Seared Duck Breast with Caramelized Orange Butter

Seared duck breast with a most buttery sauce.
Seared duck breast with a most buttery sauce.

Southern grit is definitely what Chef Kelsey Barnard Clark exhibited when she triumphed against a tough field on “Top Chef” season 16 and also snagged “Fan Favorite” honors.

It’s also the apt title of her cookbook. “Southern Grit: 100+ Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Cook” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy, that embodies Barnard Clark’s Alabama roots and Southern charm. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, she went on to work at Cafe Boulud and Dovetail, both in New York before returning to Alabama to start a catering company and eatery, KBC.

The more than 100 recipes in this book are definitely not aimed at those counting calories. Be fair-warned that here is an eye-popping abundance of butter and mayonnaise used throughout. The homey dishes include the likes of “Squash Casserole,” “Smoked Gouda Grits with Redeye Gravy,” “Creole Tomato Gravy Shrimp,” and “Golf Cart Cinnamon Rolls.”

Case in point: “Seared Duck Breast with Caramelized Orange Butter.” The easy sauce is made with an entire stick of butter. For two servings. Oh, my!

Duck breasts are scored then placed skin-side down in a cold, dry skillet before the heat is turned on to cook slowly to render the fat.

Once the duck is cooked, you melt the butter in the same pan with the rendered duck fat. Then, stir in some onions, a splash of orange juice, orange segments, and a sprig of thyme. The orange segments will break down so that you’re left more with pulp rather than actual pieces of orange in the sauce, but that’s okay.

As you can tell from my photos, you end up with a lot of sauce. Maybe too much, I think, given how rich it tastes. If I made this again, I think I would either cut the sauce in half (thus, shaving off half a cube of butter, too) or make two more duck breasts so that you have four servings for the same amount of sauce.

There's really enough sauce for four servings, so either make four duck breasts or cut the sauce amount in half.
There’s really enough sauce for four servings, so either make four duck breasts or cut the sauce amount in half.

The duck is tender with slightly crisp skin, all in a very buttery sauce with a sunshine-y citrus accent.

Think of it as a simplified version of the French classic, duck a la orange.

Seared Duck Breast with Caramelized Orange Butter

(Serves 2 to 4)

2 to 4 duck breasts, scored with four cuts 1/4–inch inch deep at an angle, patted dry (see explanation in text above)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup orange segments

1/4 cup orange juice

1 sprig thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Evenly sprinkle salt on both sides of the duck and set aside.

In a cold, dry cast iron skillet, place duck skin-side down. Turn the heat to medium-low and let the fat render for exactly 20 minutes. Flip and cook the other side of the duck for 5 minutes. Place the duck, skin-side up, on the prepared pan and roast in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until the duck is firm to the touch with a slight give. Duck should not feel completely firm but more like a wet sponge.

In the skillet where the duck was seared, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the orange segments, orange juice, sprig of thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, then immediately turn down the heat to low. Simmer, stirring frequently, allowing the liquid to reduce to a sauce, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it has reached a consistency where it can thinly coat the back of a spoon. Set aside.

Remove the duck from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes, and slice each breast at a 45-degree angle into 1/4-inch thick strips. Properly cooked duck should resemble medium-rare steak. If the duck is still very rare, pop it back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes. Arrange slices in a fan-like pattern and spoon the orange butter sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

Adapted from “Southern Grit” by Kelsey Barnard Clark

More Duck Recipes to Enjoy: Duck Meatloaf (Or Burgers)

And: Duck You Can Eat With A Spoon by Paula Wolfert

And: Honey & Sriracha-Glazed Duck Skewers

And: Red Wine-Braised Duck Legs with Dried Plums

And: Tea-Smoked Duck with Hoisin Barbecue Sauce by Steven Raichlen

And: Whole Roasted Duck with Wine-Braised Apples

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