Pretty much every culture that eats duck makes braised duck, and this is a venerable recipe from Germany called braised duck Niederwald.
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 braised duck 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.
If you keep the browned skin up out of the braising liquid, it will stay pretty crispy. But if you want to take things to another level of crispiness, cook this braise in a 300°F oven until the meat is tender, then jack up the heat to 400°F and remove the lid for the last 15 minutes to get the skin extra crispy.
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”… )
German Braised Duck Niederwald
- 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.