Duck breasts are widely available in supermarkets these days, fresh or frozen. If you don't see them in the meat counter, ask for them to be ordered. Serve mashed potatoes alongside the duck; chef Mike Davis uses fingerlings, with lots of cream. For dessert, serve pistachio ice cream topped with sliced fresh strawberries.
Sunset APRIL 2005
1. Pour olive oil into a 12-inch ovenproof nonstick frying pan (with at least 2-in.-tall sides) over medium heat. When hot, add carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic; stir often until vegetables are slightly limp and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add wine, orange juice, 5 sprigs thyme, and bay leaves; increase heat to high and boil, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by about half and is slightly syrupy, about 15 minutes. Pour through a fine strainer into a glass measure; you should have about 1 cup. Discard vegetables. Wipe pan dry.
2. Rinse duck breasts and pat dry. Score the skin of each in a crosshatch pattern, making cuts about an inch apart, through the skin into the layer of fat. Sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper. Set same frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, lay duck breasts, skin side down, in pan. Cook until beginning to brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Spoon out and discard any fat in pan. Turn breasts over and sprinkle evenly with thyme leaves.
3. Transfer pan with duck to a 425° oven. Roast until well browned on the surface but still slightly pink in center of thickest part (cut to test), 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer duck to a rimmed cutting board and let rest in a warm place for 5 minutes. Skim off and discard fat from pan juices.
4. Set pan over medium-high heat and add orange-wine reduction and cream. Stir often, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, until sauce is boiling and coats the back of a spoon in a thin layer, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Divide arugula among six plates. Slice duck breasts across the grain and fan equally over arugula. Drizzle a little warm orange-wine sauce over duck and greens. Pour remaining into a small pitcher and pass, for guests to add to taste.
If duck breasts are frozen, thaw (in their plastic wrappers) in cold water. You can make the sauce (step 1) a day ahead; cover and chill.
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