Coming in at a very close second to pork, duck is my favourite type of meat. It is rich in flavour with just the right amount of gameness. Like pork (and unlike chicken), duck meat is covered by a layer of fat, which helps them float on water while they swim (or more accurately, paddle over water like a boat).
What this means of course, is that you can get the benefit of nice crispy skin. Contrary to popular belief, things at their crispiest are not things at their fattiest. In the case of crisp skin, the crispiness results from the fat being rendered and cooked out of the skin. If the fat was still there, the skin would be slimy and unpleasant to eat.
A further benefit of crispy skin is the duck fat that is cooked out of the skin can be collected and saved for other purposes. The classic use is to make roast potatoes coated in duck fat. It not only makes them really crisp but with a pinch of salt, adds amazing flavour. You can keep duck fat in an airtight container in the freezer for months.
A classical favourite when it comes to duck is the traditional French dish of duck a l’orange. The essence of this dish is to contrast the rich flavour of a rare crispy-skinned duck breast against the sweetness and slight acidity of an orange sauce. It is very simple conceptually, but quite difficult to execute well. I am always reminded of an episode of Heston’s Feasts, where Heston Blumenthal re-invents duck a l’orange in the manner of Willy Wonka.
I too have tried to be creative with this dish, but my changes are much more subtle (and primitive):
- I roasted a whole duck instead of using duck breasts.
- I combined Navel oranges with mandarins to add a slight Asian twist to the sauce.
- I added Le Birlou and Cointreau to the sauce to add the flavours of chestnut and apple to the sauce. I made sure to add the liqueurs in later on and not boil all of the alcohol out of them. The alcohol adds a further dimension to this dish.
- I originally planned to accompany the dish with roasted chestnuts as well, but ran out of time to do it properly. I believe that this would work well with the dish.