It was a meal planned for weeks ago but due to illness, the duck breasts went into the freezer and the wine waited a bit longer. The wine was a bottle of Pinot Noir bought in Burgundy last July when staying with my friends Di and Tam. We had a wonderful day driving into the heart of Burgundy and bought some wine direct from a vineyard. Two bottles of white Chardonnay I brought back were drunk with the Christmas meal, and two bottles of Pinot Noir were ready for drinking. Another two bottles must wait a year or two to be at their best.
As a family, we’ve regularly bought Galette des Rois for Twelfth Night from our local Paul bakery. It’s a family tradition that dates far back to when my children were small and a French au pair introduced us to them. And as it is Twelfth Night, and the galette is French, it seemed an ideal time to have the duck and Pinot Noir.
I’ve put a couple of duck recipes on the blog before: one with a blueberry sauce and another which is inspired by a middle eastern recipe. Tonight I thought I’d go really classical and make an orange sauce – Duck à l’Orange. My confidence that this would be super simple was soon dispelled when it seemed that even usually reliable cookery writers seemed to offer very different versions. Older recipes tended to use a lot of sugar to make a caramel first, to which wine, or cointreau, or vinegar, is added. But I don’t like making sugar-heavy recipes these days even though I could appreciate that the caramel would give the sauce a nicely sweet bitter taste. Some recipes added stock; some didn’t. In the end, putting some of the ideas together, I just made something up. And here it is!
Roasted Duck Breast with Orange Sauce – Serves 4
- 4 duck breasts
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 shallot
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 dessertspoon plain flour
- 50ml red wine
- 300ml chicken stock
- 1 dessertspoon sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Seville orange marmalade
- 3-4 oranges
Trim any excess fat off the edge of the duck breast. Score the skins to make diamond shapes. Cut fairly deep but not through the meat underneath the skin. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, rubbing them in a bit.
Heat a frying pan; you don’t need any fat. Put the duck breasts into the hot pan (they should sizzle as you put them in) and fry for about 5 minutes until they’re nice and golden brown on the skin side (gently lift with a spatula to check). Turn them over and cook for just a minute more. They’ll release quite a bit of fat. I saved a couple of tablespoons to add to my sauce at the end for flavour.
Transfer to a shallow oven dish with a slotted spatula so you don’t transfer the fat. Cook in a preheated oven (200C/Fan 180/Gas 6) for about 15 minutes. [If you like the duck very rare, only cook for 12 minutes; for well done, cook for 18-20 minutes.]
When they’re done, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes, covering loosely with some foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, make the sauce (I actually made mine earlier so I wasn’t doing too much last-minute cooking when the family arrived).
Finely chop the shallot and fry gently in the olive oil (you could use the duck fat instead if you’re making this as the duck goes into the oven). When the shallot has softened, add the flour. Stir well to mix and make a roux.
Add the red wine and mix well to get rid of any lumps. Now add the chicken stock. Again, mix well, using a whisk if necessary to get rid of any lumps. Transfer to a saucepan.
Add the sherry vinegar and marmalade and bring to the boil, Simmer over a low-medium heat for 15 minutes to reduce a bit.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the oranges. Use a sharp potato peeler to cut strips of zest from 1 orange. Then slice into julienne strips. Put them in a bowl and cover in boiling water to soften and take the edge of the bitterness. Drain after just a minute or two. Use a fine grater to remove the zest from 1 more orange – you can add straight to the simmering sauce. Juice these 2 oranges and add to the simmering sauce with the julienne strips. Also add the couple of tablespoons of duck fat, if you saved it.
Depending on how many orange segments you want in your sauce, cut segments from 1 or 2 more oranges. To do this cut the ends off where the stems are. Stand on a cut end and, slicing downwards, take off the peel, including all the pith, with a sharp knife. Then carefully cut out segments, removing them from the membrane as you go. Add them to the sauce near the end of its cooking time, giving them just enough time to warm through. Check the seasoning of your sauce and add salt and pepper as desired.
The sauce tasted wonderful: sweet and orangey with a nice hint of bitterness from the addition of sherry, the orange zest and the Seville orange marmalade (when Seville oranges are in season, try using them). Either use the sauce straight away or turn off and reheat when needed.
As Twelfth Night is a kind of celebration – well, it’s any excuse for fizz in this house – a half bottle of champagne was taken from the fridge to begin our meal. The cork was removed from the Pinot Noir ready for the duck.
I just put out nibbles rather than a proper ‘starter’. They weren’t to be honest French but just things we like, but most importantly things that keep Freddie (3¾) and Benjamin (13 months) happy. A basket contained slices of fresh sourdough and olive focaccia; there were breadsticks and taralli. I’d made some butter beans & tahini dip and put out bowls of olives and almonds. Happily my little grandsons love their food and these were all things to keep them happy while the grown-ups enjoyed their champagne!
When the duck came out of the oven it was left on to heat the Galette des Rois later for dessert.
The duck was gorgeous, nicely pink and wonderfully tender. The sweet-sour-slightly bitter orange sauce was a perfect accompaniment. I served it with French beans and a potato & celeriac mash. There was a jug of extra sauce too.
My family are always appreciative of my cooking but Jonathan said this was one of my best; I’d excelled myself with the duck and sauce. It’s so nice to cook for people who love what you serve them.