Xinomavro Duck with Cornmeal Cream


Duck, papia in Greek, is a special treat usually reserved for holidays or hunters. This simple recipe marries one of the world’s richest meats with a tannic Greek red wine, Xinomavro, typically from Naoussa and other areas in Northern Greece. The wine is a beautiful counterbalance to the richness of the duck. I’d suggest a glass or two to pair with this luscious meal, too.

As for the accompanying creamy cornmeal, also called bobota in Greek, was a true “peasant” food, cooked in country kitchens all over the north, either as a cream, which Greek call boulenta, bolenta or katsamaki, or as a topping for myriad savory greens pies. It makes for a delicious combination with the duck, elegant and comforting all at once.

Ingredients

For the duck:

  • 2 pounds / 1 kilo duck legs
  • Greek sea salt freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 4 garlic cloves crushed
  • 2 bay leaves crumbled
  • 1 teaspoons juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin Greek oil
  • 1 large red onion finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots peeled, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks chopped
  • cups Xinomavro red wine or any dry, tannic red wine
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Greek Bolenta (Cornmeal Cream with Greek Cheese):

  • cups milk
  • Kosher salt freshly ground pepper
  • cup coarse-grind polenta
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup grated Kefalograviera or Kefalotyri cheese or any sharp hard sheep’s milk cheese, such as pecorino

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300F/150C.
  2. Prick duck skin all over with a sharp paring knife and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the legs in a Dutch oven and cook over medium-low heat until the duck is lightly browned and has rendered most of its fat, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn once to color on both sides. Remove the legs to a bowl and drain off all but one tablespoon of the duck fat.
  3. Add the olive oil to the same pot and, over medium-low heat, cook the onion, carrots, garlic and celery, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8–10 minutes. Place the duck back in the Dutch oven. Pour in the wine, and add the bay leaves, juniper berries, and peppercorns. Cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Transfer the pot to the oven and braise the duck for about 2 to 2 ½ hours, until the bones are loosened from the meat. An hour before removing from the oven, gently stir in the vinegar.
  5. About a half hour before the duck is done, make the bolenta: Bring milk and 2 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Season with salt and pepper; slowly stream in polenta, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking often, until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Stir in the kefalotyri and butter. Continue whisking until the bolenta is smooth, thick and creamy. Cover and set aside.
  6. To serve: spread bolenta onto either a platter or individual serving plates. Place the duck on top and pour over the pan juices.

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