Fondant De Canard with Potatoes Au Gratin

By: Sheilah Kaufman

With a few hours’ time, my lovely French neighbors Michelle Arnaud and her daughter, Catherine Arnaud Charbonneau, turn onions, white wine, and duck legs (ordered from their local supermarket) into a luxurious main course.

You’ll need extra duck fat for the potatoes. The fat is available through online gourmet purveyors, at specialty supermarkets and at some farmer's markets. 

Ingredients for the duck:  

  • 4 duck legs, with thighs (2 lbs. total)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large onions; 2 Vidalia and 2 yellow, cut into thin slices
  • 10 fresh bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves peeled garlic
  • 10 large sprigs thyme
  • 2/3 of a 750-ml bottle (about 2 cups) chardonnay

Ingredients for the potatoes:

  • 4 tbsp. duck fat (see headnote)
  • 2 large (unpeeled) russet potatoes, washed well and cut crosswise into thin slices
  • Sea salt
  • Leaves from 2 large sprigs thyme (1 tbsp.)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, cut into very thin slices
  • 1 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese

For the duck: Season the duck legs all over with salt and pepper. Place skin side down in a large ovenproof skillet. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, turning the duck over a few times, to render as much fat as possible (important for the onions).
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Increase the heat to medium; cook for about 3 minutes per side to lightly brown the duck. Transfer the duck to a plate.

Add the onions to the skillet and toss to coat in the duck fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent, very soft, and submerged in the duck fat, 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the bay leaves and garlic, then add 6 or 7 thyme sprigs. Arrange the duck legs on top the onions, skin side up. Pour the wine around, then lay the remaining thyme sprigs over the duck. Cover and roast for 45 minutes; check to see whether the onions are sticking to the bottom of the skillet. If so, use a spatula to dislodge them. Roast for 15 minutes, then uncover and roast for 20 to 30 minutes so the duck browns, the garlic cloves have softened and the juices in the skillet have reduced.

Meanwhile, prepare the potatoes. Have a 1 1/2-quart baking dish at hand. Heat the 4 tbsp. of duck fat in a large skillet over medium heat. Add about 1/5 of the potatoes and fry them for several minutes until crisped, turning to brown them on both sides. Transfer them to the baking dish, spreading them in a single layer. Season lightly with salt to taste, then sprinkle with a little of thyme, garlic slices, and cheese. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, partially cooking them in the skillet, then creating layers in the baking dish with the other ingredients in between. By the time you've used all the potatoes, you should have five layers of potatoes, ending with cheese on top.

Strain any remaining duck fat in the skillet; reserve for another use. Place in the oven alongside the skillet with the duck, to roast for the last 30 minutes that the duck is in the oven. The potatoes should be fork-tender and the cheese should be evenly melted. Divide equal portions of the onion and softened garlic cloves among individual plates, then top with a duck leg. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, if desired. Serve hot, with a scoop of the potato gratin.

Makes four servings.

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A popular lecturer and expert on Mediterranean cooking and Jewish culinary history and traditions, Sheilah has been a guest speaker for The Library of Congress, The National Book Festival, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival  In addition, she is a popular lecturer for Jewish Federations, Hadassah, diplomatic groups, and Oasis, and has been a frequent guest on television and radio programs (including Martha Stewart Live) across the nation. Sheilah also does consulting and has developed recipes and served as a national spokesperson for a number of international companies. Visit Sheilah's website here!