By Caleb Talley | Photography by Jamison Mosley
For some Arkansans, the best thing about November isn’t the turkey and dressing or family fellowship. It’s duck season. And as home to the duck capital of the world – Stuttgart – it’s no wonder Arkansans get into a bit of a tizzy as opening day, Nov. 17, approaches.
Having a brother who spends much of the fall and winter months guiding for businessmen who come from across the country to hunt the flooded timbers of the Arkansas Delta, my family is often flush with duck. And that’s because most of the folks who have spent big bucks to bag their limit don’t want anything to do with their birds once the hunt is over.
Having enjoyed the fruits of the hunt for most of my life, I was surprised to find that a whole lot of people don’t know what to do with their ducks once they get them home. And that’s a shame. Because if prepared properly, wild duck makes for an exceptional meal. And that’s why we’ve put some of the best duck recipes in Arkansas together in one place.
The following recipes have been passed down and perfected, some crafted by the finest chefs in Arkansas. And all of them have been tested and approved.
“Canard a l’orange is a French cuisine classic. When I was 10 years old, I was invited to one of my cousin’s first communion, and duck a l’orange was served at the dinner. It was an awakening for me and my taste buds. I surprised my parents when I asked for a second serving. At that time, I was a picky eater. I like to say that this dish is one of the reasons that I became a chef. While cooking a duck seems hard, it is actually pretty easy. The sauce combines the sweetness of the orange juice and sugar with the acidity of the vinegar to complement the duck meat.” – Chef André Poirot
• 1 Whole duck – (5-pound average)
• Salt and pepper – to season
• 2 Oranges, medium-sized – plus one for segments (optional)
• 1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
• 3 tablespoons Red wine vinegar
• 1 cup Chicken stock or demi-glace
• 1/3 cup White wine
• 2 tablespoons Cornstarch
• 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur
• 2 tablespoons Butter, softened
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.Bring the duck to room temperature, about 30 minutes out of the refrigerator. Wash the duck with cold water; pat it dry with paper towels. Tuck the wings under the body.
2. Prick the duck skin all over with a skewer or knife tip. Trim any excess fat. Season the duck liberally inside and outside with salt and pepper.
3. Set the duck on a rack on a roasting pan. Place in the oven and roast for about 15 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350°F.Baste with pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes, Roast until the duck is cooked through (165 degrees) measures. This should take anywhere from 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4. While your duck is roasting, prepare the sauce. Zest the oranges (about 1 tablespoon). Squeeze the juice from the oranges (1/2 cup). Set aside.
5. Make the gastrique. Add the sugar and vinegar to a medium-sized saucepan. Set at medium-low heat and cook until the sugar syrup begins to turn golden brown. Immediately remove the saucepan from heat and carefully stir in the reserved orange juice to stop the cooking.
6. Return the saucepan to heat and add the demi-glace or chicken stock. Whisk until the caramelized sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the reserved orange zest. Reserve on side
7. When the duck is cooked, let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the fat from the roasting pan and deglaze with the wine. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium flame and bring the wine and pan juices to a boil, scraping up any bits of drippings off the pan. Strain the pan juices through a sieve and into the sauce base.
8. Bring the sauce back to a simmer over low heat. Stir the cornstarch and Grand Marnier together. Whisk the slurry into the simmering sauce to thicken it. Remove the sauce from heat and slowly whisk in the butter to enrich the sauce.
9. Carve the duck and place it on a serving platter. Nappe with sauce and garnish with orange segments.
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