This French classic is our most popular bistro dish. The acid in the orange sauce acts as a balance to the fat in the duck. I’ve done a little research and found that a recipe for wild ducklings with bigarade (bitter orange) sauce first appeared in a French cooking book in 1828. The recipe stated that “this is a dish for an epicure of the daintest palate”.
Our chefs make this dish using whole ducks which they roast and expertly divide into four pieces. Rather than risk making a mess in the carving I take the easy way out and use whole leg and thigh pieces. The duck can be cooked and the sauce made well in advance (even a day or two) and simply combined 20 minutes before serving for the final part of the cooking.
- Ingredients (Serves 4):
- 4 whole legs and thighs
- 6-8 tbsps duck fat
- Coarse sea salt
- Orange sauce:
- ½ cup sugar
- 50g cold cubed butter
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- 50 ml brandy
- 500ml orange juice
- 500ml lamb stock
- 500ml chicken stock or beef stock
- 2 tsps powdered chicken stock (optional but does add roundness to the taste)
- 3-4 oranges peeled and cut into segments (make sure all pith has been removed)
- Zest of 2-3 oranges (blanched)
Rub the salt over the duck pieces.
Put the duck fat in the oven dish and melt it in the oven for a minute. Add the duck pieces skin side down and cover with foil. Bake at 150◦C for about an hour. Check to see if it’s tender. Baste with the fat from time to time and turn them over after 30 minutes.
The sauce will take up an hour to make as it needs time to reduce.
Melt the sugar in a pot over a medium heat. It’ll start to caramelise. It needs to be a dark amber colour and be just smoking. The trick is to find the right balance between caramel and bitterness. Watch carefully as it will burn and become too bitter very quickly.
Take it off the heat and add the butter. Be careful of splattering as the caramel will be between 150-200◦C.
Add all the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer. Reduce by two thirds until the sauce is thick and syrupy. If you’re worried that it isn’t thick enough, thicken with a little cornflour at the end.
Finally place the duck pieces skin side up in an oven dish and pour over the sauce. Don’t drown the duck. The skin must be coated but with part exposed so it will become a little crispy. Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes.
Serve on individual plates. Spoon over the sauce and garnish each with a few orange segments and a little zest. Delicious with potato Gratin Dauphinois.