This is a tried and true recipe, involving three of my favorite ingredients: duck, quince, and apples. The cooking technique is essentially a braise. And as our many experiments with the sous vide method consistently have shown, the water oven is a terrific substitute for a conventional oven or stove top when cooking meats in liquid.
The meat turns melt-in-your-mouth tender and a rich, flavorful sauce results.
And it’s so easy! After a quick sear of the duck, plop it and the aromatics in a couple of food bags, heat up the water, and go do something else for a few hours.
If you’re not familiar with quince, I urge you to try this heirloom fruit, which is currently enjoying a renaissance in trendy kitchens all over the country. Not good for eating out of hand, the quince is stellar when cooked, and forms the basis of a lovely sauce, enhancing it with a wonderful depth of flavor.
If you can’t find quince, use tart apples such as Granny Smith. The recipe calls for concentrated duck stock, and the flavor it adds makes it worth preparing your own or tracking down a good-quality bottled or frozen version. If duck stock is unavailable, you could substitute canned low-sodium chicken broth; concentrate it by boiling the liquid until it is reduced by about half.
I’m not crazy about the thick layer of skin and fat on the breast portion, so I remove it. Makes the breast easier to slice, too.
Serves 2 generously
- Preheat the water bath to 145°F (63°).
- Cut the duck into pieces by first carving each breast from the bone. I’m not a fan of the thick layer of fat and skin on the breast, so I remove it completely. Remove the drumsticks and thighs as one piece. Trim all of the fat and most of the skin from the thigh area. You should have 2 leg pieces and 2 boneless breast pieces. Reserve the wings and carcass (and neck, if included) for making duck stock. If you haven’t broken down a duck before, this video from chef and butcher Jericha Strickland is a good guide. Season the duck pieces all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the duck legs, skin side down, and sear just until the skin starts to brown. Brown the skin side only. Remove from heat.
- Place the legs in one large food bag and the 2 breast pieces in a second large food bag. Add 1 sprig of thyme, half a bay leaf, and 1 clove of garlic to each bag. Refrigerate the bags, unsealed, while you proceed with the recipe.
- Place the chopped quince in a saucepan with ¾ cup of water and cook over low heat until the quince is very soft and the water evaporates. Cool completely, then purée with an immersion (stick) blender. You should have 1 cup of purée. Divide the purée between the two bags with the duck and herbs.
- Place a frozen portion of duck stock and 1 tablespoon of brandy in each bag. Vacuum seal the bags.
- Cook at least 3 hours and up to 5 hours.
- Just before the duck has finished cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 teaspoons of sugar in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Add the quince wedges, cut side down, and cook until the flesh is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Flip the quince wedges and cook on the other side until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside at room temperature.
- Cut the apple in half crosswise (not through the stem end). Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 teaspoons of sugar to the same skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Add the apple halves, cut side down, and cook until the flesh is golden brown, about 8 minutes. Flip the apples and cook on the other side until just tender, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside at room temperature.
- Open the food bags and transfer the duck pieces to a platter; cover with foil. Pour the bag juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan, and discard the solids. Place the pan over high heat and cook, uncovered, to concentrate the flavors and slightly thicken the sauce. While the sauce is reducing, reheat the apple halves and quince wedges in the skillet until they are warmed through.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the crème fraîche and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To serve, slice the breasts into pieces about an inch thick. Arrange a leg and half of the breast pieces on each plate. Nap with the sauce, and arrange an apple half and several wedges of quince next to the meat. Serve hot.