10.21.2009

Recipe Box: Julia Child's Roast Duck with Orange Sauce (Canard a l'orange)

Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France

Recently, I finished reading Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. I greatly enjoyed it - I'm actually a little sad that I'm finished. The book is full of tender memories, beautifully detailed descriptions of sumptuous French cuisine and lovely, honest observations of the people and places she encountered during her stay in France. I've always thought she was a fantastic lady, but the book revealed a side of her I could not have known through her recipe collection - I was inspired by her driven determination and DIY ethic, ebullient can-do attitude and sweet devotion to her husband. She was radical for her time, fun, outspoken and unabashedly honest. When she arrived in France at 36, she was a big loud American who didn't speak a lick of French or have any cooking experience whatsoever. She made her prolific career entirely from scratch.

I know this book will make me a better cook. My favorite Julia Childisms that I promise to live (and cook) by are:
  • Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.
  • No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.
  • The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude.
  • Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.
  • Life itself is the proper binge.

Her enthusiasm for food is contagious. I dare anyone to read My Life in France and not rush out to find her famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Last weekend, in honor of Julia, we attempted to try her recipe for roast duck with orange sauce. It was my first time eating or cooking duck, but after my triumphant go with a roast chicken, I was feeling ambitious. I found that cooking the duck itself was very simple - since duck is very fatty and composed of only dark meat, it is inherently very flavorful without the aid of fanciful stuffing, basting or brine. Just salt, pepper and orange peel does the trick. The orange sauce, on the other hand, was a bit tricky and laborious, but entirely worth it. This recipe is a dream.

Roast Duck with Orange Sauce (Canard a l'orange)
Select and thaw duck (up to 2 days in advance):
To thaw, either refrigerate duck in its plastic bag for 2 days or unwrap and set it in a sinkful of cold water for several hours. Take giblet package from the cavity as soon as the duck has thawed enough to allow it to be removed.

Prepare stock for the sauce (either the day before or several hours in advance):

2 tablespoons cooking oil
Duck giblets, neck, and wing ends
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup beef bouillon
2 cups water
4 parsley sprigs, 1 bay leaf, and 1/4 teaspoon sage

Heat oil in a frying pan. Chop giblets, neck, and duck wing ends into 1-inch pieces. Brown with carrot and onion slices, then transfer to heavy saucepan. Add bouillon and enough water to cover all by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer. Skim off scum, then add parsley, bay leaf, and sage. Simmer 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Strain and skim off all fat. Boil down to 2 cups of liquid. Remove from heat and let sit until cold. Cover and refrigerate until needed. (This sauce should be prepared well ahead of time, so that the dish is within 2 or 3 minutes of being done when the duck is roasted.)

Prepare the orange peel (several hours in advance):
1 quart water
4 brightly colored oranges, preferably navel or Valencia

Heat water in a pot. Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler to remove strips of the skin (just the orange colored part). Cut into small strips no more than 1/16-inch wide and 1-1/2 inches long (fine julienne). To remove its bitterness, simmer orange peel in water for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, and dry in paper towels. Wrap orange peel and peeled oranges in waxed paper, then refrigerate until ready to use. Some of the peel goes into the sauce and some goes into the duck, while the orange segments are to be used as a garnish.

Prepare the duck (either in advance or just before ready to roast):
Pull out all loose fat from around inside of neck and from the cavity. Cut out wishbone from inside the neck cavity, in order to make carving the breast meat easier. Chop off the lower part of the wing (which is mostly bone) at the elbow. Make sure that the fat glands at the base of the tail have been removed, digging out any yellow residue that may remain and rubbing the area with salt and lemon juice. Prick the skin at 1/2-inch intervals along the back, the thighs, and the lower part of the breast, which will help the layer of subcutaneous fat escape during cooking.

Wrap and refrigerate duck until shortly before ready to roast.

Roast the duck (which should take about 1 hour and 30 to 40 minutes):
5-lb. duck, ready-to-cook
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 of the cooked orange peel

To ensure accurate timing, allow duck to come to room temperature before roasting. Dry carcass thoroughly. Season cavity with salt and pepper, then add the orange peel. Truss wings and legs to body, then close cavity. Place in a shallow roasting pan with rack, just large enough to hold the duck easily.

Preheat oven to 450 °F. Set duck on rack in roasting pan, breast up, then place in oven. After 15 minutes, turn temperature down to 350 °F. Every 15 minutes, turn duck from one side to the other, setting it on its back during the last 15 minutes. Basting is not necessary. As prepared in the French manner, the meat is juicy and cooked to just under the well-done stage. When done, the juices should run faintly rosy to clear when a fork is used to deeply prick the thickest part of the drumstick. When the duck is drained, the last drops of juice from the vent should run faintly rosy to clear yellow.

Finish preparing the sauce (while the duck roasts):
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups of duck stock
2 tablespoons arrowroot blended with 2 tablespoons port
The rest of the orange peel
The skinned oranges

In a small saucepan, blend together sugar and vinegar. Swirl over heat to melt sugar completely, then boil rapidly until mixture turns a caramel-brown color. Remove from heat. Beat in half of the duck stock, dissolving the caramel by stirring as mixture simmers. Remove from heat. Pour in the rest of the duck stock, then blend in the arrowroot mixture. Add orange peel and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully correct seasoning. The sauce should be clear and lightly thickened.
Prepare orange sections shortly before serving (since they will not taste fresh if this task is done too far in advance). Remove bitter white membrane, then cut oranges into neat, skinless segments. Refrigerate in a covered bowl until serving time.

Complete final assembly (just before serving):
1 roasted duck
1/2 cup dry port
2 to 3 tablespoons orange liqueur
A few drops of orange bitters or lemon juice
The prepared sauce base
2 to 3 tablespoons butter, softened
Orange sections and orange peel


Place roast duck on serving platter, discarding the trussing strings. Keep duck warm in a turned-off oven until ready to serve. Spoon fat out of roasting pan, then pour in port wine and scrape up all coagulated roasting juices with a wooden spoon. Pour this mixture into sauce, add orange liqueur, and bring to a simmer. Taste carefully, adding drops of bitters or lemon juice if sauce seems too sweet. Just before serving, remove sauce from heat and swirl in butter, one tablespoonful at a time.

Use a few orange sections to garnish duck breast, while piling the others at either end of the serving platter. Pour sauce and orange peel into a warm sauceboat, spooning a little over duck. Serve with potatoes.


By the time I remembered to take a picture, we had just sat down to dinner and my beautiful golden duck had already been carved and reduced to a pile of bones on the counter. But here is a picture of my plate, for what it is worth:

Roasted duck with orange sauce, sweet potato hash, crispy pan-fried <span class=
Roast duck with orange sauce (drumstick and breast), pan-fried brussels
sprouts with lemon and walnuts and Heather's delicious sweet potato hash.



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