Deciding on a duck recipe for a holiday dinner party is no mean task, as there are certainly a selection of options to choose from. However, Caneton à l’Orange, the iconic French duck dish, rose to the top of the pile as a natural choice. Neither of us had ever had it, and it seemed to be a dish that everyone could enjoy.
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves 4 or 5
4-1/2 lb duck
4 navel oranges
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups strong, brown duck stock
2 tbsp arrowroot
3/4 cup port or Madeira
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
6 shallots, peeled
2-3 tbsp orange liqueur
2 tbsp softened butter
Brown duck stock
duck neck, gizzard, heart and miscellaneous scraps
4 cups white or brown stock, or canned beef bouillon, or chicken broth
2 parsley sprigs
1/3 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
To prepare the the duck, pull out all loose fat from the cavity and from around the neck. Cut lower part of the wing off at the elbow, reserve. Remove neck, heart and gizzard and reserve for stock. To prepare brown duck stock, chop duck pieces into 1-1/2″ pieces. Brown them in oil or lard. Pour out browning fat. Add stock, herbs and enough water to cover the chicken by 1/2″. Simmer, partially covered, for 1-1/2 hours or more. Strain, degrease, and the stock is ready to use.
Prepare the oranges by removing the orange part of the skin in strips with a vegetable peeler. Cut into julienne. Simmer for 15 minutes in a quart of water. Drain. Pat dry in paper towels.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Season the duck cavity with salt and pepper, add a third of the prepared orange peel, and truss the duck. Prick the skin around the thighs, back, and lower breast. Place the duck breast up in the roasting pan, strew vegetables around it, and set it in the middle level of the oven for 15 minutes to brown lightly. Reduce oven to 350 F and turn the duck on its side. Remove accumulated fat occasionally. Basting is not necessary. About 30 minutes later, turn the duck on its other side. Fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated roasting time (for 4-1/2 lb duck, about 1 hour and 20 minutes for medium rare), turn the duck breast up.
While duck is roasting, make a sweet-and-sour caramel colouring as follows: Boil sugar and vinegar over moderately high heat for several minutes until mixture has turned into a mahogany-brown syrup. Immediately remove from heat and pour in 1/2 cup of duck stock. Simmer for a minute, stirring to dissolve the caramel. Add the rest of the stock. Blend arrowroot and 3 tbsp port or Madeira and beat that mixture into the sauce base. Stir in the remaining orange peel. Simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce is clear, limpid and lightly thickened. Set aside.
When the duck is done, discard trussing strings and set on a platter. Remove as much fat as you can from the roasting pan. Add remaining port or Madeira and boil it down rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices. Reduce liquid to 2 or 3 tbsp. Strain the wine reduction into the sauce base and bring to a simmer. Stir in orange liqueur by spoonfuls. Sauce should have a pleasant orange flavour but not be too sweet. Correct with drops of lemon juice. Just before serving, and off heat, swirl in butter enrichment. Cut skinless oranges into segments and arrange them around the duck.
A few notes on preparation: For the brown duck stock, we used beef broth instead of beef bouillon. We also didn’t simmer it for 1-1/2 hours, probably closer to 1 hour. We didn’t have arrowroot, so we used cornstarch instead.
It was relatively easy to cook, in the end, and the result was a well-roasted duck and a flavourful sauce–orange, but not too sweet. The duck meat had a rich, nutty flavour that you just don’t find in chicken. The skin wasn’t crispy, unfortunately, but that could be remedied by broiling it towards the end of cooking. David noted that next time he might try it a lower temp, maybe 325 F, for longer, which would allow more time for more fat to drain off and broiling it at the end to crisp the skin up. Otherwise, the dish was a success, and many yummy noises were had.