Duck a L’Orange

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I resisted making duck a l’orange for many years. I blame third-rate restaurants I ate at in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Classic French duck a l’orange is a quasi-modern interpretation of a very old recipe that combines duck and orange, one called duck bigarade I’ve been making for more than a decade.

Classic duck a l'orange on a plate
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I say “quasi-modern” because it is my understanding that it was Julia Child who made duck a l’orange famous, with her classic book Mastering the Art of French Cooking that came out in 1961. American restaurants were already in a phase where great cooking meant classical French, and Child’s cookbook accentuated that.

A flock of new interpretations of duck a l’orange ensued.

And, just like the trajectory of General Tso’s Chicken, each interpretation here in the USA became less complex and sweeter. Much sweeter.

So by the time I first ate it, maybe in 1979 or thereabouts, duck a l’orange was sugary, gloppy and generally unpleasant. I grew to hate it. So much so that I abandoned it for the older bigarade recipe.

Then, on a whim, I read Julia’s recipe. It was mildly sweet, but way more complex-tasting than any version I’d ever eaten. So I thought I’d give it a go.

And, as usual, Julia did not disappoint.

This is, for the most part, Julia Child’s recipe for duck a l’orange. I made it with a hugely fat mallard drake Holly brought home on the final day of the season. It was so big, and so fat, I decided it had to be slow roasted. But beyond that, it needed something special.

This is what that duck needed. Julia’s recipe for l’orange is very orange-y, tart, slightly sweet, but with a rich sauce that is a helluva lot more interesting than orange juice and cornstarch.

Eat a taste of the Old School.

You’ll want a nice, fat duck for duck a l’orange. Or several nice, fat ducks if you are using wild ones. One nice farmed duck will do, as will a specklebelly goose.

Keep in mind that since this is a slow-roasted duck, the breast meat will be fully cooked, so the sauce is the star here. Make enough of it to go around.

Duck a l'orange ready to eat on a plate.
4.81 from 21 votes

Classic French Duck a L'Orange

This is an adaptation of Julia Child's recipe for French duck a l'orange, a dish that is a classic for a reason. Use fat ducks for this, either wild or domesticated. A small, fat goose is another option. 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: French
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours

Ingredients 

  • 2 fat ducks, like mallards or pintail
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups duck stock or beef stock
  • 4 sweet oranges
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot or corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1/4 teaspoon orange bitters (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter

Instructions 

  • Use a needle or sharp knife point to pierce the skin of the fat ducks all over, taking care to not pierce the meat itself; go in at an angle. This helps the fat render out of the bird. Salt the ducks well and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Put the ducks in an ovenproof pan. I rest them on celery leaves to prop them above the level of the pan; this helps them crisp better. If you want, surround the duck with some root vegetables. Roast for 90 minutes. 
  • Take the pan out and increase the heat to 425°F. When it hits this temperature, put the birds back in the oven and roast until the skin is crispy, about 15 to 20 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, boil the vinegar and sugar in a small pot until it turns brown. Pour in the stock little by little, stirring all the while. Set aside.
  • Shave the peel off the oranges, grating some fine and keeping the peel of 2 oranges in large pieces. Juice 2 oranges. Cut segments from the other 2 oranges. Here is a tutorial on how to do that
  • When the ducks are ready, remove them from the oven and let them rest on a cutting board. 
  • Finish the sauce. Bring it to a simmer, then add about 1/2 cup of orange juice and the large bits of peel. Simmer 5 minutes. Whisk together a little of the sauce with the starch, and, when it's mixed well, stir it into the saucepot to thicken. Add the Grand Marnier and enough salt and orange bitters to taste. Swirl in the butter one tablespoon at a time. 
  • To serve, carve the duck and arrange on plates. Give everyone some orange supremes and pour over the sauce. Garnish with the grated zest, and serve with good bread, mashed potatoes or celery root, or polenta. 

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 980kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 81g | Saturated Fat: 29g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 160mg | Sodium: 410mg | Potassium: 870mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 26g | Vitamin A: 791IU | Vitamin C: 75mg | Calcium: 87mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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25 Comments

  1. Once upon a time ago maybe 28 years ago my mom made my dad’s duck a l’orange for Thanksgiving because duck at a grocery store was for some reason significantly cheaper than turkey for our lower class family. The meat was juicy and succulent and fell right off the bone and my brother and I ate it all up before my dad came home from work.

    This recipe did not replicate those results, and I am sad to say I didn’t personally enjoy it very much (the duck, as the sauce was excellent)…. But this recipe is not at fault as my dad’s recipe (my dad was Irish/French) was most likely very different, and I am happy to say that although I did not enjoy it my guests loved it!!! I simply did not enjoy the duck as the skin was kind of fatty and the meat was dry and kind of gamey.

    The sauce was incredible however.

    I gave it a 5 out of 5 because my personal preference was the only reason why I did not enjoy it.

  2. Hank
    I am making this this weekend for Easter. Is there any preparation (other than the holes in the skin) directly to the bird before placing it in the oven (herbs on the skin, brine, etc.)?

      1. Dear Hank..I m all set for Julia s duckling..it s summer here on the Mornington Peninsula..only thing missing is an
        Orangesupreme….what is it?

      2. Elaine: I tell you how to make them in the instructions. Supremes are wedges of orange with no pith or skin.

  3. Hi Hank: it’s a great recipe – it took me a bit longer than the recipe calls for to ensure fully cooking and browning the skin, but I’ll just have to blame the manufacturer of my oven for that. And the suggestion of root vegetables on the side was a real hit – I used potatoes and sweet potatoes, and they were delicious. Thanks!
    By the way, my second favorite French dish is Steak Dianne, and if you have a good recipe for that, I’d appreciate it!

  4. Loved the detailed directions, easy to follow. And the balance of ingredients in the sauce were superb! Most delicious. First homemade duck in a long time! So glad I found your site. Checking out morel recipes and tips next!

  5. Canard à l’orange is much older than Julia Child. It was one of the recipes Catherine De Medici brought to France. Sicilian oranges were popular in Florence and were used to prepare duck there.

  6. I’ve actually made the original Julia Childs duck a l’orange recipe which, like most authentic French cuisine, is complex and very time-consuming. This recipe is so much simpler, I decided to give it a whirl and was delighted with the results. The sauce tasted great and the finished dish looked professional. Excellent recipe.

  7. This seems good, however I’m only cooking for two people. Should I halve the recipe (one duck, 1.5 tbsp butter…etc.)?

  8. My birthday and my two heroes, Julia and Duck! This sounds like a weird marriage made in heaven! Although I have often made duck with orange peel, star anise, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, etc. In the cavity, I have never made the classic a l’orange…I think my “Asian” roast duck with that yummy sauce is just what Julia would have expected from a duck loving chef who wants the most flavour from their duck…and I don’t even like cinnamon! B0ut with ginger, it makes sense with duck and orange. And with the classic sauce, it must taste like all Julia would have loved…even though a bit fusion!

  9. We are quite obsessed with sugar here in the States.
    Fresh oranges, liqueur, few simple ingredients…your recipe is a keeper!