One of our favourite dishes is Duck Breast with Orange Sauce. Not difficult to make and the result is always tasty. Use a combination of fresh orange juice, thyme, rosemary, butter, Mandarine Napoléon, Cointreau, chicken stock and/or orange peel to make a tasty, not to sweet sauce. Mandarine Napoléon is preferred because it gives bitterness and depth to the sauce. The juicy meat, the sweetness of the duck and the orange, the nice aromas, the herbs and the velvety mouthfeel of the sauce make this an excellent combination.
Last week we were lucky, very lucky when we spotted Orange Amère on our local market. Bitter Orange! Also known as Seville Orange, Bigarade Orange or Pomerans. Finally! The ideal ingredient to make Orange Curd, Marmalade and of course Orange Sauce.
We bought a handful and as soon as we were at home, we wanted to taste it. The Bitter Orange does not contain much juice, their seize is similar to that of a clementine and the seeds are relatively big. The taste is sweet and gentle at first, and then you have bitterness, some astringency and length. Wow! We rushed to our butcher, bought an excellent magret de canard and later enjoyed a perfect Duck Breast with Orange Sauce.
Bitter Oranges are normally available from late December until the end of February. Ask your greengrocer!
Preparing Duck is always a pleasure, whether with Green Pepper Corn, with Sichuan, with Mirin and Soy Sauce or as Canard A l’Orange: the result is always tasty and your guests will be happy. Today we combine duck with figs. Not the most obvious combination because the figs are relatively dry and perhaps not as sweet as the combination requires. We clearly need a bridge between the meat and the fruit. The first idea was to use port, perhaps with some veal or chicken stock. Great idea because of the sweetness and light acidity of the port, but perhaps a bit too much for the figs. Aceto Balsamico comes with acidity and sweetness, so we decided to use it as the base of the sauce, in combination with some stock. While preparing it we noticed that it needed more sweetness, so what to do? Sugar, honey? But couldn’t we add something that would bring sweetness, fruitiness and even tartness? Of course! Good old Cointreau, great idea!
We probably need to say a few words about Aceto Balsamico. You may think it’s overrated and overpriced, this sweet, sugary, dark and mild vinegar. But if you taste original Aceto Balsamico, the one made from grape must and aged for many (25!) years in wooden barrels, then you will be surprised by the intense, concentrated flavour and the dark colour. Always look for I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) or D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta). If this is not mentioned on the bottle, don’t buy it.
A red, medium bodied wine will be a great accompaniment of your Breast of Duck with Figs. In general you’re looking for a red wine with aromas of berries, floral notes and delicate wood. The tannins should be soft or well-integrated. We enjoyed a glass of Pinot Noir from La Cour Des Dames.
Check the breast of duck for remainders of feathers. Remove the vein on the meat side of the breast (and the odd membrane you don’t like). Put on a dish, cover and transfer to the fridge. Leave in the fridge for a few hours, making sure it’s nice, firm and cold. Fry the duck in a hot, non-stick skillet for 10-12 minutes on the skin side, straight from the refrigerator. Reduce the heat after a few minutes. You don’t need oil or butter, the duck fat will do the trick. Now fry for 2-3 minute on the meat side and remove. Cover with aluminium foil is such a way that the crispy skin is not covered. The foil should only cover meat. This way the skin remains crispy. Wash the figs and cut in half. Remove some of the fat and fry the figs until lightly caramelised. When ready, remove from the pan, transfer to a plate and keep warm in the oven. Add stock, thyme, Aceto Balsamico and Cointreau. Probably two spoons of Aceto Balsamico and three spoons of Cointreau. Taste and adjust. You may want to add some butter to push the flavours and create a lovely velvety mouthfeel. Add duck’s liquid. Reduce the heat, add black pepper, taste, adjust, add the figs, coat them with the sauce and plate up. We served the duck with fresh green peas because they have this lovely light sweet flavour that combines very well with the other ingredients.
In his book Yamazato, Kaiseki Recipes: Secrets of the Japanese Cuisine, author and Michelin Award winning chef Akira Oshima includes a recipe for breast of duck, marinated in a soy-based sauce, served with Belgian endive (chicory) and karashi (Japanese mustard). A mouth-watering dish. The book contains some 20 recipes that are technically challenging (at least, we think so) and well written.
In general the combination of duck and soy sauce works really well. It’s all about sweetness and umami. The Japanese mushrooms (shiitake, enoki, nameko and/or shimeji) add nuttiness and texture to the dish. We use soy sauce and tsuyu: a mix of soy sauce, mirin and dashi, ideal for making a tempura dip and great to give extra flavor to the sauce.
