Especially on a cold winter evening, a house filled with the deliciously gamey and sweet aroma of duck braised with kabocha squash is incredibly comforting. The duck legs are both tender and crisp and the squash is downright decadent, with a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a hint of exotic spice from star anise.
This flavorful and luxurious-tasting dish makes a strong case for always cooking root vegetables in duck fat. Heck, it makes a strong case for cooking everything in duck fat. Luckily, you’ll have some leftover to store in the refrigerator for future recipes. Use duck fat to saute anything, rub down chicken before cooking, or roast vegetables. It adds a subtle meaty flavor to food, can be used for high-heat cooking and makes both roasted poultry skin and vegetables extra crispy.
Kabocha is a winter squash with a mildly sweet flavor and smooth, tender texture. Most recipes pair duck with starchy potatoes, but squash is even better, in terms of both health and flavor. The sweetness of squash is so good with fatty duck, it’s hard to imagine why you’d want anything else.
Time in the Kitchen: 45 minutes, plus 1 1/2 hours to braise
4 duck legs
1 large onion or two small, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 whole star anise
2 to 4 cups chicken stock (475 ml to 950 ml)
1 kabocha squash, peeled seeded and cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (15 ml)
Preheat oven to 325 ºF/190 ºC.
Season the duck legs with salt and pepper.
Place them skin side down in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Cook slowly and patiently, undisturbed, until the skin is very well browned and crisp, about 20 minutes. Transfer them to a plate and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet (save the extra fat for another use, it will keep for a couple months in the refrigerator).
Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook in the duck fat until golden-brown, 7 to 10 minutes.
Arrange the duck legs in the skillet, skin side up, on top of the onion and garlic. Scatter the squash around the duck then add the star anise and just enough chicken stock to come halfway up the duck legs but not cover them completely – the skin should be exposed. If the skin is covered with liquid, it won’t stay crispy.
Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil.
Put the skillet in the oven (no lid). Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until fork tender.
Let the duck rest for about 10 minutes. Drizzle the vinegar over the dish and serve.