Here is a twist on that out-of-favour classic, duck à l’orange, yet quite far removed from the original. It is spicy and rich, full of intense, multilayered flavours, a recipe you’d always want to return to for some winter comfort. The English Gressingham duck is the best choice here, as it is bred especially for its larger, more succulent breast. The French Barbary would make a good alternative. Blood oranges are in season throughout the first part of the year but you can easily substitute ordinary oranges. This dish would go well with a rough mash of orange roots, such as sweet potato, pumpkin or carrot.
4 duck breasts, weighing 180–200g each
2 tbsp fennel seeds
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp coarse sea salt
240ml blood orange juice (from about 4 oranges), plus 4 whole blood oranges
180ml red wine
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
16 star anise
6 dried chillies
- Score the skin of each duck breast in 3 or 4 parallel incisions, without cutting into the meat. Repeat at a 90° angle to the other cuts to get square shaped incisions. Mix the fennel seeds, chilli flakes, cumin, black pepper and salt together, then rub them thoroughly all over the duck breasts with your hands. Place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to marinate for a few hours or in the fridge overnight.
- Using a small, sharp knife, trim off 1cm from the top and bottom of each orange. Standing them up, neatly follow the natural curves of each one with the knife to cut off the skin and white pith. Cut each orange horizontally into roughly 6 slices. Remove the pips, place the slices in a small bowl and set aside.
- To sear the duck, thoroughly heat a large, heavy frying pan (one for which you have a lid). Place the duck breasts in it, skin-side down, and cook for 3 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Turn and cook the other side for 3 minutes, then remove the duck from the pan and keep in a warm place.
- Discard most of the fat from the frying pan and add the wine, vinegar, orange juice and star anise. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5–6 minutes, until reduced by about half. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary. Return the duck breasts to the pan and stir to coat them in the sauce. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 7 minutes.
- Take the dried chillies, orange slices, plus any extra juice in their bowl, and place carefully next to the duck breasts. Cover again and simmer for another 3 minutes. By this time the meat should be medium-rare.
- Remove the duck breasts from the sauce, place on a cutting board and leave to rest for 3–4 minutes. While you wait, check the sauce. It may need to be simmered a little longer to thicken it slightly. Taste again and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Slice each breast at an angle into pieces 1cm thick and place on serving plates. Pick the oranges from the sauce and arrange them on the plates with the duck. Pour some of the sauce on top and serve the rest on the side.