In the introduction to this recipe from The Whole Beast, Fergus Henderson warns:
This is a dish you have to think about a week ahead.
That’s what I was thinking as I unpacked my case of duck legs, so I reserved six of them for this recipe and gathered the ingredients for a brine: two cups of sugar, two and a quarter cups of kosher salt, two bay leaves, and 12 each of whole peppercorns, cloves, and juniper berries.
I added everything to a bucket with four quarts of water, stirred until the salt and sugar were dissolved, added the duck legs, then stored the bucket in the fridge. I used a plate to keep the legs submerged.
After a week I was ready to poach the legs in aromatics (a head of garlic, two peeled and halved onions, two cleaned leeks, two peeled carrots, two stalks of celery, two bay leaves, twelve peppercorns, and a bundle of thyme and parsley) and make the dumplings (two eggs, seven ounces of finely diced wheat bread, two ounces of minced bacon, two thirds of a cup of freshly grated horseradish, and three quarters of a cup of fine yellow cornmeal).
I put the duck and aromatics in a pot and added water to cover, then simmered the legs for about an hour, until they were fork tender.
While the legs simmered, I combined the rest of the ingredients by hand until they formed a sticky dough. My dough was slightly drier than I expected.
According to the recipe, I should have been able top make about a dozen three quarter-inch dumplings; I wound up with fifteen inch and a half dumplings instead.
I transferred some of the cooking liquid from the legs to another pot, brought it to a simmer, added the dumplings, and cooked them for ten minutes.
When the legs were done I set them aside, strained the cooking liquid, brought it to a boil and added two pounds of trimmed green beans, letting them cook for three minutes.
To plate, I spooned some beans into a bowl, topped them with a duck leg, added a few dumplings, and then finished with a ladleful of the cooking liquid.
The brine firmed up the legs a bit, so they weren’t as meltingly tender as a braised version. I though the salt would be the dominant note, but was surprised at the sweetness the brine imparted. As for the dumplings, while the flavor combination – bacon, bread, horseradish – contrasted with the duck, the texture was off. She Who Must Be Obeyed, queen of dumplings, pronounced them “a bit dense, and dry inside.” I can only assume I used too much bread, but I was sure I followed the recipe’s proportions.
Since we had a guest for that meal, I had only two legs left over for dinner this evening. My solution: re-warm the legs in the remaining stock and shred them, render some bacon lardons, quarter the remaining dumplings, and assemble an arugula and shallot salad. I reserved some of the bacon fat to dress the salad (along with a splash of merlot vinegar), and used the rest to crisp the dumplings and make croutons.
Not bad for leftovers. It’s hard to go wrong with bacon, or duck.