Around December, so much focus gets put on edible gifts and Christmas cookies that it can be easy to forget about the star of the holiday meal. If you want to impress without going through too much trouble, don't discount duck breast: it has all the exotic cachet of a game bird, without any of the fuss.
Regardless of how little you know about duck, you can't go wrong with its à l'orange preparation; the acidity of a sweet-tart orange glaze cuts through the fowl's robust flavor. Go all out by reducing the orange juice and segmenting fresh oranges to serve alongside the roast; otherwise, a pre-made glaze like orange marmalade does the trick. Make either version when you keep reading.
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 small bunch asparagus, trimmed to 4 inches and sliced 1/2 inch thick on an angle
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)
2 duck breasts
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup dry sherry
- In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter; add the nuts and toast for 2 minutes. Stir in the rice and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, add the asparagus and cook, covered, until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the scallions and parsley.
- Using a small knife, make shallow cuts in a crisscross pattern into the skin of the duck breasts; season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, place the duck skin side down and cook over medium-low heat until the skin is crisp, about 15 minutes. Pour off the fat and flip the duck breast. Add 1/2 cup water, the marmalade and sherry, cover and cook for 5 minutes for medium-rare.
- Thinly slice the duck and arrange on 2 plates. Spoon the sauce on top and serve with the rice.
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 1/2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
4 large oranges
2 1-pound boneless Muscovy duck breast halves, thawed if frozen
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
- Stir sugar and water in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in vinegar (mixture will bubble vigorously). Add juice and shallots; boil until reduced to 1/2 cup, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Add broth; boil until reduced to 3/4 cup, 30 minutes. Set aside.
- Using small knife, cut off peel and white pith from 4 oranges. Working over bowl, cut between membranes to release segments. (Sauce and oranges can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover separately; chill.)
- Using small knife, score duck skin (do not pierce meat) in crosshatch pattern. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Heat heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Place duck breasts skin side down in skillet. Cook until brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Turn duck and cook to desired doneness, about 10 minutes longer for medium-rare. Transfer to cutting board. Let stand 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring sauce to simmer. Add butter and 1 tablespoon grated orange peel; whisk just until butter melts. Drain orange segments and mix into sauce. Set aside.
- Slice duck breasts crosswise on diagonal. Arrange on 4 plates. Spoon orange segments with sauce alongside. Sprinkle with remaining peel.
Makes 4 servings.