Sous vide duck breasts with a charred orange & Cointreau sauce

Sous vide duck with charred orange title © J Horak-Druiff 2012


Christmas traditions – they’re a funny old lot, aren’t they?  For a start, how did the idea of a snowy Christmas with frost on the windows and northern hemisphere pine trees become so pervasive that you see shops in countries like my native South Africa (where Christmas falls in the middle of summer) giving their display windows a spray of mock “snow” and hang icicles everywhere? And in the centuries since Europeans brought the idea of Christmas to the southern tip of Africa you’d think we might have come up with an alternative and more native tree to use as a Christmas tree (a baobab, maybe?). Or maybe let our Santas dress in slightly more summery attire. But no. Every year we pretend to have Christmas in the middle of winter while the mercury is hitting 30 degrees Celsius outside.  It makes no sense!

Then again, quite a few other countries have equally nonsensical ideas:  the English and their coins baked into Christmas pudding, waiting to fracture an unsuspecting tooth; the citizens of Caracas, Venezuela, who attend morning church services between 16 and 24 December on roller skates; the Japanese who prefer KFC for their Christmas dinner (you can even book tables at KFC restaurants for the occasion!); or the Catalonians with their “pooping log” that “poops” sweets and candies on Christmas eve before being burnt in the fireplace.



But here’s one that you may not be familiar with:  every year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, From all of Us to All of You  (or  Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul –  “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas” – in Swedish). Kalle Anka has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time on Sweden’s main public-television channel on Christmas Eve since 1959 and consists of  Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s such as some of the Silly Symphonies and clips from films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and The Jungle Book.   The programme remains pretty constant year on year apart from a live introduction by a host and the annual addition of one new clip from the latest Disney-produced movie.  Kalle Anka is typically one of the three most popular television events of the year, with between 40 and 50 percent of the country tuning in to watch. The only explanation offered for the show’s special place in the hearts of Swedes is the fact that the show first aired in 1959, when Swedes were just starting to own televisions and the novelty value was huge.  For many years,  Christmas was also the only time when Swedes could see Disney animation on television. The annual airing has become no less a fixture of Swedish Christmas tradition than the Queen’s Christmas message is here in the UK – a comforting constant in a rapidly changing world.




Much as I love Sweden, I do not think that the annual watching of Donald Duck and his friends is something in which I would voluntarily get involved.  You see, as far as I am concerned the main role that duck should play at Christmas is as the chief ingredient in the menu, not as the star of the entertainment!  For celebratory meals I have in the past cooked Nigel Slater’s fantastic whole roast duck with pancetta and potatoes and I was on the verge of repeating that last weekend when I remembered that I had a new toy to play with: my Sous Vide Supreme machine! For those of you who missed my detailed post on what sous vide cooking entails, it denotes a method of cooking where food is sealed in airtight plastic bags and cooked in a water bath at a carefully regulated constant temperature, for unusually long times and at temperatures much lower than are normally used for cooking.  It’s a great technique for making sure that bulky or awkward-shaped cuts of meat get cooked evenly all the way through (something you struggle to do with conventional cooking) and it works wonders on cheap cuts of meat, transforming them over time into something quite sublime.  But is it also a great method to use for cooking duck breasts that normally shrink to a fraction of their original size during cooking as the fat cooks out.  With sous vide cooking, all the moisture stays in pouch and some of the fat starts rendering out into the meat during the cooking process, meaning that the meat does not dry out and the breasts do not shrink.  Of course, one of the limitations of sous vide cooking is that the meat also does not brown, but a couple of minutes in a hot pan at the end of the cooking process sorts this out.  I wanted to give my duck breasts a slightly spicy yet Christmassy flavour, hence the Chinese 5-spice mix which is packed with the flavours of star anise and cloves.  The sauce is partly a take on the retro classic duck l’orange, and partly inspired by the charred orange and rum flavour combination mentioned in the 2013 McCormick Flavor Forecast which I recently previewed. The combination is as delicious as it is visually appealing.  I served my duck breasts on a sweet potato mash, also seasoned with a bit of Chinese 5-spice, with roasted green beans tossed in soy sauce and sesame seeds on the side.  And what I should have done was make a sound recording of the moans of pleasure that guests made as they took their first mouthfuls – the best endorsement a chef can hope for.  This would make a fantastic alternative to a roast for your Christmas meal, especially if you are looking for something a little different this year.

Other bloggers cooking poultry sous vide include:





DISCLOSURE:  I received the sous vide machine and vacuum sealer for free from Sous Vide Supreme for review purposes. 


