One of the best tacos I have ever eaten was at a food stand at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. Frankly, the combination of rich duck and mildly spicy ancho chili paste sweetened with cherries incited gluttony.
Despite its sophisticated flavour profile, the dish is easy to reproduce once the chili paste is made and the onions are brined (both can be done ahead). And if you aren’t a duck fan, you can easily substitute cooked chicken legs or pork belly.
I make double the amount of the paste and keep it refrigerated to liven up other dishes. The marinated onions also keep for weeks. As for the chilies, dried, large, fairly mild anchos are available at Latin American stores and some supermarkets.
Ready time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Servings: 12 tacos
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1 1/3 cup rice vinegar
5 ancho chilies
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup dried cherries
6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup lime juice
3 confit duck legs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cups baby spinach
12 corn tortillas (homemade or store-bought)
To marinate the onions, massage the salt into the onion slices and allow them to sit for 10 minutes. Pat off excess salt and moisture with a paper towel.
To make the brine, stir salt and sugar into hot water until dissolved. Add vinegar. Place the marinated onions in the brine and let sit for 1 hour while they pickle. (The onions can be used immediately or will keep for a month refrigerated in the brine.)
To make the chili paste, toast the chilies in a dry skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes to release their oils. Transfer to a bowl and pour 2 cups of boiling water over them. Let soak for 15 minutes. Soak cherries in a separate bowl of warm water.
Strain chilies, reserving liquid. Strain cherries, discarding liquid. Put chilies and remaining ingredients for chili paste into a food processor and puree, adding reserved chili water as needed. Paste should be the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. Reserve.
To make the lime crema, mix together sour cream and lime juice and reserve (or spoon it into a squeeze bottle, if you have one).
Preheat oven to 400 F. To prepare the duck, bake legs on a baking sheet for 15 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle. Strip away the skin and shred meat. Discard the bones. Place skin in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the skin is crisp, about 10 minutes. Reserve meat and skin separately.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pan. Add ½ cup chili paste and cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add duck meat to skillet. Cook over medium heat until paste coats the meat.
To assemble tacos, place a layer of spinach on each tortilla, followed by a layer of duck. Top with marinated onions and drizzle with lime crema. Finish with a sprinkle of crumbled duck skin, sea salt and cilantro.