corned beef

Christmas Glazed Duck Breasts in Orange Jus

Glazed Duck Breasts in Orange Jus

The duck breasts we have had for Christmas dinner for the last few years require quite a bit of organisation beforehand if Christmas day is to be hassle free. The breasts themselves are not difficult to cook, even if this method, (which I have borrowed from Tetsuya Wakuda) involves moving them from a frying pan to the oven to the griller. It is the sauce (or gravy, or jus) that presents the problem.

The breasts release a good deal of fat (which should be kept), but very little else that will help you to begin making a good sauce. They do release some juices when they are resting and these are, of course added to the sauce. It is a little late to begin, though, when the breasts are about to be served.

If you already have some homemade chicken gravy as a starting point, things become much easier. It really is worthwhile cooking a chicken during the week before Christmas for this express purpose. Have demi-glace on hand, bought or homemade, homemade chicken stock, a bottle of Grand Marnier and a made-up quantity of orange sauce base. The orange sauce base gives the sauce depth. Zested orange peel is an optional extra.

You can also make up the glaze beforehand.

If you have done all this and then find at the last minute that the shop from which you have ordered your duck breasts has itself forgotten to order duck breasts, (which has happened to me two years in a row), you can be forgiven for having a nervy turn! Last year, the only place that could help me at short notice was Black Pearl Caviar, really desperation stuff! The bonus was that the breasts (magrets) were from ducks with the most obscenely large breasts. They were expensive but absolutely delicious.

I think the moral of the story is to buy your breasts a couple of weeks before Christmas. Chances are they will be frozen anyway and they might as well sit in your freezer as in somebody else’s.

6 duck breasts (large if possible)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Plain flour
Good chicken gravy, prepared beforehand
Good chicken stock (or duck stock if you have it)
Orange sauce base (see below)
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Zested rind of 1 orange
Glaze (See below)

Orange sauce base:
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons malt vinegar
3 tablespoons orange juice, strained

Caramelise the brown sugar and malt vinegar together in a saucepan, then carefully add the strained orange juice. Simmer, then cool.

Duck glaze:
150ml soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
50ml mirin

Combine soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin in a saucepan and stir until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Line griller tray with foil and preheat oven.

Trim the duck breasts and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Brown breasts, in batches, skin side down, in the grapeseed oil in a non-stick frying pan. When the skin is dark brown and crisp, turn to cook the flesh very briefly. Reserve the fat for another use.

Transfer the breasts to a baking dish and place in the oven to cook for another 5 – 6 minutes depending on the size of the breasts. Remove from oven, place on a warm plate, cover with foil and allow to rest.

Strain off all but a little fat from the baking dish, add a little plain flour if there is sufficient duck juice to warrant it. Add chicken stock and make a light gravy. If insufficient duck juice, omit this step.

Place duck gravy (if any), prepared chicken gravy and orange sauce base in a saucepan with a little chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add Grand Marnier and 1 tablespoon demi-glace, reduce heat and simmer gently. Check seasonings.

Remove duck breasts from foil, carefully pouring any accumulated juices into the sauce.

Place breasts, skin side down, on foil covered grill tray and paint each breast with glaze. Brown lightly. Remove from grill, re-paint with glaze and replace under grill. Repeat one more time, each time being careful to remove the duck before it burns.

Cover breasts again with foil. Check the sauce and add zested orange rind, if using.

Spoon jus onto serving plates and top with duck breasts, skin side up.

Serve with roasted potatoes and red cabbage.

Serves 6.

How to poach meat or fish

Poaching is a cooking technique that is usually neglected in most cookery books. When meat is thrown into simmering water it inevitably emerges tough and unsatisfying. Think of uncooked chicken in a simmering laksa stock. The toughness is produced because, when the water is at simmering temperature (not to mention boiling), the proteins in the meat begin to harden and disintegrate and the meat becomes dry and tough.

Poaching is generally confined to fish and white meats such as chicken and veal. Lately, though, I have been applying poaching techniques to other ‘boiled’ meats such as ox tongue and silverside and the results have been quite sensational. So much so that Dad’s fishing mates have been asking for recipes. A compliment, indeed.

You will find various references to poaching throughout the book. There is a recipe for Poached Chicken Breasts in this section and “Buffets and Cold Lunches”. Vitello Tonato is a delicious veal and anchovy dish served with tuna mayonnaise (also in “Buffets and Cold Lunches”), is a classic poached dish, as is Poached Whole Fish in the same section. 

Poaching is the slow cooking of meat or fish in water or a court boullion (water enhanced with herbs, spices and vegetables). Poached meat tends to lack colour, but is tender, moist (if properly done) and full of flavour. It has the advantage of being low fat and also of producing some wonderful stocks that can be re-used for poaching, added to soups or used as a base for risotto.

A heat diffusing mat is essential for successful poaching. I find that even the lowest heat on the smallest gas ring will eventually bring a stockpot full of liquid to simmering point without one. A drop lid is also useful. A drop lid is a wooden lid slightly smaller then the diameter of your stockpot that sits on top of the meat and keeps it fully submerged during cooking, allowing all the meat to be cooked evenly. I discovered drop lids when doing my Japanese cooking course. Mine is simply a round wooden breadboard with a knob attached to the centre for lifting it in and out. It should always be soaked in water before using. 

The method of poaching small items such as chicken breasts and fish fillets is slightly different from the method of poaching large ones, though in both cases the cooking is done at poaching temperature. Poaching temperature is a point, well below boiling point, when the surface of the liquid shivers, but no bubbles appear. In a clear liquid you will be able to see a few tiny bubbles on the bottom of the pot, but they will not rise. Never let the liquid simmer, let alone boil.

To poach small pieces of meat or fish fillets, bring the court bouillon (water, stock or other liquid with flavourings added) to simmering point. There should be enough liquid to just cover the meat or fish to be poached. Place meat in the simmering liquid; the temperature will immediately drop to poaching temperature. Watch carefully that the liquid does not return to a simmer and continue to cook until the meat is tender. Remove the pan from the heat when cooked. If the meat is to be served cold, it should be allowed to cool in the poaching liquid. If it is to be served hot, it should be left in the poaching liquid to rest before serving.

Some of the larger cuts of meat will form a scum on top of the liquid when the liquid boils. For this reason, the meat is placed in cold water without any aromatics and brought to the boil to release any scum. The water is then tipped out and the meat is ready to poach as follows.

To poach larger items, such as the veal in Vitello Tonata, whole fish, corned silverside and ox tongue, the meat is placed in enough cold court bouillon to just cover it and is then slowly brought to poaching temperature. This enables the heat to slowly penetrate to the inside of the meat without overcooking the outside. The temperature is kept at poaching point for the entire cooking period. Again, whether the meat is left to cool completely in the poaching liquid generally depends on whether it is to be eaten hot or cold.