massage the meat, making sure there are no bones or hard tissues, and slowly pour in the cooking liquid, including the fat. Rub all of the cooking liquid into the meat. It should be very soft. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve on baguette slices as an appetizer. Makes about 2 1/2 cups. Thank you Kate Hill for teaching me this technique!