Duckling à la Montmorency, as it is sometimes called, is a
classic of French cuisine. You can make the sauce with both sweet and tart
cherry varieties, or both fresh and canned fruit. Fresh are obviously better,
but canned pitted cherries are more convenient, but be sure to use canned
fruit, not the thick pie filling that also comes in cans. Adjust the sugar to
The key to success is getting the cooking of the duck
breasts exactly as you like them. Since they come in different sizes, and,
sometimes, of varying quality, this takes a bit of practice and experimentation
in your own kitchen. But keep notes of what you do at each stage, and vary this
recipe accordingly so that you get perfect duck breasts every time.
4 duck breasts
400 gm of fresh red cherries, or canned
equivalent; halved or left whole (or some of each)
1–2 dessertspoons of clear honey
juice of 1 orange, plus 4 slivers of zest
200ml red wine, or, if you used canned cherries,
then you can substitute the syrup
sprig of thyme (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp cornflour or arrowroot
If using fresh cherries, stem and rinse them under cold
running water, then drain. Pit the cherries with a cherry stoner. If using
canned cherries, drain, rinse, and drain again. Set the cherries aside.
Score the fat of the duck breasts at 1.5cm
intervals, cutting completely through to the meat, but no further. Salt
generously with sea salt, and gently rub in.
Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in a cold
pan – it must be cold – and place over a medium heat.
Gradually, as the pans warms up, the duck
breasts will release fat. Once about a tablespoon has been released, spoon this
out into a saucepan. As more fat is released, spoon this into a bowl and set
aside to be used on some future occasions for roasting potatoes, for example. [Don't throw it away; in fact, if you trimmed duck fat
from the breasts in the first place, you can render these down in a pan and
reserve for later use.]
Cook the duck breasts until the skin takes on a
golden colour and starts to crisp, but don't go poking the duck around too
much; just lift it gently with tongues to check on how it's cooking.
When the duck breasts have a nice colour, flip
them over, still on a medium heat, and cook for a further 2–3 minutes or so, and
then place them and the pan into the over to cook for a further 5–10 minutes,
depending on how well cooked you like your duck breasts. [The first time you prepare this dish, you might want to
check on the duck breasts as they cook by slicing into one of them to see how
they are doing. Then adjust the cooking time to your own taste.]
Once the duck breasts are done, remove them from
the pan and place them in a warm dish and cover with foil or a tea towel to
Prepare the cherry sauce
Now set the pan with the duck fat over a gentle
heat and add the cherries, turning them to coat them in the fat.
Cook for 3 minutes or so, and then add the
honey, the orange juice and zest, the red wine, the thyme (if using) and 2 or 3
grinds of black pepper.
Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer
for 10 minutes.
Add the cornflour mixed with a small amount of
water at this stage, to thicken the cherry sauce.
Slice the duck breasts along the scored lines
you made earlier, and arrange on plates. Spoon over the cherry sauce, having
removed the thyme, ensuring that each plate has some of the orange zest.
Serve with gratin
dauphinois or pommes boulangère.
Add a tbsp of kirsch to the sauce, but don't overdo it, or
add 2-3 tbsps of port (but not both!)