4.6 from 5 reviews
Sous vide duck breasts with a charred orange & Cointreau sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This sophisticated take on duck breasts is easy to make and spectacular to serve - definitely a possibility for an alternative Christmas meal.
Recipe type: Main, Entree
Cuisine: French
Serves: 6
  • 6 duck breasts, about 150g each
  • Chinese 5-spice
  • 1 large orange, sliced into 6 slices
  • a knob of butter (for frying)
  • golden caster sugar (for frying)
  • 1 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ cup Cointreau
  • ⅓ cup orange juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp good quality chicken stock powder
  1. Fill the sous vide machine and set it to pre-heat to 56.5 Celsius. Remove all packaging from the duck breasts and pat dry. Season generously with Chinese 5-spice mix (or just salt and pepper if you prefer). Vacuum seal the breasts in the suitable sous vide plastic pouches on full vacuum. Do not overcrowd the plastic pouches - make sure that the breasts each have clear space around them so as to minimise the risk of uneven cooking.
  2. Once the water reaches the correct temperature, place the sealed vacuum pouches into the water bath and cook for at least 45 minutes but up to 4 hours (mine probably had about 3.5 hours). Once you are ready to brown the breasts, remove them from the vacuum bags and dry thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels.
  3. Place the breasts skin side-down in heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan over high heat - use a splatter screen because they are going to sizzle and spit! Fry on high for about 2 minutes, then reduce the heat and continue to brown. Use a spatula to press the breasts down from time to time - this will ensure that the skin crisps up well. When the skin sides are golden brown and crisp, flip each breast over and cook the second side for 30 seconds or so, just to get it hot. Transfer the breasts to plate lined with paper towels and allow to rest for 5 minutes while you make the sauce.
  4. For the orange slices, heat a knob of butter over medium high heat in a frying pan. Make a little mound of golden caster sugar on a plate and dredge both sides of each orange slice in it. Place the orange slices in the melted butter and cook over medium high heat until starting to char slightly; then turn over and repeat on the other side. When charred enough, remove from the pan and set aside.
  5. For the sauce, in a clean saucepan mix the sugar and the cornstarch together – use a larger one than the ingredients indicate as the sauce will bubble up. Over medium heat, add all the remaining ingredients and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Allow the mixture to boil and thicken for 5-10 minutes and pour over each duck breast, after garnishing with a slice of charred orange.


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  1. says

    wow I love all the alternate traditions. I must know more about roller skates i Venezuella… what the? I would love a sous vide machine, you duck looks soooo good. Even better though are beans in soy and a touch of five spice in the sweet potato….oh yes inspired

    • Jeanne says

      I know – seriously, roller skates? I was pretty astonished by the Japanese KFC obsession too… The power of marketing! I will devote a post to those beans, they were that goooooood!

  2. says

    I love to read about all these traditions and I laughed out loud about your watching Donald Duck vs. eating a duck! These duck breasts with that cointreau sauce look absolutely divine, I can just smell them already. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, Jeanne. Big hugs! xoxo

    • Jeanne says

      Aaaah, my work here is done if I’ve made you laugh :) The flavours in the recipe are just heavenly – one taste and you will be hooked! Wishing you the merriest Christmas too, and all the best for 2013. Hugs xx

  3. says

    Oooo, this looks so good! Traditions are funny things. :-) I’m experiencing a Southern Hemisphere Christmas now and it is so strange to see Christmas trees at the BEACH!! :-)

    • Jeanne says

      See what I mean?? All the Christmas imagery is WINTER imagery, but even in the hottest of Southern hemisphere countries they persist with the wintery Christmas! Crazy…

  4. says

    Being the person who makes Christmas dinner I think a trip to KFC is quite appealing!!

    I would dearly love to try sous vide duck… I think my husband would like it too although whether he’d sacrifice his beloved turkey for it at Christmas is another matter.

    Happy Christmas!

    • Jeanne says

      LOL – yes, I am developing a habit of going away for Christmas which takes the catering neatly out of my hands! The duck is bloody marvellous – and luckily my husband is not a turkey fan, so all options are open here at Cooksister HQ when we are (eventually!) home for Christmas. Merry Christmas to you too!

    • Jeanne says

      Oooh – nice! Shot by you or do you have a friendly duck hunter friend? Hope you get to make the recipe – it’s pretty awesome, and can easily be done with grilled breasts – sous vide optional.

      • says

        Shot by a friendly duck hunter friend, along with a couple of pheasants. I simply roasted 2 of them; very surprised how little meat is on a wild duck compared with the farmed variety!

        Really want to get started on sous vide as it’s something I’ve not even dabbled in before. It seems like what I thought was just a trend (like foamed sauces) isn’t going away so I have to move with the times!

  5. says

    I love the idea! Your duck breasts look so delicious. Cooking them in that way is perfect if you want to avoid ending up with a dirty kitchen (frying duck breasts is a messy – fatty – business)!



    • Jeanne says

      This is true – there is less splattering, although there is still a bit of frying at the end when you brown them :) They shrink a lot less though and are SO moist and tender!

    • Jeanne says

      Thank you! The duck is seriously worth trying – even if you don’t have a sous vide machine and have to roast it!

  6. Mihai says

    Thank you Jeanne for the additions to the article, but first and foremost for the recipe itself. It was brill.

    I have finally managed to go through this, and it was a real treat. Below are pics of the result – it tasted way better than the pics may suggest. Timing and spices that Jeanne suggested were perfect.

    Since I steer clear of carbs (as much as I can), I have subbed the sweet potato mash with broccoli & cauliflower purree (1 part butter + 3 parts (frozen) vegs + 1 cube of indian veg masala in the pressure cooker for 25 min). The purple sauce is Hoisin (regular, out of the jar).