Duck A L’Orange

Duck A L’Orange
According to Julia Child, roast duck with orange sauce is “one of the most well known of all the duck dishes.” Because of this, by the 1960s almost every French restaurant served this iconic dish that Julia helped popularize. The world was hooked and we’ve never looked back. Duck a l’orange is a well-know dish with deep roots that some say go as far back as the ancient Middle East when cooking with meat and fruit was considered the norm.  Fruit did not become popular within the French cooking scene till the 17th century. Around that same time, the first reference of “orange sauce” began to appear within written texts.

duck a l’orange

The fruit (in this case the orange) balances the fat and flavor of meat with bright, tart notes. This fruit-meat combination, according to Jean-Francois Revel in Culture and Cuisine: A Journey Through the History of Foodwas “the rule” in the Middle Ages and remained that way until the end of the seventeenth century.  During that time almost all meat recipes contained some amount of sugar. A lot has changed over the years.

duck a l’orange

Historically, the first true recipe for duck a l’orange did not appear until the 19th century in the book The French Cook, by Louis Eustach Ude but it was called, “Ducklings à la Bigarade“, and it had what was referred to as a “bitter orange citrus sauce” accompanying the dish.Since its inception, duck à l’orange has remained a true classic well into the 21st century. I think Julia would be proud. The simple blend of citrus and game flavors have worked for centuries, no changes needed. That’s what I love so much about the classics, they are timeless.

duck a l’orange

My duck a l’orange recipe is a simplified version ideal for home cooks. In this recipe I use duck breast instead of a whole duck which is how the traditional dish is most commonly made. In doing so, I have reduce the overall cooking time, making this French favorite more approachable to those once intimidated. This is a lovely, seasonal dish that is perfect for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or any special meal during the holiday season. 

Duck A L'Orange

December 10, 2019
: 4-6
: 45 min
: 1 hr 45 min
: 2 hr 30 min
: medium


  • For the Duck:
  • 4-5 duck breasts with skin (I use D'Artagnan)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Duck Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 small carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, roughly shopped
  • 2 garlic cloves smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 quart good quality chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 springs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 2 fresh sprigs marjoram
  • 4 naval oranges, divided
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
  • Fresh chives, finely chopped (for garnish)
  • Step 1 For the Duck: Trim the dock of any loose fat and place in a medium stock pot. Using a fork, pierce the duck skin all over. Place the duck on a plate, wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.
  • Step 2 For the Sauce: In the stock pot with the fat trimmings, add the vegetable oil and place over medium heat. Cook unto the fat is fragrant and beginning to turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery, leeks, garlic and bay leave and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
  • Step 3 Add the flour, tomato paste, chicken stock, white wine, thyme and marjoram and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Strain the sauce through a fine chinois, discard the solids and reserve for later.
  • Step 4 Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, carefully remove the orange peel of 1 orange being careful to remove any white pith. Using a chef knife, julienne the orange peel into thin strips. Place the peel into a small saucepan and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Blanch the zest for 1 minute to soften. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set the zest aside to be used as garnish.
  • Step 5 Have the zested orange and 1 additional orange and squeeze until you get 1 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice. Set aside. With the remaining orange, using a paring knife, cut both ends of the orange. Place the orange one of the flat sides. Using a paring knife, carefully slice off the skin removing all white pith as you go. Carefully go around the orange removing all peel and pitch as you go. Next, using a paring knife again, cut in between the membrane to release the sections into a bowl. Set aside for garnish.
  • Step 6 To Finish the Sauce: In a medium saucepan add the sugar and vinegar and place over medium high heat. Cook until the mixture becomes syrup-like and has a nice pale caramel color, about 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the the fresh orange juice and bring back to a boil. Add the reserved duck sauce and simmer over medium heat until reduced, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the Grand Mariner and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and swirl in the butter. Set aside.
  • Step 7 For the Duck: Remove the duck breasts from the refrigerator. Season the duck breast on both sides with salt and pepper. Arrange the duck, skin side down, in a single layer in a large sauce pan. Place over medium heat, without turning, occasionally pouring off the fat from the skillet, until the skin is deep golden brown, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the duck breasts. Turn the duck breasts over and using an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registered 135 degrees for medium rare. If you wish to cook the duck more medium-well, place the pan in a 350 degree F preheated oven and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, again, depending on the size of the breast.
  • Step 8 To Assemble the Duck: Using a slicing knife, thinly slice the duck breast and fan out on a large platter. Place the orange sections around the duck. Pour the sauce over the sliced duck. Garnish with orange zest and chives.

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