We enjoyed our duck with a glass of gewurztraminer (full bodied and long lasting with aromas of lychees and roses) but there are many options in this case. Perhaps a nice rosé or a sake with a touch of sweetness?
Start by cleaning the breast of duck and then fry it, straight from the fridge, for 12 minutes on the skin-side and 2 minutes on the meat-side in a non-stick pan. Wrap in foil, making sure the skin is not covered. Clean the pan with kitchen paper and fry the sliced mushrooms for 5 minutes or so in oil until ready. Set aside and keep warm. Add soy sauce, tsuyu and chicken stock to the pan and reduce. Add a splash of sake and some mirin. Add cooking liquid of the duck. Let simmer for a few minutes, add the mushrooms and make sure they are coated with the sauce. Slice the duck, add liquid to the sauce, stir and serve.
Preparing Duck is always a pleasure, whether with green peppers or with Szechuan, the result is tasty and your guests will be happy. So let’s revisit another classic from the 1960’s: Canard A l’Orange is a delicious combination of duck with a multi-layered orange sauce.
So what did we change compared to the 1960’s-recipe? We don’t use a whole duck, due to the lack of availability but also because cooking a whole duck is far more challenging than cooking a whole chicken or turkey. We also don’t use (caramelized) sugar and we use butter instead of flower or corn starch to create a nice, velvety sauce.
A classic wine from the Bordeaux region will be wonderful with your duck. We enjoyed a glass of Château Cap Saint-Martin Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux Le Cabernet d’en face 2017. This wine is made from 100% Cabernet-Sauvignon grapes, which is to be expected for Bordeaux wines from the left bank of the Gironde. Hence the d’en face (opposite or other side) in the name, because Blaye is situated on the right bank of the Gironde (where Merlot is the dominant grape for red wine). In general you’re looking for a wine with soft aromas of dark berries, vanilla and spices. On the palette it should be round with present tannins. A wine that will combine with the sweetness and depth of the sauce in combination with the rich, juicy and slightly sweet duck meat and its crispy skin.
Check the breast of duck for remainders of feathers. Remove the vein on the meat side of the breast (and the odd membrane you don’t like). Put on a dish, cover and transfer to the fridge. Leave in the fridge for a few hours, making sure it’s nice, firm and cold. Fry the duck (straight from the refrigerator!) in a hot, non-sticky skillet for 10-12 minutes on the skin side. Reduce the heat after a few minutes. You don’t need oil or butter, the duck fat will do the trick. Now fry for 2-3 minute on the meat side and remove. Cover with aluminium foil in such a way that the crispy skin is not covered. The foil should only cover the meat. The skin must remain crispy. Clean the orange, make thin zest and press the orange. Remove some of the fat and add stock, a generous amount of zest, orange juice, garlic, thyme and Mandarin Napoleon. Stir and make sure the garlic becomes integrated in the sauce. Allow to reduce by half. Add liquid from the duck. Taste and adjust. Later on butter will be added softening the taste so at this stage the flavours need to be clearly present. You may want to add some mustard to push the flavours and help the sauce emulgate. Add more of the duck’s liquid. Reduce the heat and add cubes of cold butter. Keep stirring, taste, add black pepper, perhaps extra thyme and plate up. We served the duck with green beans (olive oil, freshly grated nutmeg) and fried potatoes.
Why call something pepper when actually it is not hot and spicy like black pepper or chili? Perhaps because of the shape? The Chinese name is huā jiāo, meaning something like flower pepper. Actually it is a dried berry from western China. Other names are Szechuan Pepper, Chinese Prickly Ash, Mala Pepper et cetera. The quality may vary, depending on the actual species used. The taste has two components: the aroma of citrus and an intriguing tingling effect on the tongue. The Sichuan cuisine combines it with chili pepper, star anise and ginger.
A cup of Jasmine Tea is an excellent choice. You could also go for white wine, for instance a German Riesling or Gewurztraminer. We decided to go for a Pinot Noir from La Cour Des Dames. In general you’re looking for a red wine with aromas of berries, floral notes and delicate wood. The tannins should be soft or well-integrated.
