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Braised Duck Legs

Spencer Huey

Serves 6 people


6 duck legs (about 3-4lbs)
neutral oil (like avocado or vegetable)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1.5 cups red wine
4-5 cloves of garlic, cloves smashed, skins removed and sliced
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
3-4 sprigs of parsley
1-2 cups duck or chicken stock
Red wine vinegar


Season duck legs with salt. Using a small sharp knife, make a cut all around the bottom of the leg (ankle of the duck). This will cut the tendons and cause the meat to shrink up like a lollipop when it’s finished.
Heat up a large pot and add 2 tablespoons neutral oil. Brown the duck legs starting with the skin side (about 8-12 min) until crispy and dark brown. Flip and brown the other side (4-6 min). Remove from the pan and drain most of the fat (leave 2-3 tablespoons),
Add the onions, carrots and celery. Season lightly with salt and allow them to develop color and brown slightly.
Add the tomato past and cook for 3-4 min. This allows the tomato paste to open up and cook out. This will thicken the final sauce.
Pour in the red wine and stir the vegetables. Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and freshly cracked pepper. Let it reduce and cook for 2-3 min. Taste the braising liquid and adjust for salt. The sauce will thicken as it cooks so use less salt than you think.
Nestle the duck legs in the aromatic braising liquid if using an oven safe dutch oven. Also, you can pour the braising liquid into a 9x13 glass pan and nestle the duck legs into it. You want the liquid to come up about one third to halfway up the duck. Add the stock as needed. Juices will come out of the meat, put a little less liquid than you think. Avoid covering the crispy skin.
For the dutch oven, bring to a slow boil and then turn the heat way down until the pot is at a bare simmer (very slow and infrequent bubbles). Alternatively, place into a 300 degree oven (if you have an oven safe, enameled cast iron pot or are using the glass pan) and braise for 1.5-2 hours. Cook until the meat is very tender but not falling apart. You can check with a knife or wooden skewer (it should go in with little resistance).
Finish the sauce with salt (if needed) and a capful of red wine vinegar. Serve the duck legs over polenta, brown rice or pasta in a shallow bowl. The vinegar at the end will add a brightness to the final sauce and bring all the flavors together.

Although 1 tablespoon of tomato paste doesn’t seem like much, it’s really important in bringing out the flavors of the duck. Tomato paste is made by slowly cooking tomatoes down, straining out the seeds and skins and then cooking it down further into a paste. This concentrated paste is full of flavor and the natural pectins help to thicken the overall sauce.

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