Poultry is always a crowd pleaser, but let’s face it, some times, chicken can get a little old. Every now and then, it pays to indulge in a more delectable bird, in this case duck. Duck has an amazing flavor and depending on where you live in the world, many mouth watering preparations might come to mind. I decided to go with a traditional French approach: roast duck with orange sauce.
This recipe comes from the great Julia Child: Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One (which if you don’t already own, you really should). If you can get your hands on a fresh duckling, go for it, but if you can’t, you might have better luck finding a frozen duck at the grocery store (on my to do list: befriend a hunter! 😉 ). Either way, duck is simply a delicious bird, composed entirely of dark meat and one of the most mouth-watering fats out there, and when roasted simply, you have a crisp skin, moist, tender, and distinctly flavored duck meat, which in a word, is awesome. Plus, how many birds out there can you eat medium rare?
This particular rendition of duck was paired with a rich orange sauce. The sauce, like many a French-inspired sauce, has a full, rich, but politely muted flavor, being composed of a very rich, brown duck stock (which is included as a part of this recipe), orange peel, and port, among other things. The sauce is slightly thick, complex, meaty, and orangey, but not screamingly so. The entire dish just screams elegance (but the more elegant version of screaming, of course). The bright orange flavor is a great foil to the rich flavor of the duck, which all in all, was an incredibly satisfying meal. If only ducks had more meat on them…
- ~5.5 lb duckling (with gizzards and all that good stuff)
- vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion
- 1 carrot
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 4 navel oranges
- 1 shallot
- big handful of thyme sprigs
- handful of parsely sprigs
- 1/2 Bay leaf
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 cups brown duck stock (which you’ll be making as a part of this recipe)
- 2 Tbsp arrowroot (or 3 Tbsp cornstarch) blended into 3 Tbsp port
- 1/2 cup port
- 2 Tb butter
The first thing required by this recipe is a good duck stock. If you’re like me, you will briefly panic and say “shit, I’ve never even had duck stock before,” but luckily, Julia has got us covered. Making the stock is delightfully simple, even for the canned stock users out there. Simply fish out the gizzards, neck, and other odd bits from the duck and dice these up as best you can into roughly 1.5 inch sized chunks.
Now, in a large pan, heat up some oil, and brown the diced duck scraps along with the diced onion and carrot. Toss this around periodically, browning everything for about 10 minutes or so. Once nicely browned, add in the chicken stock (from a can is ok–adding the duck essence gives you 20 extra awesome points, so nobody will ever know) and herbs (thyme, parsely, Bay leaf–save some of the thyme for stuffing in the duck later!). If any of the solid ingredients aren’t covered in liquid, add in water as necessary to get them covered, then cover this pot loosely, and simmer for about 1.5-2 hours, skimming off the fat that floats on the surface periodically. Pretty easy, right? Strain this to remove the solids when you’re done and press them to squeeze out every last bit of liquid. If you have more stock in the end than this recipe calls for, save it for another dinner.
Since the stock takes roughly 2 hours, I didn’t bother putting the duck into the oven until about an hour after the stock started simmering as I wanted the stock and sauce to be ready before the duck came out of the oven. I would recommend that you try to schedule accordingly as well (or make the stock a day or so in advance!). So while you wait on the stock, there is other prep to work on, namely, the oranges. This is what finally convinced me to go and just buy a citrus zester already–peel the oranges into long pieces (and lose the white pith–that part is bitter) and then julienne the peel into long, thin strips. Set the oranges aside for later.
Add the orange peel slivers into a pan of simmering water, blanching for about 15 minutes. This takes some of that explosive edge off of the peels, allowing you to have a more muted, but still distinctly orange flavor later. Once time is up, remove the peels from the water and pat dry.
So now, its onto the duck. Preheat the oven to 425°F and pat the duck dry all over as best you can (it will help the skin to brown better). Now, since duck is pretty fatty, it a good thing to let some of that fat drain off while cooking because there will still be more than enough remaining when you take it out of the oven.
So in a few discrete places, you want to prick the skin with small holes (e.g. a fork or tip of a small knife around the thighs, breast, back) and you should remove any excessive chunks of fat that are immediately visible (e.g. around the tail and neck area). This does not mean you should remove all of the fat you possibly can from the duck, because duck fat is a part of what makes duck so wonderful. This is more focused on helping the fat to render properly so you end up with a tender, well flavored piece of meat that doesn’t have an excess of grease or chunks of fat remaining. Lastly, squeeze a dab of lemon juice and sprinkle a bit of salt on the tail area of the duck–there are some major fat glands there.
With the fat situation dealt with, season the cavity of the duck with salt and pepper, throw in a diced shallot, 1/3 of the blanched orange peel, and the thyme. If you want to truss the bird (you should, but I’m lazy, so do as I say, not as I do 😉 ), now is a good time to do it. Then, set the bird in a roasting pan breast up, and transfer to the oven.
Duck is not something you want to overcook, so you’ll want to keep an eye on it. After the first 15 minutes of high heat (for browning the breast), drop the oven temperature to 350°F. After another 30-40 minutes have passed, flip the duck over to cook breast-side down. Then, during the expected last 10-15 minutes of cooking, flip it again to finish off breast-side up and lightly sprinkle some salt on the breast. Anticipate roughly 15-20 minutes of cooking per pound of duck. The duck should finish at an internal temperature of roughly 150-165°F where the juices run just slightly pink (medium rare duck meat, unlike other poultry such as chicken, is a very good thing. I promise).
While the duck is roasting, return to the oranges from earlier. Remove the pith, and segment the oranges into wedges. Set these aside for later.
Sauce time! Don’t worry about trying to finish this just when the duck is done–just get it done a little ahead of time so that life is easy.
Begin by adding the sugar and red wine vinegar to a saucepan and boil it over high heat for a few minutes until it takes on a deeper, richer color and is syrupy. Get this off of the heat and add in a cup of the duck stock you made earlier. Simmer for a minute and stir so as to dissolve the wine caramel.
Finally, add in the rest of the duck stock, beat in the thickener (arrowroot, cornstarch, whatever), and sitr in the blached orange peel. Simmer this for about 3 minutes or so as the sauce thickens and clouds up a little. Adjust the seasoning to taste (a dash of salt & pepper will probably do), stir it in, and set this aside.
So finally, the duck is perfectly done and ready to come out of the oven. Set it aside in a closed oven (or somewhere to keep it warm but not cook any further) and get a good look at all that liquid gold in the bottom of your roasting pan. Save this and guard it with your life–its a wonderful fat to use when cooking other foods (e.g. potatoes)! Strain out any chunks, pour into a jar, and seal it with a proverbial kiss (or if you can’t resist, a real one 😮 ).
But anyways, back to the roasting pan–there are still chunks and browned bits of stuff in there. Set this on your stovetop, pour in the port, boiling rapidly and scraping up all of the browned bits in the pan. Reduce this liquid down to about 2-3 tablespoons and strain it into the thickened orange sauce that you prepared earlier. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add a dab of orange liqueur (or a spot of orange juice from one or two wedges if its all you have like I did). Lastly, enrich the sauce by swirling in and melting 2 tablespoons of butter.
So now, the sauce is done, the duck is done, and your stomach is rumbling. Carve the duck, figuring roughly 4-6 servings of meat are on there. Slice the breast thinly and carve the legs off cleanly. Dress each plate with a bit of sauce and some of the orange wedges from earlier. I served with a side of mashed potatoes.