There is nothing better on a cold wintry day,” the great food writer Craig Claiborne once noted, “than a properly made pot pie.”
Properly made, in this case, is with duck legs, dates, rutabaga, and a biscuit crust enriched with duck fat. This restorative meal—the perfect antidote to a cold day in a duck blind—is the creation of Vivian Howard, chef-owner of Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, N.C., and author of Deep Run Roots, from which this recipe is adapted. If you’re short on duck fat, sub in lard. This recipe would be terrific with goose as well.
See our other duck recipes here.
What You Will Need
For the duck and date filling:
- 3 or 4 wild duck leg quarters, about 2 lb. total
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 2 large yellow onions, diced
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 11⁄2 lb. rutabaga, cut into 1-inch dice, about 4 cups
- 2⁄3 cup dried dates, cut into eighths
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 3 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 1⁄4 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the biscuit crust:
- 11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 3⁄4 tsp. salt, divided
- 1⁄4 cup duck fat or lard
- 1⁄2 cup buttermilk
1. Make the filling: Season the duck with salt and pepper. In a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Brown the duck legs, skin side down, for about 7–10 minutes. When they’re nicely browned, flip them over and do the same on the flesh side. Take the duck legs out and set them aside.
2. Pour off all but about a tablespoon of any duck fat, then add the garlic, carrot, celery, and onion, and season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes. Once the vegetables are caramelized, add the wine. Bring it up to a boil and cook for 2–3 minutes. Stir in the stock, rutabaga, dates, herbs, star anise, bay leaves, and nutmeg. Add the duck legs and any juices that accumulated while they were resting and bring it up to a simmer. The liquid should come about 3⁄4 of the way up the sides of the duck legs; they should not be submerged. Adjust the liquid level with stock or water. Lower the heat and cover. Cook the duck over medium-low heat for 1 hour at a brisk simmer. After an hour, uncover and cook 10 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and let the duck rest in the braising liquid for 20 minutes.
3. Transfer the duck to a plate. Once cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones in nice, fork-friendly pieces. Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid. Reserve the vegetables and broth. Discard the herbs and spices. Skim any fat you can from the top of the braising liquid.
4. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. butter over medium heat until it foams. Add the flour and cook for 1–2 minutes. Whisk in 21⁄2 cups of the reserved braising liquid, and bring it up to a boil. It should thicken up and coat the back of a spoon like thin gravy. Stir in the reserved duck and vegetables.
5. Make the crust: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, and 1⁄2 tsp. salt into the bottom of a large bowl and make a deep and wide well in the center. Add the duck fat, followed by the buttermilk, taking care to keep both contained in the well for now. Take your dominant hand down into the fat and buttermilk goop and start bringing that together with your fingers. You want to make as much of a homogenous mixture as you can without bringing too much flour into the fold just yet. Once you get it together, start moving the wet mixture back and forth, to and fro, in the flour. Turn it over and introduce more flour with each movement. Continue introducing flour until the dough is not sticky but still very soft and tender. You will have about 1⁄4 cup flour left.
6. Lay a 10-inch square of parchment or waxed paper on your counter and turn the dough onto it. Form it into a ball, then roll it out into a 1⁄4-inch-thick circle wide enough to cover the skillet.
7. Assemble and bake: Make sure the filling is warm. It doesn’t need to be hot, but it can’t be cold throughout or it won’t heat through. Pick up the parchment by the edges and gently flip the pastry on top of the skillet. Trim the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining 1⁄4 tsp. salt, and cut a 1-inch slit on top of the biscuit. Put the skillet on a baking sheet and slide it onto the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling has started to bubble up the sides.