Duck is one of my favorite foods. No matter how you make it — roasted, braised, the legs confitted, the wings fried, the breasts grilled like a steak — it’s just plain scrumptious.
I’m a particular fan of whole slow-roasted duck, a recipe I’ve been perfecting ever since I was a restaurant chef. But that’s hardly a dish to dash off most weeknights, so I save it for special occasions. Duck breasts, however, are a very different story. We probably eat them for dinner once a week at home.
Why? There’s the simplicity. They’re so delicious all by themselves, they require almost no dressing up. There’s the health aspects. Eaten without the skin, duck breasts are as lean as white meat chicken or turkey. They also contain more iron per serving than most other poultry, and even some cuts of beef. There’s also the ease. Duck breasts are as easy to cook as steak and can be prepared in 15 to 20 minutes.
Duck often is sauced with fruit. Humans long ago realized that the acid in fruit acts as a great counterbalance to the richness of the duck. A classic of French cuisine, canard a l’orange (duck with orange sauce) employs bitter oranges, which are not readily available in this country.
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So for this recipe, I added orange slices to the juice in the sauce. The white pith in the peel provides a bitter edge. The sherry wine vinegar and Dijon mustard are there to offset the sweetness of the orange juice.
One whole duck breast — two halves — can feed two to three people. (Each breast weighs from 1 to 1 1/4 pounds.) Cooking it is so simple that my teenaged son learned how to do it the first time I showed him. After it is cooked, while it rests, the duck will give off a delicious liquid that you can either add to the sauce, as in this recipe, or pour over the plain sliced duck breast, if you don’t make a sauce.
Whether or not you end up eating the skin, I recommend cooking the breasts with the skin still on, which guarantees better flavor and prevents the breasts from drying out. If you want to avoid the extra fat, just remove the skin before serving. The fat is in the skin, not in the duck meat.
By the way, here’s something counterintuitive but true — duck fat has properties similar to olive oil, with a good combination of poly- and monounsaturated fats. Duck contains some saturated fat as well, so you don’t want to go duck fat wild. But it’s so flavorful that a little goes a long way. You might want to scoop up the duck fat generated by the making of this recipe and pop it into the freezer for future use. It will perk up your vegetables, potatoes in particular, in ways you never imagined.