Easy Roast Duck Legs with Preserved Lemon and Honey

Bright flavors punch up a classic game dish for a brag-worthy weeknight dinner

Photo: Rick Poon

Duck legs served with couscous, pomegranate, and herbs.

“This is an impressive dish, reminiscent of duck confit. While steam-roasting brined duck legs may sound ambitious, the active, hands-on time is only about thirty minutes. The dish can be prepared days in advance of serving, and it is nearly impossible to mess up. Once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll always have an extraordinary dinner in your back pocket.

In the spring I like to serve this with bread or flatbread, a grated carrot or beet salad or a simple green salad. In the fall, couscous or farro piccolo with pomegranate and herbs is the way to go. Any leftover duck, along with its crisped-up skin and a little warm fat, makes a remarkable winter salad. There are endless combinations that work well, but I’m particularly fond of tossing it with frisée, barberries and walnuts in walnut oil. Tip—be sure to leave twenty-four hours for brining the duck.”

Read our interview with Michelle McKenzie, author of the Modern Southern Larder.


  • Easy Roast Duck Legs with Preserved Lemon and Honey (Yield: 8 Servings)

    • 8 duck legs (approximately 4 lbs.)

    • Fine sea salt

    • ½ preserved lemon (store bought or homemade. Recipe follows*)

    • 1½ tbsp. honey

    • 2 tbsp. lemon juice

    • 1 tbsp. toasted coriander seeds, ground

    • 2 tsp. toasted cumin seeds, ground

    • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

    • ½ cup olive oil

    • One 2-inch slice fresh ginger

    • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled


  1. Pat the duck dry and place in a heavy-bottomed roasting pan, deep sauté pan, or Dutch oven wide enough to fit the legs snugly in one layer. Prick the duck skin all over with a paring knife or fork; season liberally with salt on both sides and refrigerate overnight.

  2. Preheat oven to 275°F. Pull the duck from the fridge 30 to 60 minutes before you plan to cook. Meanwhile, rinse the preserved lemon under running water to remove the excess salt. Pick out and discard any seeds. Puree the preserved lemon, honey, lemon juice, spices, and olive oil in a blender until smooth. Massage the preserved lemon paste on both sides of the duck legs and add the ginger and garlic. Re-nestle the legs in the pan in one even layer, skin side up. Cover the pan with a sheet of parchment, and top with a tight-fitting lid or aluminum foil. Braise until the duck is nearly submerged in its fat and the bones wiggle easily in the joint, 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the individual legs. (At this point you can refrigerate the duck legs for up to 3 days before serving; rewarm and liquefy the fat before proceeding with the recipe.)

  3. Preheat oven to 475°F. Transfer the duck legs—skin side up—to a rimmed baking sheet (it should be large enough to accommodate the duck legs in one layer, with a ½ inch or so between them). Skim a little duck fat from the top of the braising pan and spoon on top of each duck leg. Roast the legs on the top oven rack until the skin is crackling crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes before serving.

  4. *Preserved Lemons: During their time in a salt-packed crock, the tartness mellows while the other natural flavors of lemon come forward. Preserved lemons imply citrus but taste and behave entirely different than anything fresh. And they are capable of making a distinctive impact without announcing themselves. Preserved lemons can be used whole, halved, or finely chopped. Always taste a bite of the rind and consider the intensity of your particular batch and the effect you’re after before you use them. Preserving lemons (or limes, kumquats—virtually any citrus) is one of the easiest home fermentation projects: Split and salt-packed lemons are pressed deep into a crock or jar. Overnight, the salt extracts lemon juice and the juice dissolves the salt—together they form a brine. While brining for a month or more, the flavor of the lemon shifts. Two months is the minimum time for the skins of most lemons to soften all the way through, but I have left mine fermenting for a year or more, yielding a darker and more intense flavor. Once they’ve reached their end state, they can be kept for a year in the refrigerator (as long as they are sealed, remain covered in brine, and are extracted using clean utensils or hands). I prefer using Lisbon lemons, but all varieties make a fine product. If you are making your own, just be sure to seek out unwaxed, preferably organic lemons.

Excerpted from The Modern Larder: From Anchovies to Yuzu, a Guide to Artful and Attainable Home Cooking (Roost Books). By Michelle McKenzie. Photographs by Rick Poon.