Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 1: Five Spice Powder

A word of warning: This post contains upsetting images of a dead duck. So if you are my vegetarian, animal loving friend, please don’t read on. That’s the reason there is no relevant picture features here. That will come later, when the duck is less recognizable as such.

This is a rather involved project, not so much because of the duck itself, as that’s quite straightforward, but because I want to serve it with pancakes, hoisin sauce and because I want to make all of this from scratch. That means I will need to make:

  1. Five Spice Powder
  2. Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix
  3. Marinating the Duck
  4. Black Bean Sauce
  5. Hoisin Sauce
  6. Pancakes & Garnishes
  7. Frying the Duck

The duck itself needs to be rubbed with the salt and spice mix and left to marinate for 24 hours. Then it needs to be steamed for 2 hours, dried off and left to dry in the chiller for 24 hours, then it needs to be deep fried in a bucket of 200ºC oil until it is crispy, hopefully aromatic and, I presume, delicious.

I’m going to start with the easy one, the Five Spice Powder:

Five Spice Powder

makes about 40g (which is one and a half commercial jars)

The Toasting of Spices
  • 20g star anis
  • 10g green fennel seeds
  • 8g Sichuan peppercorns
  • 4g cassia bark or cinnamon bark
  • 1g cloves

Non weighed quantities:

  • 20 star anise
  • 5 tsp green fennel seeds
  • 4 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 ½ sticks cinnamon, about 12cm length in total
  • 12 cloves

If you are going to make this with any regularity, you should really invest in an electronic scale that can weigh small quantities. Something that does 0.1g increments. This is the only way to guarantee you will always get the same taste from your mix. But you can still make five spice powder that knocks the socks off any commercial stuff by just following the non-weight quantities above! It’s really worth doing.

Break the star anise into its small parts. Break the cassia bark into smaller pieces and crush it as much as you can. It pays to use the thinner, younger barks, as they will be much easier to grind. Add the fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns and cloves. Put the whole spice mix into a small frying pan. Ideally your pan should be a thick bottomed stainless steel one. The only pan not to use is a non-stick one, as the coating will be damaged by the dry heat.

Heat the pan toss the spices about pretty continuously. Once you house smells like a Catholic church on Sunday, the mix is done. Pour the spices into a flat plate and leave them to cool down completely. Then put them into a spice grinder or blender and grind them to a fine powder. This is actually easier said than done, so here’s a trick:

Blend the spices as fine as you can get them, put them trough a strainer, then grind the rough bits left in the strainer a second time and sift again. Throw away whatever is left.

Fill off into a glass jar and keep. I use recycled spice jars, which are quite handy, as they have a good lid and often come with a holey dispenser thing. In fact I have to admit that I threw out all my store bought five spice powder and refilled with my homemade one.

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