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I was recently asked by Catherine Nakasato, a friend and publisher of the quarterly ezine, Les Mots des Anges (Words of Angels), to contribute a recipe to the winter issue. It gave me the opportunity to play with ingredients and flavors I seldom have a chance to use in my French kitchen — in particular star anise, one of my favorite.

I chose the incredibly versatile duck legs as my canvas and infused them with herbs, ginger and crushed star anise along with few pinches of salt to extract moisture. The inspiration for the glaze/sauce came from leftover maple syrup brought by American friends last summer and is loosely based on a gastrique, the sweet and sour reduction that is the foundation for great recipes such as the classic duck à l’orange and many fruit sauces. The legs were slow-roasted until the meat was fragrant and tender, then glazed with the maple gastrique and finished in the oven for few more minutes until the skin was crackly and mahogany. They can be paired with pan-roasted turnips or potatoes, and steamed basmati rice. I also suspect that fluffy mashed potatoes would make a great sidekick.  I wouldn’t dare to say that the result was heavenly. Was it pretty good? Definitely.

Maple-Glazed Duck Legs

Six servings

  • 21/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 2 star anise, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 6 duck legs
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 11/2 cups red wine
  • Bouquet garni: 1 ½-inch slice fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon dry thyme, 5 peppercorns, 1 star anise wrapped in cheesecloth
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the coarse salt, ginger, pepper flakes, star anise and thyme in a large mixing bowl.  Add the duck legs and rub with the salt mixture until they are evenly coated.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whip off the duck legs with paper towels and place them skin side up on a single layer in a baking dish. Roast for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, bring the maple syrup to a boil in a heavy saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the vinegar, stirring constantly.  Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and bouquet garni, and simmer until the liquid is reduce to about ¾ cup.  Season to taste with freshly ground pepper, if desired.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  Discard the bouquet garni.

Remove the legs from the oven and carefully pour off the fat from the pan.  Add ½ cup of cold water, gently loosen the legs, scraping the bottom of the pan.  Generously brush the maple sauce on the legs to glaze evenly and roast for another 30 minutes.

To serve, reheat the remaining sauce.  Arrange the duck legs on individual dinner plates and drizzle with the warm sauce.  Serve immediately.

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