Pan Seared Duck with Orange Chipotle Sauce

2nd June, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in Main Courses, Moderate

First, a confession. See the picture? Where’s the succulent, juicy, rare slices of beautifully seared duck breast, with crispy skin and lovely sauce? What’s that dark flesh that could be anything? Well, um…

I actually shot the photograph of the leftovers that I had for lunch today. When cooking for company, they’re rarely patient enough to wait around whilst I go about fiddling with plating and lighting and photographing the food I’m about to serve them; they want to eat, and preferably, while the food is still warm. So I had to make do with the leftovers. I’d put the tiny little pieces of duck breast in the fridge, along with the sauce, so the meat got much darker than it was on the night of serving, and the gorgeous golden, crispy skin turned into what you see here . Still, it was a deliciously decadent lunch. So it goes. You’ll have to take my word for it; it was much prettier the night before. If you want to see other pictures of nicely presented duck flesh, do a search. The web is littered with ‘em. Then, come back here for something really delicious, a bit showy for your guests, and quite easy to do.

Basically, this is a riff on the classic canard a l’orange. The addition of some sweet pickled chipotles adds a spicy, fragrantly smoky character to the dish that plays wonderfully with the orange sauce, without overwhelming the wonderful taste of the duck.

You can use mallards or teals, or whatever your hunting friends can be talked into bringing over. (Thanks, Norbert!) Whatever duck you choose, the key is to not overcook it.

Ingredients – Serves 4

For the sauce:

  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 medium oranges, juiced, and the zest from one
  • 1 cup tawny port
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 pinch dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp balsamico
  • 3 sweet pickled chipotles (recipe), chopped coarsely
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp sweet butter

For the duck:

  • 2 pounds duck breast, skin on (Muscovy breast sides are about 8oz each – wild duck, somewhat smaller)
  • salt and pepper

Method – About an Hour

Prepare the sauce:

If you haven’t already, get busy and make the sweet pickled chipotles!

Zest one of the oranges, and set the zest aside. Juice the oranges, and set aside. You’ll want about 1 cup of juice. Mince the shallots fairly small, but not pulverized.

In a 2qt saucepan over medium heat, add 1 Tsp butter, and sauté the shallots until softened and just beginning to turn golden.

Add the orange juice and port. Bring to a boil, and reduce to about half. Add the salt, pepper, thyme balsamico, and if using, the pomegranate juice. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2/3 cup.

Strain the sauce, and return to the saucepan, keeping it warm.

Cook the duck:

Preheat the oven to 300ËšF, rack in the center position.

Bring the duck to room temperature, at least an hour. Pat dry with paper towels. Slit the skin of the breasts, about 1/8″ deep, at 1/2″ intervals. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Put the duck, skin side down, in a cold, oven proof saut̩ pan. Put the pan over medium-high heat. As the pan heats, the fat will render, and the skin will begin to crisp up after about 8-10 minutes. When golden brown, pour off and reserve most of the fat, and transfer the pan to the oven to finish, cooking until desired doneness is achieved Рabout 4-5 minutes. You can test doneness by gently poking the flesh. It should yield to gentle pressure without feeling soft, like the flesh between your thumb and forefinger with your fist closed but not clenched.

Remove breasts to a warmed plate, skin side up, covered loosely with foil to rest while finishing up the sauce.

Finishing up!

Drain and reserve the fat, and return the pan to medium heat. Pour in the sauce, and scrape the brown goodness to dissolve it. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, add 1 Tbsp of the reserved orange zest, and reduce the sauce until it coats the spoon well. Remove from heat, and whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp butter.

Slice the breasts on a bias, revealing their juicy, moist interior. Serve covered with the sauce, and a garnish of the left over zest. Dinner is served!

I served this with some lovely Midnight black beans from Rancho Gordo, cooked simply with a bit of onion, garlic and oregano, and a nice salad of fresh spring greens, dressed with an orange/balsamic vinaigrette to echo the flavors of the duck’s sauce.

Traditionally, canard a l’orange can be served with a crisp white, but the smoky chiles in this version is less comfortable with whites. Instead, a spicy, Paso Robles Rhône style blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), an Argentine Malbec, or a South African Pinotage would be a good choice with this one.


Duck is at its best when served rare to medium-rare. Do not overcook it! An internal temperature of 125-130ËšF is ideal. Don’t be squeamish!

Duck fat is a wonderful culinary ingredient, so don’t throw it away! Strain it through a fine sieve, and put it a jar in the fridge or freezer. Roast potatoes in it! Braise some greens in it! It’s really fabulous stuff. The duck gave its all for you. Respect it!

One Response

  1. Rhea S. Says:

    I was lucky enough to enjoy this the first night. It was gorgeous and delicious! Thanks, Chef, for willingly sharing the gift of your talents with friends and family.