I remember the first time I ate duck à l’orange. It was at a fancy dinner at one of those exclusive city clubs on the top floor of a glass-clad tower in Lubbock, Texas. I was on a job interview at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. In choosing this setting, the editor of the newspaper was either trying to impress me or scare me. I was in my early 20s and preparing to graduate from Baylor University. There were only three options on the dinner menu for an entrée: rib-eye steak, no thanks; baked flounder, I wasn’t really into fish back then; and the duck à l’orange. I opted for the duck.
As the salads came to the table and the editor began grilling me about my internship experience at the Temple Daily Telegram and the Houston Chronicle, I felt like I was doing OK on the interview and making a connection. Salads finished, my duck arrived. And that’s when things went south. I was so mesmerized by the duck leg, skin golden brown and glazed as if it had been shellacked, with little slices of orange embedded in the glaze. I could smell the orange, I lost track of the conversation. I was in a haze and I hadn’t even had a bite yet. The editor had to begin repeating his questions, trying to distract me from the duck.
I stuttered, regained my composure momentarily until I took my first bite. That’s when the editor decided, thankfully, that he would stop peppering me with questions and enjoy his own rib-eye and leave me to my heavenly duck. The duck’s skin was almost crunchy and infused with orange flavor; the flesh was a contrast, tender and succulent, tinged with coriander and cumin that had seeped in.
Ever since then, I’ve had a soft spot for duck. Peking duck, duck noodle soup, duck confit. Ooo la la. It’s no wonder I ended up in a state where one of the universities has a duck for a mascot.
One of my favorite ways to serve duck is to sear it in pork fat (aka lard) and then braise it in red wine. For a change of pace and since I had duck à l’orange on my mind on this occasion, I decided to use Riesling instead and add orange slices as well as preserved peaches, since peaches aren’t in season yet.
And like my interview experience, which ended up landing me a job offer (but I ended up declining), the duck I cooked was a success and easy to boot.
Duck Braised with Oranges and Peaches in Riesling — Cunard à l’Orange et Pêches
- 1 cup (240 ml.) pork fat or lard
- 4 duck legs
- ¼ cup (60 ml.) chopped shallots
- 20 ounce (28 g.) can of peach halves preserved in light syrup
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml.) ground cumin
- 1 cup (240 ml.) dry Riesling
- 1 cup (240 ml.) orange juice
- 1 orange, peeled and cut into wedges
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) thyme
The first step is to sear the duck legs in pork fat or lard in a dutch oven over high heat.
Remove the legs to a bowl and sauté chopped shallots until golden.
Add a can of preserved peach halves in light syrup, along with the syrup from the can, ground coriander and cumin.
Add the Riesling and orange juice.
Place the duck legs back in the dutch oven, along with orange slices, salt, pepper, and thyme. Cover and place in a 350 ºF oven.
After an hour or so, take the duck out of the oven and use a baster to siphon some of the liquid back onto the duck to baste it. Bake for another hour covered and then uncovered for an additional hour.
Place duck in serving piece along with peach and orange slices, and garnish with parsley.
You’ll be surprised at how delicious this dish is, and how tender the duck turns out.