I first tasted this dish during a visit to Paris last spring. We had dinner at a sidewalk cafe in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It was a chilly April night and we huddled under blankets and heat lamps sipping rose wine and eating a variety of appetizers. The duck came to the table in bite sized pieces and the combination of duck, orange, and honey were so delicious that I returned home determined to recreate the recipe in my own kitchen. Scouring the Internet I found this recipe from Diane Abroad which combined the flavors and ingredients I was still dreaming about so I thought I was good to go.
Now mind you, we were living in Albania at the time so I wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to find duck. I did luck out and found a whole fresh duck at the local Italian grocery chain but upon bringing the bird home I discovered that it was the scrawniest creature I had even encountered and didn’t have one bit of fat on it. If you have ever eaten or cooked duck before, you know that the fat of the duck is more prized than the meat itself so I wondered how the dish would turn out with my skinny bird. The answer: not good. The dish just lacked the luciousness of the one I had eaten in Paris.
Fast forward one year and I’m still thinking about the duck. But I now live in Belgium where fresh duck is available on a regular basis in all of the local markets. And these ducks are covered in a thick layer of fat, making them the perfect birds for this, or any duck dish. The original recipe called for using a duck breast but I substituted two meaty duck legs and achieved the desired results. If you have the time (i.e. can plan ahead), do allow the meat to marinade for a full 48 hours before cooking. The wait is well worth it.
HONEY ORANGE DUCK w/ THYME
2 large duck legs with fat
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons honey
6 springs fresh thyme
Juice from 3 oranges
- Using a sharp knife, score the layer of fat on the top of the duck diagonally, making cuts spaced about one inch apart. Cut only halfway through the fat and not all of the way down to the meat.
- Score the meat in the other direction, creating a hash marked pattern in the fat.
- Rub the salt over the scored meat then rub in the honey and the thyme sprigs.
- Place the duck in a large sealable plastic bag and add the fresh orange juice.
- Place the bag in a rimmed pan and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours or up to 48 hours. (The longer the better).
- When you are ready to cook, heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Remove the duck from the marinade and pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Set aside.
- Pat the duck completely dry and place fat side down, on a cold cast iron skillet.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and allow the fat to render from the meat for about 5 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking for an additional to 4 minutes. The hash marks on the duck should have contracted into a crispy brown diamond pattern.
- Drain the fat from the pan and reserve for another use.
- Flip the duck legs over and pace the skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes for medium-rare meat (130 degrees on a digital thermometer) or to your desired level of doneness.
- Remove the duck to a cutting board and allow to rest for 8 to 10 minutes.
- While the duck is resting, bring the reserved marinade to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the volume is reduced by half.
- Serve topped with the marinade.