Duck l’orange is one of my favorite things to order at any fancy French restaurant, it’s such a classic. It was always a little special because I almost never cooked duck at home, mostly because I wasn’t very good at it. After a little research and practice I’ve finally got it just right.
5 Tips for Perfect Duck Breast
1. Always score the skin. Use a very sharp knife and drag it across the skin very gently, barely touching it. It’s actually better to do it too shallow than too deep. If the meat is showing you’ve cut too deep.
2. Start the duck, skin side down, in a cold pan. I always use non-stick pan with a very light spray of cooking oil. Turn the heat to low and leave it there. It takes longer than searing, for sure, but it renders down the fat and leaves a perfectly crispy skin. Cooking over high heat can burn the skin while leaving a thick layer of fat, or even worse, overcook the duck.
3. Always use a meat thermometer. I use one for almost everything, but it’s especially crucial for duck. Which I believe should only be served medium rare. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 165 F, that’s medium well, and just not very good. When the temperature reaches 125 F, flip the duck over and raise the heat to medium. Cook for just a few more minutes until the thermometer reads 130 F.
4. Let duck breast rest for at least 10 minutes. This is the perfect amount of time to make a simple pan sauce.
5. Serve duck breast on top of your pan sauce. After working so hard for that crispy skin would be a shame to ruin it by pouring liquid all over it.
So I decided to make something duck l’orange-esque but can’t resist adding a few of my favorite Asian ingredients.
I’m making a pretty basic pan sauce, but adding some garlic, scallions, ginger chili paste and orange zest to the mix. All that goodness can make the sauce a little chunky. After the broth reduces the first time, I like to strain all the aromatics out. Since I’m paying homage to a French classic here, I think that’s pretty essential for the sauce to be smooth and velvety.
A Few Thoughts on Ingredients…
I really prefer to use fresh oranges to make this, it tastes better, plus you have the orange zest to add a little extra orangey-ness to the sauce. If you don’t have them on hand, bottled orange juice is just fine.
Sambal Oelek is an Indonesian chili paste that you can find in most grocery stores, and it’s good on pretty much everything. It’s a lot like a thicker sriracha, it even has the same rooster on the label. You can also use sriracha, but it’s a bit sweeter so you may need to add some chili flakes for an extra bit of heat.
Yes, I cook with rose. A lot. I started using it when I learned a good, dry rose, could stand in for a Chinese rice wine called Shaoxing, which was great news because there is almost always a bottle of Rose in my fridge. Since then I’ve learned that it works in almost any recipe that calls for a dry white.
Score the duck breasts by making shallow and tight diagonal cuts across the skin, being careful not to cut through to the skin. Rotate the duck breast and repeat, so the scores form a crosshatch pattern. Place the breasts in a large ziploc bag with all the marinade ingredients. Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, up to overnight, rotating occasionally.
Remove duck breasts from marinade, brush off any excess liquid, pat dry and season with salt, white pepper and a bit of Chinese five spice powder.
Place breasts, skin side down, into a non-stick skillet with the heat off. Turn the heat to the lowest (or near lowest, depending on your stove) setting and cook slowly. Cook for 20-25 minutes, spooning out fat occasionally, until skin is crispy and golden brown. Once a meat thermometer reads 125 F, flip the duck and turn it up to medium. Cook for just a couple minutes on the other side, until meat thermometer reads 130 F for medium-rare.
Let duck breasts rest while you make the sauce:
Pour out all but about 1 Tablespoon of the fat. Add the white parts of scallions, garlic & ginger, salt and white pepper to skillet over medium heat. Sauté until everything is well coated and slightly softened. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping any brown bits from the sides. Let reduce for a minute or two. Add chicken stock, orange zest and Sambal and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer until reduced by about half.
Strain the reduced broth over a fine metal strainer to remove the aromatics. Return the strained broth to the skillet and bring back to a simmer. Add the orange juice, rice vinegar and sugar and continue to reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and add butter.
Serve duck breast on top of sauce, topped with green parts of scallions.