Duck is one of my favorite foods. No matter how you make it it's just plain scrumptious.
I'm a fan of whole slow-roasted duck,. But that's hardly a dish to dash off most weeknights. Duck breasts, however, are a very different story.
Why? There's the simplicity. They're so delicious all by themselves, they require almost no dressing up. There are the health aspects. Eaten without the skin, duck breasts are as lean as white meat chicken or turkey. They also contain more iron per serving than even some cuts of beef. There's also the ease. Duck breasts can be prepared in 15 to 20 minutes.
Duck often is sauced with fruit. A classic of French cuisine, canard a l'orange (duck with orange sauce) employs bitter oranges, which are not readily available in this country.
So for this recipe, I added orange slices to the juice in the sauce. The sherry wine vinegar and Dijon mustard offset the sweetness.
One whole duck breast can feed two to three people. After it is cooked, while it rests, the duck will give off a delicious liquid that you can add to the sauce or pour over the plain sliced duck breast.
Whether or not you end up eating the skin, I recommend cooking the breasts with the skin still on, which guarantees better flavor and prevents the breasts from drying out.
By the way, here's something counterintuitive but true: Duck fat has properties similar to olive oil, with a good combination of poly- and monounsaturated fats. Duck contains some saturated fat as well, so you don't want to go duck fat wild. But it's so flavorful that a little goes a long way. You might want to scoop up the duck fat generated by the making of this recipe and pop it into the freezer for future use.
Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and stars in PBS's "Sara's Weeknight Meals."