Perfectly seared duck is a magnificent union of tender and juicy meat, a ribbon of exquisitely flavored fat, topped by a crown of crisp skin. Try this take on classic duck with orange, with a smokey twist.
Not often found in restaurants and available only from premium grocery stores and butchers (or your local millet field), duck is a rare treat that I think should be enjoyed more often. I know I’m definitely a sucker for a mahogany lacquered Peking duck at Chinese BBQ restaurants – the combo of crispy skin, sweet sauce and indulgent melty fat are irresistible.
Duck is not particularly gamey nor is it an acquired taste as with venison or lamb, but rather it has ‘richer’ and more pronounced flavor than chicken, and duck breast is the prize you are seeking. Culinarily speaking, duck is traditionally paired with a sweeter sauce, and it doesn’t come more classic than French Duck A L’Orange. But you know me, I’m never one to totally settle for a classic without trying a little twist!
Blood oranges have the same sweet and citric profile as the regular kind, but an incredible color that needs to be taken advantage of! Some folks smoke duck (tea smoked duck is hugely popular) but I thought it might be interesting to smoke the sauce, not the protein. Although traditionally fat is the best absorber for soaking up smoke, I believed the oranges may take up enough to work, and I’m happy to report my crazy experiment worked out! I loaded some halved oranges into my smoker and left them in there for 30-45 minutes while I had something else cooking (always good to be efficient and economical!). The oils in the skins and the flesh itself had a subtle but present smokiness that worked perfectly in the final sauce. High five to myself!
We know it’s important to cook chicken to a minimum temperature to kill off any harmful bacteria, but don’t be scared of pink duck breast. Firstly, it’s a darker meat to start with, but also the conditions in which most ducks are raised don’t expose them to the same bacteria as chickens, and so you can cook to medium rare with far less risk.
Seared Duck with Smoked Blood Orange Sauce
- Yield: Serves 2
2 duck breasts, skin on
3–4 blood oranges
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp flour
1–2 star anise
1 tsp pink peppercorns (optional)
salt & pepper
- To make the sauce: halve the oranges leaving the skin intact, and place in a foil tray with 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan. Place in a smoker and smoke for 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool, then squeeze the flesh out into a saucepan. The flesh should come away from the peel and the pith in big chunks. This step can be done a day or two in advance, just store the oranges in the fridge until ready to use.
- To the pan with the smoked oranges, combine the chicken stock and reduce over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes. Once reduced, strain the mixture to get any chunks and remaining flesh out. Return the strained liquid to the pan, and add vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
- In a small bowl or glass, combine flour and butter to make a paste. Bring the sauce to a boil and then, whisking constantly, add in the butter/flour paste to thicken for a glossy finish.
- To make the duck – Preheat oven to 350f. Use a cast iron skillet or heavy based oven-safe pan. Pat the duck dry on both sides with paper towel, and season well with salt and pepper. Use a sharp knife to score 4-5 lines across the skin, being careful not to pierce the flesh. Place the breasts skin side down in the cold skillet and turn on the heat to low. Press down every minute or so to ensure the entire skin in making contact with the pan, and cook until the skin is crispy and most of the fat has rendered, about 8-12 minutes.
- Flip the breasts over and sear for 30 seconds, then flip back to skin side and place in oven for 4-6 minutes, depending on the size. Remove from oven, place duck on a board and rest under foil at least 10 minutes. Slice, drizzle with warm sauce and serve immediately as it will cool quickly.