Crisp skin, succulent meat, a velvety sauce that tastes like concentrated sunshine. Its Duck l’Orange.

31 Dec


The world remembers the seventies for disco, platform shoes, ABBA, grossly patterned olive coloured crockery and as far as the ultimate culinary treat goes, Duck l ‘Orange.

Truth be known, this dish deserves a great deal more credit that the somewhat tired, stuffy seventies image it has in old dog-eared cooking books. Though it has mostly gone out of fashion, like Beef Wellington, it is poised to make a reappearance.  Well at least in our house it is..   Personally I think  duck with orange should be up there with all the other classics,  Coq au Vin,  Bangers and Mash, carrots and peas, porridge and milk.

Brief history

The idea of pairing citrus with meat stretches perhaps as  far back as pre Christian times, having its origins in the Middle East.  By the time the middle ages rolled along, it was common to pair fruit with duck, and it is known that duck with peaches was considered a standard way of serving duck in Europe in the 1500’s.  We know that duck and orange was something which was often made in Florintine cuisine, and that the Tuscan version was known as “Paparo Melarancia“.  In French cuisine, it is thought that Catherine de ‘Medici introduced the dish to France somewhere in the 1500’s  where it underwent various changes over the centuries, until, in the late 60’s, the dish became popular in sophisticated dining circles in England.  By the seventies it had gained immense popularity in Europe and America, so much that when it comes to remembering 70’s cuisine, it is this dish which was considered the ultimate in home cooking expertise.

I have made two very different versions of this over the last few months. The classic Julia Child’s Canard l’orange, and a simplified modern version and though I enjoyed both, the modern, simplified version ended up being more memorable…

The modern version,  a little like an edible Calder on a dinner plate.


Duck l’ Orange from a late 60’s cookbook,  quite a conversation piece – not that I would want to be around hearing it…

Same Ingredients, 2 Methods:

Dont be fooled by the fancy French name, this dish is simple and can easily be ready in 30 minutes. Ok, 40 if you are serving mashed potatoes with it. 

For Breasts 

  • 4 duck breasts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

For sauce

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 to 2 oranges)
  • 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fine julienne of fresh orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler

Start with the sauce: 

Add the sugar to a dry saucepan over moderate heat and leave undisturbed until it starts  to melt. Continue to cook stirring occasionaly until the melted sugar takes on a deep caramalised look. Dont be tempted to taste it –  its unbelievably hot, and will burst into a loud sizzle when it meets the inside moisture of your mouth.  Remove from the caramalised sauce heat and add the vinegar and orange juice, stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove and set aside.


Pan Fried : Gordon Ramsey:

  • dry the breasts well, then lightly score the skin of the duck with a sharp knife
  • season well with salt and pepper,  add extra to skinside
  • heat the pan to medium hot, add a dash of olive oil
  • add the breasts skinside down
  • when the skin starts to release fat, turn down the heat to low
  • cook for 15 – 20 mins on low heat until the skin is very crisp and brown
  • then turn over and cook for 3 minutes on the flesh side until browned (5 if you don’t like pinkish meat)
  • Turn off the heat, remove breasts, cover in foil and let it rest 3-5 mins

Whilst the breasts are resting, finish the sauce:

Remove the fat from the pan and reserve for later useroasted potatoes, or frying anything. Its the equivalent of a culinary lottery ticket.

Deglaze the pan with the orange sauce. In a small saucer mix the softened butter with the flour until it is a paste. Now add this to the sauce whilst whisking vigorously. Add the zest and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium low heat. If it gets too thick, add a splash of water.

If you happen to have Grand Marnier or Cointreau lying around,  add a  generous splash to the sauce, once the butter paste is stirred through. You could even light it, then shake the pan until the flames subside, but be careful not to set your hair or the kitchen ablaze.


Sous Vide

Set water to 57.5 C for medium rare. By doing the duck medium rare, you will not risk overcooking the duck when it gets pan fried later on.

Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Top each flesh side with a twig of thyme
Add a 1/3 tsp of unsalted butter to each breast

Vacuum Seal

Put into the waterbath and cook for 1 –  1 1/2 hours

Remove, add the juices to the caramel-orange sauce, dry the breasts well with kitchen paper, then follow the method for pan frying, but fry skinside for 5 minutes, and flesh side for 1 minute.  Cut, cover in foil and let rest for a few minutes.

Make the sauce using the same method as above, and do so whilst the breasts are having their bath. But once they are pan fried and resting. Remove fat from the pan then de-glaze with the finished sauce. You could cok the sauce down a bit to compensate for the cooking liquids from the sous vide vacuum bag.

If you make a mash potato, this will be particulary good companion for the rich, orange infused duck.

If you have never had this dish before, you are in for a treat !

4 Responses to “Crisp skin, succulent meat, a velvety sauce that tastes like concentrated sunshine. Its Duck l’Orange.”

  1. Sinead December 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    I’ve had this in restaurants but never made it myself, really want to try it out now! 🙂

    • pierre verwey ( December 31, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      Oh do make it ! Its really a treat, and may I say you will feel very accomplished when its a success. And contrary to popular belief, its kinda hard to mess up. The secret is to keep the duck succulent. By keeping the cooking temperature low, you will avoid having it stiffen too much. Test its resistance it with your fingers as you would a steak when its around 3-5 minutes from being done. . Also make sure it rests sufficiently after being pan fried. Best is to use an internal thermometer, inserted at the thickest part. It should read about 58’C or around 136 F.

      Also scoring the skin and rubbing generous amounts of salt on it ensures a nice crispy skin.

      Bon Appetit… !

      • Sinead December 31, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

        Cool, I will – thanks for the advice!

  2. Dave July 9, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    On the ‘modern’ version, there appears to be a green sauce. What is the sauce?

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