Everything’s ducky—OK, we can pretend

In the deep, dark winter of our discontent, with tea like an old friend, it’s time to splurge a bit on a tea-sauced duck breast for dinner. Available at good markets, even if frozen, duck breast delivers the delicious duck flavor in a fraction of the time it would take to roast a whole duck. You can cook it safely to 155 degrees F. for a pink, still-moist interior. But apart from the duck’s tender richness, it’s the tea in the sauce that makes this a dish to celebrate. A good bottle of red wine and a fresh green salad will round out the dinner. A sprinkling of wild rice and some cubed and roasted root vegetables such as carrots and turnips on the plate couldn’t hurt.

Here’s how I do the Smoky Tea-Sauced Duck with Haunting Flavors

To serve 2

  • 1-1/2 c. brewed lapsang souchong or other favorite Chinese black tea (use 1 T. tea and 1-1/2 c. good quality water at 212-degree F.
  • 2 medium sized duck breasts, each weighing about 8 ounces (if you can only get a large one, weighing about 10-12 ounces, that will serve 2 moderately)
  • 1 large brightly colored juicy orange or 2-3 small tangerines, peeled, reserve the peel, and cut it into thin strips to maximize the extraction of the volatile oils which will flavor the sauce
Tea-Sauced Duck With Haunting Flavors - Photo of duck in a skillet
  • Salt and black pepper (go generous on the black pepper)
  • ¼ t. each of ground cloves, star anise, allspice, and cinnamon, combined in a small bowl
  • Olive oil to lightly coat the sauté pan
  • 1 T. sweet unsalted butter
  1. Heat dinner plates that you intend to use in a slightly warmed oven.
  2. Brew the tea to your taste with orange or tangerine peel and let stand. Remove and discard the peel and reserve the tea. Juice the fruit, pour through a sieve, and reserve.
  3. With a sharp knife, cut a cross hatching in the skin, going one direction on the diagonal, and then crossing it in the other direction, to yield roughly diamond-shaped cuts. Then season the duck breast generously on both sides with salt, freshly cracked pepper, and rub in the mixture of spices. Let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes while you gather the remaining short list of ingredients. 
  4. Coat the bottom of a heavy sauté pan or cast-iron skillet with a thin film of the oil and heat the pan to medium-high heat. Place the duck breast skin side down into the pan, and cook approximately 5 minutes, until it browns well. Check frequently to be sure it is not burning (some of the fat will render out during the process).  Turn the duck breast once after browning the skin well and continue cooking until it registers 155 degrees F. on an instant read (preferably) or another thermometer.  When done, remove from the pan and place on a plate, covered to keep the duck breast warm while you make the sauce. (It’s better to slightly undercook the duck as its temperature will continue to rise as it sits). 
  5. Pour out excess fat in the pan and then add the brewed tea and orange or tangerine juice and any duck juices that have accumulated on the plate. Cook over high heat to reduce the liquid until it is of coating consistency. Do not burn the liquid by over-evaporating it. Check by dipping a teaspoon into the liquid and if it coats the spoon lightly, then it is done. Add the butter and stir in to melt and blend. Taste for salt and add if needed. 
  6. Slice the duck breast on an angle, through its now somewhat crisped skin, cutting across its width.  garnish with some cooked wild rice or roasted root vegetable, as desired. Divide the pan sauce over each portion of the duck. Garnish with a scattering of cooked wild rice and/or roasted root vegetables, as desired.  Serve immediately and enjoy with a glass or two of a nice smoky red wine (Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah would be my choices).

Photo “Sizzling Duck in a Pan” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License to the photographer “Digital Wallpapers” and is being posted unaltered (source)