Duck Tagine with Quince and Apricots

A very dear friend once said to me, after I’d served her a pigeon salad with orange and figs, “Susan, you pair meat with fruit more than anyone I know.” This is one of my favourite observations anyone has ever made about my cooking, and it is true that I love to pair meat with fruit.  That same friend is imminently expecting her first child, and I have been happily making and freezing meals for her and her partner in anticipation of their first couple of weeks at home with the baby. (I was born for this kind of task.) A few weeks ago, at Borough Market, which ordinarily is one of the most expensive food markets in London, I picked up three quinces for a pound. Earlier this week, I pounced on some Gressingham duck legs, which had been discounted at Waitrose. Gressingham duck is a cross between a wild mallard and a pekin duck, which means that it is a little bit less fatty than most duck you find in supermarkets, and its meat has a more gamey flavour. I use it whenever I can find it. Yesterday I emailed my friend, “I’m cooking you meat with fruit!”

This recipe is adapted from a lamb tagine I found in my favourite Moroccan cookbook, the marvellous Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos. Duck legs are browned in butter and then slowly stewed with saffron, coriander, ginger, onion, and cinnamon, and finished with meaty, tangy quince and sweet dried apricots. Crushed red pepper adds just a hint of heat. I’d never cooked with quince before, although membrillo, the thick plum-coloured quince paste sold in Spain by the slab and served with salty cheeses, is one of my guilty pleasures. (You can find a recipe for membrillo here.) The fruit is very hard and has a dry tang to it (i.e., is not to be eaten raw), but when cooked becomes soft and tender, almost like cooked pear, and takes on a dusky pinky-orange hue. It’s perfect with meat.

Ingredients

Four to six duck leg and thigh pieces, or one whole duck, quartered

1 large or two medium onions, chopped

2-3 cm (about an inch) of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 cinnamon stick

A generous pinch of saffron

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (crushed red pepper)

Four cups (about a litre) of white chicken stock, or water

100 grams of butter

600 grams (about a pound and a half) quinces – should be about two – peeled, halved, cored, then thinly sliced

150 grams (about 1/3 pound) dried apricots

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Two tablespoons sugar

About two teaspoons salt plus additional salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

A handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), leaves picked from stems

Method:

Wash and dry the duck pieces, removing and discarding excess fat, and season them with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat half the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole until foaming but not brown, and brown the duck pieces on both sides. Remove the duck pieces from the pot when they are  browned.

Sauté half the onion and the ginger with the coriander and red pepper flakes in the same pot until the onions are transparent. Return the duck pieces to the pot, crumble in the saffron with your fingers, and add the cinnamon stick and enough stock or water to just cover the meat. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about an hour, or until duck is fork-tender.

Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and sauté the quince pieces together with the remaining onion over medium heat until the quince is slightly golden, about 10-15 minutes. Add to the pot with the duck along with the apricots and sugar. Continue to simmer for another thirty minutes or so, or until the quince is completely tender. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Skim off excess fat, remove and discard cinnamon stick, and serve, topped with fresh coriander leaves, with couscous or plenty of flatbread.

Makes 4-6 servings.

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20 thoughts on “Duck Tagine with Quince and Apricots

  1. I love pairing meat with fruit, I like that sweetness they add to meat, but somehow I don’t know why, I’ve always been really quite limited in my pairings. pork and apple, duh. duck with apricots sounds great, I have never tried quince before so I can’t comment on that but definitely, one of those fruits I need to try.

  2. I love meat and fruit too! This looks amazing. Duck is delicious, especially with apricots and quinces!

    We don’t see quince very often over here, but whenever I see it in the market, I get really excited.

  3. Sounds delish. I bought 20lbs of oranges at a farmer’s market last weekend and have been putting them into everything this week… that included a few meals in a row with shrimp in a white wine broth of sorts. Maybe I’ll try it with some real meat. Mmm, pork chops come to mind. Or, quite frankly, duck!

  4. Totally agree with the Gessingham Duck comment. Susan this looks so yummy and warming, I am going to give this a go. I love quince, it’s reminds me of eating them at my great grandmothers when I was a child. Thanks for a great recipe!

  5. Meat and fruit is such a good match, and those Moroccans are particularly good at it, no? I really like the idea of quince and duck, i’ve paired the fowl with dried fruits and currenty things before, but never quince. But now that you’ve posted a recipe… I particularly like lamb with dried soft fruits and nuts, or chicken with something a little more citrussy.

    As you have a qunice left, you should try poaching it in a little sugar-water syrup, star anise and cinnamon stick. It’s heavenly (particularly if you happen to have some homemade ice cream to hand).

  6. Love your comment to Daisy: “The piggies of the avian world”—so true! Actually, I read this post a few days ago on my phone (too much trouble to comment from there), then thought of it again after buying the Nigel Slater book fruit book this weekend. This looks wonderful. I, too, love meat and fruit combinations.

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