Lift your game

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2012, 12:00am


Duck breast is one of the easiest meats to prepare, and there's very little waste. The fat that renders out as the duck cooks is delicious when used to saut?potatoes or vegetables. Because duck has so much flavour, it needs just a simple seasoning, although its slightly gamey taste pairs beautifully with a fruity sauce.

Duck a l'orange (pictured)

Canard a l'orange is a classic dish that became a clich?when it was copied - badly - by 'continental' restaurants in the 1980s. This version is much lighter and fresher-tasting than the sickly sweet interpretations of old.

2 duck breasts, about 200 grams each

2 oranges, divided

About 30 grams Seville orange marmalade

30 grams chilled unsalted butter

Fine sea salt

Fresh lemon juice, if needed

Use a sharp knife to score the skin of the duck breast in a cross-hatch pattern, cutting almost down to the meat. Lightly sprinkle salt on both sides of the breast, then leave the pieces, skin-side up, on the cutting board for about 30 minutes so they have time to come to room temperature.

Use a citrus zester to remove long, thin strands of zest from the oranges. Trim off the top and bottom of each orange, cutting far enough down to expose the flesh. Lay an orange on one flat end. Use a small serra- ted knife to completely remove the skin and pith of the orange, following the contour of the fruit as you slice off the skin. When both oranges have been peeled, hold the fruit over a bowl (to catch the juice) and remove the segments of fruit by cutting between the membranes. When finished, you'll have a handful of fruitless membrane. Squeeze the juice (from the membrane) into the bowl. Discard the membrane and orange peel. Divide the orange segments into two portions.

Use paper towels to blot up as much moisture as possible from the duck breasts. Heat an unoiled skillet (preferably cast iron) over a medium flame and when it's hot put the duck breasts skin-side down in the pan. Cook the breasts for about seven minutes, lowering the heat if they're browning too fast. Pour off the duck fat as it renders out. Turn the duck breasts over then cook for about three minutes, then flip them over one last time and cook for about three minutes (for rare), or until done to your liking. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and put them skin-side up on a cutting board to rest while making the sauce.

Pour off most of the duck fat in the skillet (no need to wash it) then set the skillet over a medium-low flame. Add the orange juice, the bitter orange marmalade and half the orange segments, then heat until bubbling. Simmer for a few minutes, then season to taste with salt; if the sauce is too sweet, add a little lemon juice. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the butter.

Cut the duck breasts against the grain into thin slices then spoon the sauce on top. Garnish with the remaining orange segments and the strands of zest, then serve. This dish goes well with boiled potatoes sauteed in duck fat and sprinkled with rough-flaked sea salt, and with sauteed green beans.

Seared duck breasts with caramelised apple

2 duck breasts, about 200 grams each

200ml apple juice

40ml unsalted chicken broth

25ml red wine vinegar

30ml Calvados (apple brandy), or use regular brandy

30 grams chilled unsalted butter

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the caramelised apple:

1 large Granny Smith apple

15 grams unsalted butter

About 20 grams granulated sugar

Prepare the duck breasts as in the first recipe: score the skin, salt it, blot it with paper towels, then cook it and let it rest.

While the duck is cooking and resting, prepare the caramelised apple and sauce. Peel the apple, cut it in half and remove the core with a melon baller. Cut each half into four wedges then sprinkle the pieces lightly but evenly with sugar on both sides. Melt 15 grams of butter in a skillet and lay the apple slices in one layer. Let them caramelise on one side, then carefully flip them over and cook the other side.

To make the sauce, pour off as much fat as possible from the skillet used to cook the duck breasts. Set the pan over a medium-high flame and add the apple juice, chicken broth, red wine vinegar and a little salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan then simmer the ingredients until they reduce to a light sauce consistency. Add the Calvados or brandy carefully- it might ignite.

Taste for seasonings then add black pepper and more salt, if needed. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the 30 grams of chilled butter. Thinly slice the duck breasts against the grain then lay them on a plate. Spoon the sauce over the meat, add the caramelised apples then serve.

Styling Nellie Ming Lee