Rustic Braised Duck with Baked White Beans
Adapted from recipe by Sally McLaughlin, Homestead Bed & Breakfast, Gustavus, AK
The simplicity of Rustic Braised Duck with Baked White Beans is what makes it special. Creamy white beans are baked with earthy vegetables; juices of moist, well-seasoned duck permeate the braising liquid and coat the entire dish with amazing flavor. Similar to cassoulet, but without pork and without cassoulet’s hassle, Sally’s Rustic Braised Duck is slow food that goes together with a minimum of fuss. Serve with green salad and red wine vinaigrette, and robust red wine. If you save it, drained bean cooking liquid will make an excellent base for a future soup. Duck fat is a delicious cooking medium and works particularly well with potatoes; directions for rendering duck fat and skin are here.
1 pound dried navy beans, or other small white beans
4 1/2-6 pound duck
2 Tbsp. duck fat or olive oil
1 cup diced celery, 1/4” dice (about 3 stalks with leaves)
1 cup diced carrots, 1/4” dice (about 3 medium)
2 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups chicken or duck stock (see Note below)
Spread out dried beans on a tray and inspect carefully, removing any pebbles or debris. Soak dried beans in cold water mixed with salt (at a ratio of 3 Tbsp. salt to 1 gallon cold water) for 8 hours or overnight. Rinse and drain beans.
Put soaked beans in large pot with fresh cold water to cover by 2 inches, bring to a boil, cover, turn heat down to low, and simmer for 30-40 minutes until beans are just slightly tender. Drain, reserving liquid for another purpose.
While beans are cooking, prepare duck. Remove bag of giblets, if any, reserving liver for another use. Pull off lumps of fat and extra skin, reserving for another use. Be sure to clean out and discard any organs next to backbone. Cut duck into serving-sized pieces; see Note below. Wash pieces and dry them well. Season duck on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Preheat oven to 300°F degrees.
Heat fat or olive oil in large heavy dutch oven until it’s very hot, but not smoking. Put duck in pan, skin side down. Don’t crowd duck pieces together, or they won’t cook correctly; brown duck in batches. Cook duck until it’s well browned on both sides. Remove duck to plate and when all duck is cooked, pour off all but 2 Tbsp. oil.
Sauté carrots, celery, and onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in remaining duck oil, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Cook until vegetables soften and onions begin to turn golden. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook for 1 minute.
Stir in 1/2 cup stock, simmer for a few minutes to loosen any browned bits remaining on pot’s bottom. Add beans, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste; stir well to combine with vegetables. Tuck pieces of duck into beans, leaving some slightly exposed. Add 1 cup stock and bring to a boil. Cover pot and bake 1 1/2 hours. Check liquid every 30 minutes; add more boiling broth if necessary to keep beans moist and almost covered.
The beans should soak up most of the liquid so the final dish isn’t soupy, is still nice and moist, and has a rich brown hue.
NOTE on Duck Butchering: Cutting up a duck is similar to cutting up a chicken: leave the legs and thighs together; cut breasts into quarters; and cut wing tips off and save for stock. Because I like bones, I also cut duck backs and ribs into quarters and include these and the neck in the braise; you may choose to reserve these bony pieces for duck stock instead. In Anchorage, if you don’t want to cut up your own duck, you can buy one from Mr. Prime Beef and with three days notice (they sell only frozen ducks and defrosting takes time) they will cut it into parts for 50 cents a pound.
NOTE on Chicken or Duck Stock: To make Chicken or Duck Stock, mix chicken or duck bones, carcass, neck, giblets, and bony pieces with plenty of water, carrots, celery, onions, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves; bring to a boil; cover; turn heat down to low; and simmer for 2-3 hours.