Duck meatballs are a lot of fun. As a matter of fact, they are more fun than a whole roasted bird. Duck meatballs are a blank canvas for endless kitchen imagination: duck meatballs with scallions and red currant jelly; in port wine sauce; Peking duck meatballs with Szechuan peppercorn and other Asian-inspired spices; duck meatballs à l’orange. Remember duck à l’orange? The bourgeois dish from the 60s that embodied French food for all mankind outside France for a long time and has now disappeared from the menus in most French restaurants. Even in New York City—the kingdom of everything, where one can find practically anything in the world—you have to scout, and I mean like really, really scout to find a plate of canard à l'orange. Which is too bad, because it is a mighty good dish. And a mighty good inspiration for a plate of duck meatballs. —QueenSashy
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: QueenSashy is a James Beard Award-winning blogger (and scientist!) who lives in New York.
WHAT: The classic duck à l'orange, reimagined as meatballs.
HOW: Make spiced meatballs out of duck breast and bake; meanwhile, stir together the signature orangey sauce.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Just like in the the old-school, whole-bird version, orange and duck sing together. The sauce (thick, tangy, and sweet) and meatballs (caramelized on the outside, spicy and gamey on the inside) pair perfectly, and the duck meat holds up well to the spices it's seasoned with—and the strong, thick sauce.
4 to 6
For the meatballs:
About 1 pound, 6 ounces raw duck breast and dark meat (i.e. the meat from one duck)
large garlic clove, minced
3 to 4 tablespoons
chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the sauce:
fresh orange juice
white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar
Grind the duck meat coarsely or chop by hand (you want the consistency of sausage meat). Set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the meatball mixture.
Make the meatball mixture: In a small sauté pan set over medium heat, heat the sunflower oil. Add the garlic, coriander, and cumin and cook for about 2 minutes, until garlic and spices become fragrant. Add the scallions and allow to sweat until the scallion begins to soften. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, breadcrumbs, thyme, and cooled scallion mixture. Set aside.
Combine the breadcrumb mixture with the duck meat. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands. Leave the mixture in the fridge for about 1 hour or 2 (or in the freezer for about 20 minutes) to firm up.
Preheat the oven to 350° F convection (375° F regular bake). Lightly oil a rimmed baking pan. Roll the meat mixture in your hands into golfball-sized meatballs and space them out evenly onto the baking pan. Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. (Do not over-bake, as the meatballs will become dry.)
While the meatballs are in the oven, begin to make the sauce. Place the sugar in a small, dry saucepan over moderate heat. Cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar melts into a deep golden caramel. Add the orange juice, vinegar, and salt. Be careful, as the mixture will bubble vigorously. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel is completely dissolved. Remove syrup from the heat.
Remove the meatballs from the oven, then remove them from the pan and set them aside in a medium bowl. Pour the wine and broth into the pan to deglaze. Pour the pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a small saucepan. You should have about 2/3 cup of liquid.
In a small bowl, stir together the butter and flour to form a beurre manié (a soft dough that is equal parts butter and flour). Use your fingers or fork to form a smooth paste. Divide the paste into several small balls. Over medium-low heat, bring the pan juices to a simmer and slowly add the balls of beurre manié, one ball at time, while whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the orange syrup and zest and continue to simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and, with a fork or tweezers, take the orange peel slices out. (Keep the sauce warm until ready to serve.)
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.