Thanksgiving is already a memory, albeit one based on a scaled down of the normal food coma-inducing versions of years past. And the holidays to come might be equally as cozy. But with eating well, cooking, and tea, of course—some of the few pleasures remaining in our lives—a bit of indulgence on the festive dinner plate is in order. How about putting braised duck, cooked in tea, on the plate brightened with all kinds of root vegetables that cook until they yield easily to the point of a knife. A passel of carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips deepens in flavor surrounding the duck.
One – getting fresh (or frozen) duck legs and thighs (Maple Leaf Farms is a good source, widely available) which hold up best to this treatment (the duck breast can get easily overcooked so I choose to avoid it in this application, instead opting for the other more forgiving parts of the bird. Figure one leg and one thigh per person.
Two – deciding which tea to use for the braise. I like Chinese black teas here – Keemun and Yunnan are my go-tos with their sweet, very slightly smoky personality; they complement the duck handily.
Start with the duck by pricking the skin all over with the point of a sharp knife. Salt and liberally coat with freshly ground black pepper and a light dusting of cinnamon and ground star anise. Place the duck in a bowl just large enough to fit the pieces snugly. Brew enough tea to cover the duck in the bowl (allow one cup of brewed tea at drinking strength per serving of the duck). Let the tea cool and then marinate the duck in the refrigerator overnight, well covered.
The next day, remove the duck from the marinade, discard the marinade, and pat the duck dry. Using a cast iron skillet or any other heavy-gauge pan, sear the skin over medium high heat turning occasionally until evenly browned all over. You should not need to add any fat in the pan as the duck will render its fat as it browns.
Brew 1 cup of tea per person and set aside for use after the duck is nearly fully cooked. You will be deglazing the pan in which the duck was cooked to create a tea-based pan sauce.
Once browned, the duck now goes into a preheated 400-degree F oven for about 30 minutes uncovered, during which time the skin will crisp further. Scatter the peeled and cubed root vegetables (about ½ pound assorted vegetables per serving) all around the duck. Pour in the brewed tea and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes more. The meat is done when it is nearly falling off the bone. Remove it and the vegetables to a platter, cover with foil, and then place the platter back into a low temperature oven (200-223 degrees F.) to keep warm while you make the sauce.
Tea Pan Sauce and Serving
Remove and discard any obvious fat in the pan, add the brewed tea, and over medium heat on the stove, cook the liquids in the pan; stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the liquid just about coats the back of a spoon. It will have reduced considerably by this point.
You are now ready to serve. Remove the platter with the duck from the oven. Scatter a nice bed of the root vegetables on each plate (heated plates are great for this) and then top with a serving of duck. Now spoon some sauce over each portion. Garnish with fresh kumquats, halved, if you can find them and a generous scattering of fresh parsley leaves, washed, dried, and finely chopped. Serve immediately with a nice Pinot Noir. Then enjoy the festivity and the fruits of your labors. Bravo