Spiced Duck Breasts with Mandarin Oranges and Dates
I’ll never forget the lecture and meticulous demonstration our instructor gave on the “proper” way to cook a duck breast during the last week of culinary labs before my fellow classmates and I were turned loose to operate our school’s restaurant. With all the pomp and circumstance afforded a chef in a 2-foot-high toque, he went through a completely overwhelming tutorial devised to scare us into thinking duck breast is too challenging for the average human to cook.While the method I learned in culinary school did deliver a beautiful medium-rare breast with a crisp, golden brown crust, achieving that same outcome doesn’t have to be so complicated or intimidating. Pan-searing duck breast, it turns out, is actually a relatively simple process, as long as you follow a few key steps.It’s important to score the skin and fat with a sharp knife before cooking the duck breast. Scoring provides more surface area for the fat to render so the skin crisps and develops a gorgeous deep golden color and crisp texture. It’s also key to let the breast come to room temperature and to start cooking the breast skin side down in a cold pan, both of which help the fat render at just the right pace.Once the fat is mostly rendered and that enviable crust forms, I flip the breast to finish cooking the meat to medium-rare briefly on the other side. What’s left in the pan after the meat is set aside is liquid gold—in the form of duck fat. In this recipe, you’ll use that liquid gold to finish fluffy couscous that’s steamed with orange juice and turmeric, then tossed with dates, almonds and fresh herbs. Consider this a Moroccan twist on duck a l’orange. The duck is seasoned with ras el hanout, a bold spice blend that complements the full-flavored meat. Duck breast may not be your typical weeknight fare, but with this recipe it can be.I often think of a bold yet refined Bordeaux for pairing with duck, but here the Moroccan spices seem to lean toward a more rustic, wild red. I poured an aged Tempranillo from Spain’s Ribera del Duero region—understudy to the more celebrated Rioja—and found the concentrated red-fruit notes balanced by the decent acidity of wines from this region partner nicely.