What You Need
Light Soy Sauce
Normal Soy Sauce
What You Do
Start by warming a non-stick frying pan. Add the Sichuan pepper (we suggest one or two teaspoons). Gently roast the peppers until you can smell their lovely aroma. Transfer the berries to a mortar and let cool. Take the duck breast from the refrigerator, clean it if necessary and transfer to the now hot non-stick frying pan. By starting with cold meat, you will get the best result: crispy fat, a golden brown colour and seignant meat. Fry the duck breast for 2 minutes, then reduce the heat, give it 10 more minutes on the fat-side and finish with 2 or 3 minutes on the meat-side. Wrap the breast in foil, making sure the fat is not covered. Crush half of the Sichuan peppers. Add stock to the pan, soy sauce, crushed Sichuan pepper and a teaspoon of mirin. Stir and add liquid from the duck. The duck must rest for 10 minutes, so occasionally add liquid and stir the sauce. Taste the sauce and adjust. When ready, make the sauce thicker using corn starch. Coarsely crush the remaining Sichuan pepper. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining Sichuan pepper on top of the meat.
We served the duck breast with a combination of stir fried (Chinese, napa or oxheart) cabbage, spring onion, chili pepper and sesame oil.
Le chef gascon André Daguin, roi du magret de canard, est mort. André Daguin died earlier this month in Auch, France. From 1960 to 1997 he was owner and chef of the Hôtel de France in Auch. He was awarded two Michelin Stars and more importantly for us he put Gascogneon the culinary map. He was one of the leaders of the nouvelle cuisine and a master of foie gras. He was much appreciated by other French chefs and was elected President of Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, the French association of people working in hotels, restaurants and bars. His most significant and unparalleled contribution was the invention of Magret de Canard or grilled Duck Breast in 1959. It is one of many reasons why he was a grand chef.
A True Invention
The best known preparations of duck are confit de canard (the legs of the duck cooked in goose fat) and magret de canard, smoked or grilled. As if preparing the whole bird is not something you want to do. When you look for recipes in classic cookbooks like La Cuisinière Provençale by J.- B. Reboul (published in 1897) and in La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene by Pellegrino Artusi (publihed in 1891), then you will notice that all recipes are for complete birds. Braised if a young animal, stewed if older and larger. With olives, chipolata (small sausages), oranges or onions.
One day in 1959, after a busy lunch, a sales man arrived at the Hôtel. Not much was left in the kitchen, but André Daguin wanted to serve lunch to his late guest. He took a raw magret (ready to be made into confit) and prepared it quickly, like a steak. No doubt the surprised guest loved it. A nice and unconfirmed story.
Today grilled duck breast is one of France’s most popular dishes and many chefs offer recipes for it. With an orange sauce, with a green pepper sauce or with an Asian twist.
The original (!) by André Daguin is with foie gras. Obviously!
One of France’s most beautiful and interesting rivers. It flows from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean and its valley is linked to towns like Nantes, Blois, Tours and Saumur and castles like Chambors and d’Azay-le-Rideau. Its banks are rich, just think of the many vineyards, farms and orchards. So much history, so much gastronomy. The river inspired many, including Hilaire Walden who wrote Loire Gastronomique in 1993. She followed the river and describes its gastronomy in this travelogue. The book features the typical food of the region and the recipes are authentic, easy to follow and delicious. Highly recommended!
Saumur is also a wine region and well-known for its sparkling wine. Another wine made in the region is Saumur Champigny, made from Cabernet Franc. Smell your Saumur Champigny and think of sharpening a pencil. Graphite, cedar wood. Exactly. That’s the specific aroma of Cabernet Franc. The Saumur Champigny wines are typically light or medium-bodied, have a crisp acidity, are easy to drink and they come with flavours and aromas of berries.
Saumur Champigny Les Hauts Buis, 2017, has a red colour with a touch of violet. Soft aromas that made us think of raspberries and cherries. Easy to drink, fresh acidity and soft tannins. Earthiness, lots of red fruit and cherries; with a nice finale with more red fruit. This is a well-balanced wine. Ideal to combine with charcuterie as apéro, a salad and perhaps with couscous. We decided to combine the wine with a salad. A salad that would bring juiciness, nuttiness and sweetness. Gently fried Oyster Mushrooms, smoked Breast of Duck and perhaps Quail Eggs. A few days later we combined the wine with roasted chicken. Again, very nice, light and inspiring.
What You Need
Smoked Breast of Duck
(Optional) Quail Eggs
What You Do
Tear the oyster mushrooms into smaller bits, following the lamellae. Don’t use a knife to do so. Make sure the mesclun is ready to be eaten. Slice the breast of duck into smaller bits if so required. Gently fry the oyster mushrooms in olive oil, just to give them warmth and colour. Cook the quail eggs until just set. Make the vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine (or cider) vinegar, black pepper and the thinly chopped shallot. Create the salad by tossing the mesclun and the vinaigrette. Serve with the mushrooms and the breast of duck on top of the salad. Serve with crusted bread and of course a generous glass of Saumur Champigny.