Roast Duck Legs with Savoy Cabbage (Cuisses de Canard au Chou)

Roast Duck Legs with Savoy Cabbage (Cuisses de Canard au Chou)

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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 80 minutes
Servings: 4
The spice mixture in this classic dish is slightly exotic, reflecting the influence of a former colony, Vietnam, but added so subtly to such a traditional French presentation that it typifies exactly what Parisian food is all about. If desired, the duck can be spiced in a more staid manner, with only a handful of fresh thyme leaves tossed into the crushed garlic-brandy paste. Savoy cabbage is popular in France, especially with northern cooks, who like to pair it with roasted meats. Harvested in autumn, the pale green heads are large, with silky, tender, crinkled leaves and a milder flavor than regular green cabbage.

Serve with an off-dry, perfumey white wine, such as Gewürztraminer or a gutsy red Burgundy, such as Gevrey-Chambertin.


  • 1 Tbs. five-spice powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • Large pinch of allspice
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 5 Tbs. Cognac or brandy
  • 4 duck legs with thighs attached, 3 to 4 lb. total
  • 3 to 5 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 to 5 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 savoy cabbage, about 2 lb., cored and
     thinly sliced
  • 3 Tbs. heavy cream
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups chicken or beef stock, or a combination
  • 1 rounded Tbs. tomato paste


In a small jar, combine the five-spice powder, cumin, thyme, paprika, allspice and cayenne. Set the spice mixture aside.

In a mortar using a pestle, crush the garlic cloves with several large pinches of salt until a paste forms. Work in 2 Tbs. of the Cognac.

Trim the excess fat from the duck legs. Rinse the legs and pat dry with paper towels. Using a fork, prick the duck skin, taking care not to pierce the flesh. Rub the duck with the garlic paste and sprinkle generously with 1 to 2 Tbs. of the spice mixture. Wrap the legs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Scatter the rosemary sprigs in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the duck legs in a single layer in the pan without touching and roast for 30 minutes. Spoon off the fat from the pan as it begins to accumulate; too much hot fat can catch fire and can make the duck taste greasy. Scatter the carrot and shallot around the duck and continue roasting until crisp and nicely browned, about 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring, until it wilts, about 7 minutes. Add 2 to 3 Tbs. water, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the cabbage is very tender, about 30 minutes. Add the cream, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered and stirring, until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the carrot and shallot from the roasting pan and transfer to a heavy saucepan. Cover the duck legs in the roasting pan loosely with aluminum foil and set aside.

Add the bouquet garni, the remaining 3 Tbs. Cognac, the sliced garlic, wine, stock and tomato paste to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about one-fourth, 15 to 20 minutes. Add several generous pinches of the remaining spice mixture. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids. Return the sauce to the saucepan.

Transfer the duck legs to a warmed platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a small bowl, reserving the pan. Let the juices stand for a few minutes, then spoon off any fat from the surface. Add the juices to the sauce in the saucepan.

Set the roasting pan over medium-high heat, pour in the sauce and cook, stirring to scrape up the browned bits, until the sauce is enriched by the pan juices and browned bits, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and black pepper.

To serve, place a mound of cabbage on individual plates. Top with the duck legs and drizzle with the sauce. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Paris, by Marlena Spieler (Oxmoor House, 2004).
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