I learned how to make this dish when I was a student at the French Culinary Institute (which is now called The International Culinary Center). We used orange juice and candied orange zest to create a quicker and easier version of the classic French dish duck a l’orange.
A gastrique is a sweet and sour brown sauce made from vinegar and caramelized sugar. It can be made with almost any type of fruit or berry. I used raspberries the first time I made it for Janine. It was one of the first meals I cooked for her. We spent the day apple picking in New York’s Hudson Valley region. A farm next to the orchard advertised “Pick Your Own Raspberries”. I pulled in and we foraged up a couple of pints.
On the ride home, Janine kept asking what I was going to make with them. I didn’t really know until we stopped off at our local supermarket. My initial thought was to head down the baking aisle. Then I saw duck breasts in the meat case. Janine was a little surprised when I placed two in our basket. I told her pan seared duck breast with raspberry gastrique was on the menu. She continued her line of questioning until the finished dish was set before her.
That was several years ago. Janine doesn’t really ask what I’m making any more. She just goes with the flow.
Pan Seared Duck Breast with Pomegranate Gastrique –
Be careful not to burn the sugar when it cooks with the vinegar. It can go from dark brown to burnt in a few seconds. Adding the fruit juice will stop the caramelization process.
The duck breasts are placed in a cold pan and seared slowly over low heat. This will ensure most of the fat renders off before the skin burns. Don’t worry about the breasts sticking to the pan. Their high fat content will prevent this from happening.
- Two boneless Duck Breasts (about 1 pound each)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup champagne vinegar
- 1 cup (eight ounces) of pomegranate juice
- 1 ½ cups (12 ounces) of meat stock (duck is the best choice but veal, beef or chicken stock will all suffice)
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot
- 2 teaspoons water
- 1 – 2 tablespoons of butter (if needed)
- Salt (if needed)
- ¼ cup of pomegranate seeds
To make the gastrique –
Place sugar and vinegar in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Stir frequently. Continue to simmer until vinegar has reduced and sugar has turned dark brown and syrupy.
Add pomegranate juice. Stir to combine. Bring juice-sugar mixture to a steady simmer over medium-low heat. Continue simmering until mixture has reduced to about one half cup.
Add the stock. Stir to combine. Return sauce to a steady simmer. Continue simmering sauce until it has reduced to about 1 cup.
Mix arrowroot and water together in a small bowl. Stir into sauce. Continue simmering until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Taste sauce. Add salt if needed. Stir in one or two tablespoons of butter if sauce is too acidic or lacks richness.
Keep warm until duck breasts are cooked.
To prepare duck breasts –
Preheat oven to 385 degrees.
Cut slits through the duck skin and fat in a crisscross pattern. The slits should cut all the way through the fat but not extent into the meat.
Season duck breasts with salt and pepper.
Place breasts in a large frying pan skin side down. Place pan over low heat.
Pour off fat into a separate bowl as it renders. Try not to let too much fat collect in pan.
Continue searing over low heat and pouring off fat until skin is brown and crispy. When most of the fat has rendered, turn breasts skin side up. Place pan in preheated oven.
Roast the duck breasts until the desired temperature is achieved (145 degrees for medium rare, 160 degrees for well done).
Remove duck from oven. Allow to rest for 10 – 15 minutes before serving.
To Serve –
Slice duck breasts across the grain. Fan slices out on a plate. Spoon the gastrique around duck slices. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top.