It seems like ages since I first wrote about this recipe, and it has been — at least in blogging time. I first posted a version of this dish back in early 2008, and it was so popular it even got written up in Field & Stream. But time marches on, and now I look back at that original recipe and cringe.
This is the upgrade. It is basically the same German braised Duck Niederwald that I first found in the pages of the The Derrydale Game Cookbook (which, incidentally, was designed by my sister!), only streamlined, improved and generally made better than the old version.
At it’s core, this is a German pot roast, made with duck or goose legs. It has all the familiar German ingredients: sausage, sauerkraut, cabbage, caraway, onions, juniper.
It is uncomplicated and homey, and it cries out for German bread or potatoes and either a wiezenbock, Maibock or even a hearty doppelbock like Spaten Optimator, which is what I drank when I ate this last version. You could of course drink a nice dry Austrian Riesling, too.
One thing that fascinates me with this recipe is the name: Niederwald. I know it happens to be a small town near Frankfurt in Germany, but beyond that I can find absolutely no reference to this dish other than the one in the Derrydale book. (And it doesn’t help that all I can think about when I say the name is Dean Wormer talking about Douglas Niedermeyer in “Animal House”… )
Any Germans out there? Food historians? I’d love to know more about the history of this dish. All I know now is that it’s damn good.
- 2 to 3 pounds duck or goose legs and/or wings
- 2 tablespoons duck fat, lard or vegetable oil
- 3 cups shredded cabbage
- 1 small onion, sliced thin from root to tip
- 3 medium carrots, sliced thin
- 1 28- to 32-ounce jar of sauerkraut
- 1 cup white wine (Riesling would be good)
- 1 cup chicken, duck or other stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cloves
- 1 teaspoon of coarsely cracked black pepper
- 10 juniper berries, mashed but whole
- 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
- 2 smoked sausages, such as kielbasa or red bratwurst
- Freshly chopped chives for garnish
- Heat the duck fat in a large, lidded pot like a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Brown the duck or goose legs well, especially on the skin side. Salt the legs as they are cooking. Once each leg browns well, remove it to a plate for now. The whole process may take 10 to 15 minutes.
- When the duck has all been browned, add the onion, cabbage and carrot and saute until the vegetables get just a little browning on the edges, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sauerkraut, wine, stock, herbs and spices. (Leave out the sausages for now.)
- Nestle the duck or goose legs into the kraut mixture and baste with a little of the liquid. Cover the pot and simmer very gently over low heat until the meat yields easily to the tip of a knife. How long? Anywhere from about 90 minutes for store-bought ducks to 3 1/2 hours for an old goose.
- About 15 minutes before you think the goose or duck legs will be done -- you need not be precise, as the legs are pretty forgiving in terms of overcooking them -- slice the sausages and nestle them into the pot, too. Cover and heat through. You don't want to cook the sausages too long or all the fat will drain out and they will be dry and unpleasant.
- When you're ready to serve, add salt to taste and sprinkle the chives over the dish. Serve with good rye bread, potatoes in some form (mashed, boiled, roasted, etc) or with dumplings. I particularly like the bread dumplings in my venison roast recipe.
I always use either homemade sauerkraut or the refrigerated kind; it tastes better than the pressure-canned, shelf stable kraut. Juniper berries are easily available in larger supermarkets, on nearby bushes, or you can buy them online.