Today’s Pan-Seared Duck Breasts with Orange-Fennel Salsa is a new way to look at the classic Duck a l’Orange. A luscious orange sauce is paired with a fresh and sassy citrus salsa that cuts the richness and adds a bright acidity to the plate. You wind up with a lighter, refreshing version perfect for special occasions all year long.
This recipe combines two techniques to cook the duck, pan-searing and braising. Searing the breast skin-side down gives it a beautiful deep golden color, renders the fat and gives you perfectly crisp skin. Then flip the duck over, add liquid and braise until it is finished cooking. It works perfectly every time!
A great bonus is that you get extra duck fat to use to fry potatoes – there is nothing better on the planet! 🙂
You cook duck breasts more like beef than poultry – you want to serve them medium to medium-rare for tender and moist meat. If you overcook it, it gets really tough and chewy. The best way to know when it is ready is to use an instant read thermometer. I don’t know what I did before I had one!
I know people who say they don’t like duck. I think they were served duck that wasn’t properly cooked. Unless you are out in the wild shooting your own or have a hunter in the family, the ducks today are raised like chickens and are mild flavored – not gamey at all. Duck has all the richness of beef and is a healthy choice. They are also packed with protein, zinc, selenium, and vitamins B-5 and B-12. I love it when delicious food is also good for us!
Pan sauces are my favorites because they utilize the delicious flavors you’ve developed during searing and sautéing, turning them into remarkable sauces to serve with proteins. You can change the seasonings and liquids to create a myriad of flavors.
I’ll be honest, fennel isn’t my favorite vegetable (I don’t like the taste of licorice), but when it is paired with fresh oranges, I could eat it all day. This chilled and refreshing salsa is a beautiful counterpoint to the hot, savory and luscious duck. Adding a green vegetable gives you a healthy and complete dinner that is elegant enough for any special occasion.
Make the salsa first so it has time to macerate and the flavors can bloom while you prepare the duck and sauce. You can make it up to a day ahead, saving you time on party day. Be sure to bring it out of refrigerator to warm up when you start making the duck and everything will be at the right temperature when you are ready to serve.
When you want a little sprinkling of green on the top of foods for garnishing, add a pinch of chopped parsley or cilantro. And any time you want to kick up the heat, a pinch of chile pepper flakes is just the ticket.
The Artist and I really enjoyed our dinner. Rich, decadent and such a treat, this Pan-Seared Duck with Orange-Fennel Salsa is a winner. I hope you will make it for an upcoming special occasion meal!
Key Ingredients for Orange-Fennel Salsa with Orange Vinaigrette:
- Oranges, fennel, and red onion
- Cilantro or parsley and red pepper flakes
- Orange zest and fresh orange juice
- Vinegar, xanthan gum (optional), and olive oil
One of the challenges of cooking dinner is having everything ready at the same time and served piping hot. Set out all of your dinner plates, set the table, make the orange-fennel salsa and have everything ready to go before you start cooking the duck.
How to make Orange-Fennel Salsa with Orange Vinaigrette:
- Chop the oranges, fennel, and red onion; place in a large bowl
- Whisk together the vinaigrette; taste and adjust seasonings
- Add the pepper flakes and cilantro to the oranges and fennel
- Dress the salad with some of the dressing, tossing to distribute everything; cover and refrigerate about an hour then set out at room temperature about 30 minutes before serving
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Key Ingredients for Pan-Seared Duck with Orange Sauce:
- Freshly squeezed orange juice
- Chicken stock and white wine
- Cilantro, parsley, black pepper
- Duck breasts
One of the challenges of cooking dinner is having everything ready at the same time and served piping hot. Set out all of your dinner plates, set the table and have all your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking the duck.
How to make Pan-Seared Duck with Orange Sauce:
- Score the fat on the top of the breasts in a diamond pattern
- Sear the duck breasts in a hot skillet, rendering the fat and crisping the skin
- Add the shallots and orange sauce ingredients and braise the duck until done; remove duck and reduce the sauce
- Slice the duck and place slices on plates; top with some of the pan orange sauce and garnish with some of the Orange-Fennel Salsa (recipe above)
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This dish is naturally gluten-free!
- 3 navel or blood oranges, washed and patted dry
- 1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced or chopped very finely
- 3 tsp chopped cilantro or parsley
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the orange vinaigrette (below)
- Freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt
- 2 tsp finely grated orange zest (from the oranges above)
- 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (some from oranges above)
- 1 tbsp champagne, white wine, or sherry vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch xanthan gum (optional; helps keep dressing emulsified)
- 4 tbsp organic olive oil
- Prepare the Oranges: Zest one of the oranges and set the zest aside to use in the vinaigrette. Using a very sharp knife, cut the ends off the oranges, then following the curve of the fruit, slice the peel and all the white off the orange. Cut the peeled oranges into small chunks. Reserve any accumulated juice for the vinaigrette.
- Make theVinaigrette: In a bowl, combine the
zest, juice, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and let stand for 15 minutes to dissolve the salt and infuse the flavors. Whisk in the xanthan and oil and season with a little pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Because the sweetness of oranges varies, the balance may be off; add more vinegar or oil as needed. Cover and store dressing in the refrigerator.
- Assemble the Salsa: Place the orange chunks in a deep bowl. Add the fennel, onions, pepper flakes, and cilantro. Toss gently with enough vinaigrette to coat lightly, add a couple pinches of black pepper and a pinch of salt. Toss gently again, taste and adjust seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate. It is best if you let the salsa sit for about an hour for the flavors to bloom and meld. Can be made a day in advance.
- Bring out of refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to warm up slightly.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 206mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 2gSugar: 9gProtein: 1g
- 1-1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
- 1 tsp chopped cilantro *
- 1 tsp chopped parsley
Pan-Seared Duck Breasts
- 2 duck breasts
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced
- Orange-Fennel Salsa, recipe above
- Combine the Orange Sauce Ingredients: In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the juice, stock, and wine. Whisk in the cilantro and parsley. Set beside the stove.
- Prep the Duck Breasts: Using a very sharp knife, score the fat cap of each breast in a diamond pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat beneath. Sprinkle both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook the Duck Breasts: Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin-side down. Reduce the heat to medium and cook without moving until the fat has rendered (melted) and the skin is golden brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Use tongs to flip the breasts over and cook the meat side for a couple of minutes. Transfer the duck to a plate. Spoon all but about 2 tbsp of the fat into a bowl. **
- Return the duck to the pan, skin-side up. Sprinkle the shallots around the edges of the pan and cook for 1 minute, stirring them often. Add the orange sauce ingredients to the pan. Continue cooking the duck, keeping the sauce at a low boil until the duck registers 135°F in the center on an instant read thermometer, about 5 to 7 minutes. Timing will depend on the size of the breasts. Remove the duck from the pan and place on a clean plate; tent with foil to rest. The duck will finish cooking and come up to about 140°F while resting.
- Increase the heat in the pan and boil the sauce, reducing it until syrupy. If you take it too far, add a little more orange juice, whisk in and it should be perfect.
- Serve the Duck: Slice each duck breast crosswise and fan the slices out on the plates. Place 4 to 5 slices on each serving plate, drizzle with a little orange sauce and serve with the Orange-Fennel Salsa alongside. Depending on the size of the duck breasts, this recipe will serve up to four people.
* If you don't like cilantro, you can use all parsley
** Reserve the duck fat to use for frying other foods such as potatoes - it is heavenly! Store in an airtight container in the freezer up to 3 months.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 384Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 165mgSodium: 246mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 2gSugar: 17gProtein: 32g
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This post was first shared in Nov 2014. The article was updated in 2020.