It’s quite difficult to really define what does and doesn’t qualify as a salad. If you were to serve all the individual parts of this dish separately on a plate, a duck leg, some batons of roasted parsnip and a little mound of watercress, you certainly wouldn’t call it one. It would be a roast dinner with no potatoes. Somehow though, by shredding the duck and mixing it all together with a dressing it transforms into a more complete meal. It’s a also a meal that feels more healthy, and uses one of my favourite meats.
Duck legs are a surprisingly affordable cut of meat — this dish would likely cost just as much to prepare using chicken or beef instead (based on UK prices of course) and I paid £3 for two Gressingham duck legs, which fed three, and could probably have stretched to feed four if they’d needed to. It’s often been overlooked because of it’s higher fat content, but a bit of fat in moderation is definitely a good thing; in a dish like this, it will help to make you feel fuller, which you wouldn’t get from a chicken breast. Much of the fat renders out during cooking and will stay in the tray you cook it in. Although the UK season is just drawing to an end, wild duck is a leaner alternative. I’ve made good use of the fat to cook the parsnips.
Duck pairs nicely with sweet flavours (think of the sauce you get with it at the Chinese takeaway) so parsnip seemed a natural partner. This whole series of recipes has been about making use of winter vegetables so since I’ve already featured carrots and beetroot, parsnip had to be next. Parsnips are a very British vegetable in my mind. It’s certainly a very Northern European ingredient, though I can’t place it in a famous dish of any other nation. Across the English Channel, this root vegetable disappears from supermarkets and instead, the French prefer to feed parsnips to their livestock. I’m not even sure if they’re widely available in the USA, since they don’t tend to pop up on other blogs. Perhaps they’re just unfashionable, and will get their day in the sun once cauliflower and kale are too cliché. If some of my foreign readers want to comment and enlighten me, I’d be very grateful. Of course, if parsnips aren’t around, carrots or beetroots (or a mix) will do!
For the dressing
Pierce the skin of the duck legs all over with the point of a knife and season with salt: this will allow the fat to easily drain out from under the skin. Place the legs skin-side up on a trivet or wire rack over a large baking tray, ideally big enough to fit the parsnips. If you don’t have a rack, you can try to improvise one with some vegetables instead, or just risk it and go without (though you might find the duck will cook itself fast to the tray!). Place in the oven at 160C for 90 minutes; because of the long cooking time, preheating is actually unnecessary.
Peel the parsnips and cut into 3-4 inch batons, trimming out any woodier parts of the cores. After the duck has been roasting for 45 minutes, carefully transfer the duck legs and their wire rack to a clean baking tray, and toss the parsnips in the hot duck fat remaining. Season the parsnips with salt and pepper and place in the oven with the duck for the remaining 45 minutes of cooking time.
Once the duck is cooked and the parsnips are browned and soft, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly while preparing the dressing. For the honey-mustard dressing, whisk all the ingredients together and add the mustard, salt and pepper to taste and set aside. Shred the duck off the bone, ensuring that the crisp skin isn’t wasted (it provides texture for the salad). Divide the duck, parsnip and watercress between serving plates ad serve warm with the dressing on the side, or drizzled lazily on top. Serves 4.