Canard à l’orange is one of those classic French recipes that have been around for ages and have changed over time. This particular recipe seems to have appeared first in French cookery books in the 19th century and they may have been influenced by Asian cuisine. After all, it is a sort of sweet and sour duck dish and there is a Cantonese recipe for duck that uses soy, honey, lime and oranges.
The philosopher Jean-Francois Revel (real name Ricard), member of the Academie Française, wrote in ‘Un festin en Paroles’ that the canard a l’orange dish comes from the city Rouen in Normandy. If true, this would combine the fact that there are duck farms in Normandy and an active duck hunt near the coast, lakes and Seine river, plus the role of Rouen as a port town and home for long-distance sailors who can have encountered duck dishes in Asian ports. It could even have been brought to France by someone from Asia.
There is no standard recipe for this dish, there are many variations. The common elements are duck, sugar, vinegar, oranges and a sauce.
Duck is rather fat and I try to limit the fat content in dishes, so this version is a modernised and ‘light’ version of the classic dish.
- A prepared duck (I had a canard de barbarie, a domesticated duck variety created in the United States from wild duck.)
- Six oranges
- Three carrots
- Two onions
- One stick of celery
- A bay leave
- 250 grammes of sugar
- Half a litre of vinegar
- Half a litre of chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- A glass of Cointreau (or Grand Marnier)
- Peel and cut the onions, carrots and celery in chunks (about 0.5 cm).
- Preheat the oven to 175 °C.
- Take an oven proof pan or dish, sprinkle the vegetables on the bottom, lay the duck on top, add the bay leaf. Close the lid and put in the oven for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel one orange and try to cut ‘naked’ parts – you remove inner white skin until the fruit flesh is apparent, and then separate the parts by cutting inside the membranes. If it is too complicated, just slice it in parts.
- Squeeze the other oranges for juice.
- Make the stock or put a cube or sachet in boiling water.
- Towards the end of the oven cooking period, put the vinegar in a pan, add the sugar, dissolve with a fork or whisk and heat until boiling point. Keep it warm but not boiling.
- Take the lid from the pan or dish with the duck and brown the duck by turning it five minutes per side.
- Take the pan from the oven, take out the duck and set aside with an aluminium foil cover (the duck will leak fat while waiting).
- In the pan, you will have the vegetables floating in a lot of fat. Scoop off the vegetables, discard the bay leaf, pour the fat in a container.
- Put the pan, or another large pan, on the heat. Add two to three tablespoons of the fat and add the vegetables and fry them at high heat until they smoke. Stir regularly with a spoon.
- Add the warm stock and mix.
- Add the orange juice to the vinegar and sugar combination and stir. Add the cointreau. Join the vinegar preparation with the sauce of vegetables and stock and reduce to about a quarter litre.
- Towards the end, taste and add pepper and salt. If you do not like the sweet/sour balance and either extra orange juice or sugar for sweet or vinegar for sour.
- Pass the sauce through a sieve.
- Carve the duck, put on a serving plate, add the sauce and dispose the orange parts around the duck.