Duck Breast a l'Orange
If you're looking for an elegant, but easy entrée for a special occasion dinner, try making our simple version of classic Duck a l'Orange using boneless duck breasts. The secret to success with this dish is in the orange sauce. To properly complement the richness of the duck it should have the perfect balance between sweet and bitter flavors which easy to achieve by adding a splash of vinegar and a few dashes of cocktail bitters.
Duck Breast a l'Orange
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Yield: 4 servings
- 1-3/4 to 2 lbs boneless duck breasts (see notes below)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large navel orange (preferably organic)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 cup orange juice
- 6 or 7 dashes orange bitters
Being careful not to cut into the meat, score the skin on each duck breasts in a crosshatch pattern at 1/4-inch intervals. Season both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.
Zest the orange into a small bowl, then trim away both ends. Following the curve of the orange, carefully cut away the peel down to the flesh and trim any stray bits of white pith.
Carefully slice along both sides of each membrane toward the center of the fruit to remove the segments (these are called orange supremes) and set aside.
Whisk the cornstarch together with 1/4 cup of the chicken broth in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the duck breasts, skin side down in a heavy frying pan over medium heat (about 275°F) to render the fat. You want to see the fat begin to melt and sizzle slightly, but you are not trying to achieve a quick sear at this point.
Without turning, continue cooking the duck for 6 to 10 minutes, or until the majority of the fat has rendered from the breast and the skin is golden brown and crisp.
While the duck fat renders, make the sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft and fragrant, 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook until dissolved. Add the sherry vinegar, orange zest, orange juice and remaining chicken broth.
Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Give the cornstarch mixture a stir, add it to the saucepan and cook for 30 seconds. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and add the bitters. Cover to keep warm.
Once the duck skin is crisp, pour off the fat and turn the breasts over. Raise the heat slightly and continue cooking until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 125°F (medium-rare), 3 to 6 minutes. Allow the duck breasts to rest for a minimum of 5 minutes before slicing.
To serve, arrange slices of duck and several orange supremes on each plate, then drizzle the sauce over the top. Serve with simple sides like a medley of white and wild rice with toasted almonds and oven-roasted green beans.
Note: For a slight variation on the sauce, replace the sherry vinegar and orange bitters with 2 to 3 tablespoons of brandy.
Varieties of Duck Breasts:
Depending on the breed, boneless duck breast halves can range in weight from 8 ounces to 1 pound each. Below you'll find a quick rundown on various types of duck breasts and their average weights. All of them are suitable for preparing this recipe.
Pekin (or Long Island) Duck Breasts:
Pekin duck breasts are the probably the most common variety available. They're easy to prepare, mild in flavor and generally weigh about 8 to 9 ounces each (half a breast).
Muscovy Duck Breasts:
The Muscovy duck is known for being leaner and having thinner skin than the Pekin and individual breast halves usually weigh about 8 ounces each. Muscovy duck breasts are also a little more expensive than Pekin, but they render less fat during cooking, leaving you with a higher percentage of edible meat.
Magret Duck Breasts:
Magret duck breasts come from the Moulard duck, which is a cross between the Pekin and Muscovy. They are about twice the size of the Pekin and Muscovy (each breast half weighs 14 to 16 ounces), but they are ever bit as tender, flavorful and easy to prepare as their smaller counterparts.
Shopping for Duck Breasts:
Boneless duck breasts are not always easy to find in local stores and meat markets, but luckily, they are easy to find online. Our favorite source is D'Artagnan, a mail order purveyor of quality meats and poultry located in New Jersey.
The duck products they sell come from birds that have been humanely raised on family farms without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
They sell all three of the duck breast varieties listed above as well as smoked duck breasts, whole duck, duck bacon, duck prosciutto, duck sausage and more.
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