A master class on the classic recipe for French duck à l’orange

A classic of French cuisine, duck à l’orange is a dish that has stood the test of time. This famous old-fashioned dish is a perfect combination of juicy duck accented with a deeply flavorful and bright citrus sauce. Although it sounds complex, duck à l’orange can be recreated at home with the right techniques, ingredients, and knowledge.

To help The Manual guide us through this French classic, we enlisted Chanson Le Salon, a modern French patisserie and restaurant in New York City. Led by Executive Chef Frédéric Robert, formerly of the Baccarat Hotel and Clément of the Peninsula New York, his canard à l’orange is both a modern and classic interpretation. Using locally sourced duck from Crescent Farm on Long Island, Chanson Le Salon’s Duck à l’Orange is a great example of a classic done right.

What is Duck à l’Orange?

Jonathan Pielmayer/Unsplash

Although duck à l’orange is reputed to be French, some scholars believe the dish was exported to France via Italy in the 16th century. However, there remains debate about the historical origins as other sources claim that the culinary roots of duck à l’orange come from Persia, a cuisine famous for combining meats and sweet fruits.

Duck à l’orange can be broken down into two main components – a crispy roast duck served with a brown sauce accented with broth, juice and bitter orange zest, and a gastrique made with sugar and wine vinegar. When cooked well, the end goal is a smooth, slightly tangy, velvety sauce that cuts through the richness of the fatty duck. The key to this dish is balancing those flavors and textures.

Techniques and tricks

Chanson Le Salon restaurant kiosk.
Song The Living Room.

Traditional preparations of duck à l’orange often include a whole roast duck. At Chanson Le Salon, their duck à l’orange is served only with the duck breast, creating a more streamlined and elegant presentation. Unlike chicken or turkey, cooking duck is a completely different process. While chicken breast should be cooked without any trace of pink, duck breast is at its best medium-rare. In this way, duck is similar to beef and should be cooked with the same temperature control care.

Another aspect of cooking duck is to properly return excess amounts of fat. When you look at a piece of duck, one of the first things you notice is the thick layer of fat between the meat and the skin. This fat is highly prized and should be set aside if possible. Duck fat is delicious with potatoes, giving potatoes a rich flavor. To properly prepare a duck breast to be melted, score the breast by cutting a series of lines through the skin and the fat (be careful not to cut the meat). You can also cut a “checkerboard” pattern into the chest. This scoring process will not only ensure the fat renders, but it will also achieve that desirable crispy skin.

Because duck is inherently rich and fatty, it’s important that the accompanying sauce strikes a delicate balance between sweet, tangy and silky. A key ingredient is citrus. Traditionally, duck à l’orange calls for bitter oranges (Seville oranges), which can be difficult to obtain in America. If possible, get bitter oranges for the most traditional taste. However, if you can’t find it, a good substitute is to combine equal parts naval orange juice with lemon juice.

Song Le Salon Duck à l’Orange Recipe

Song Le Salon orange duck on white plate.
Duck à l’orange at Chanson Le Salon.

This recipe is from Executive Chef Frédéric Robert of Chanson Le Salon. The Gastrique sauce used for this dish is a recipe from Escoffier and a classic of French cuisine. At the time, the sauce was caramel deglazed with white vinegar. The name “Gastrique” came about in the 80s with the “Nouvelle cuisine” movement in France.

Preparation time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
Yield: For 2

Ingredients:

For the duck:

  • 2 duck breasts (Chanson Le Salon uses Long Island Crescent Duck from Aquebogue, NY)
  • Salt to taste

Orange Gastric Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar caramel
  • 3/4 tablespoons balsamic reduction
  • 1/2 cup duck stock 48 hours
  • 1/4 cup orange reduction

For the Yukon Mashed Potatoes:

  • 5 pieces of organic Yukon Gold potatoes
  • Thyme, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste

For the orange nuggets:

Method:

  1. To make orange crisps: Thinly slice the orange with a knife or slicer. Dip the orange slices in a simmering pot of simple syrup for 2-3 minutes. Then, take out and place the orange slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Dry the slices in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 35 minutes until crispy and totally dry.
  2. Cooking the duck: Score the skin of the duck on the breast, then brown it slowly over low heat. Keep the flame on low to ensure the fat on the skin is slowly melted away. For medium-rare meat, cook for 15 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 130 degrees F. Let stand. Chanson Le Salon likes to cut up a whole duck for this recipe. If you are preparing a whole duck: butcher the whole chicken, rest it and let it age in the refrigerator for four days.
  3. To make Yukon Mashed Potatoes: Boil potatoes until “fork tender”. Crush and season to taste.
  4. To make the orange gastric sauce: Mix the brown sugar caramel, the balsamic reduction, the orange reduction and the duck stock. Bake 10 minutes or until silky smooth. Add salt to taste. Reserve the extra sauce.
  5. To serve, slice duck and serve with Yukon mashed potatoes; drizzle with orange gastric sauce and orange crisps.

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