Aromatic Crispy Duck

Our Aromatic Crispy Duck has come to its completion, so here is the actual recipe in full, without diversions into making your own Hoisin Sauce, for which you can make your own Black Bean Paste, for which you can make your own Five Spice Powder. Guess who was fool enough to make all his own everything? Yes. Me. If you have read all the previous blogs and want to jump to the frying part, click here #fryingduck.

Making the duck is really quite easy, it just takes time. You need the spice and salt mix to rub over the duck, then leave that in the chiller for 2-3 days. Then you steam the duck for 3 hours and again chill it for a day or two and you are ready to fry. I do recommend making your own Hoisin Sauce, if you can afford the time and effort. Here is the link: Hoisin Sauce. Last, but not least and to make your life easy, I have added a complete shopping list to the bottom of this post #crispyduckshoppinglist

Aromatic Salt & Spice Mix

You could just use five spice powder and add fennel seeds and sand ginger to it, especially if you have made your own five spice, but making the spice salt mix fresh will add a depth of flavour a store bought mix can’t give you. The good news is that you do not need to process this to a fine powder, so a quick whizz in a food processor or blender/grinder will do just fine. Leave all the rough bits in and just rub your duck with the whole mix.

  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • ½ tsp green fennel seeds
  • 1 Chinese or black cardamom pod
  • 1 piece cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp dried sand ginger slices (see Note)
  • 45g fine sea salt, about 3 Tbsp

Break the star anise into pieces, lightly crush the Sichuan peppercorns, open the cardamom pod and scrape out the seeds inside, break the cassia bark or cinnamon into smaller pieces and crush the pieces without reducing them to powder. Now heat a small stainless steel pan. It is best to use a thick bottom pan, as the heat will distribute much better. Add all the spices into the pan, pour in the salt and toss in the heat until your kitchen smell like a church in Russia. Pour the spice and salt mix into a flat plate and leave it to cool down. Once it has cooled pound it in a mortar to get a rough mix.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag – Tip:

Make a double batch of the spice mix and keep the extra for other dishes. Just grind the extra to a fine(ish) powder and use it to flavour chicken or beef for a stir-fry, marinate beef or lamb in it for an hour before turning it into stew. Try a light sprinkle of the spiced salt on a more robust fish, like a cod or garoupa fillet. Rub the inside of a seabass with the spiced salt just before you steam it. It will all turn out delicious, I promise.

Marinating the Duck:

  • 1 duck, obviously
  • all of the spice mix
  • 3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 30g of ginger, unpeeled
  • 4 spring onions
It had a happy life, I promise.
Once you’re finished, your duck will hopefully look something like this.

If your duck looks like this one, you need to start by trimming the unwieldy animal. This can be a little daunting and if you’re scared of floppy dead animals, I suggest you get your butcher to deal with it. Just tell him it’s a duck for roasting and ask him to cut the wings off and give them to you to make stock out of. But really, all you have to do is empty the inside of the duck of all things it needed for life, lungs, liver, heart, kidneys. Hopefully the guts have been taken out, because that’s the really horrid stuff. Then you cut the neck off and pull out whatever bits of windpipe there may be left in there. Cut off the feet at the joint, but leave the drumsticks and thighs on. Cut the wingtips off and keep them for stock. Cut the tail off by slicing a V shaped piece out from the sides of the tail to a point in the cavity. You’ll find it when you try. Wash your duck inside out and dry it properly.

To make sure your duck is dry, use paper towels to pat down the inside of the cavity first and then pat down outside. I then leave the duck uncovered in the chiller while I do the spice mix. That way the skin dries out completely.

Now crush the ginger and the spring onions with the flat of a cleaver or heavy knife. Prick the duck all over with a fork. You want to prick the duck deeply, so the spice salt can penetrate well into the flesh. Rub the duck inside and out with all of the spice salt mix, massaging it well into the meat. Exert some pressure on the thorax of the duck, to break the ribs and flatten the duck a little. Break the leg joints, if you’re not too squeamish, so the duck doesn’t tighten up when it is being steamed. Stuff the crushed ginger and spring onions into the cavity of the duck and place the bird into an ovenproof dish. I like to use an oval dish, because it holds the duck just nicely.

Last thing to do is gently pour the rice wine over the duck. You might think that this is going to wash the salt mix off, but you’re wrong. The wine will be absorbed into the mix, as long as you pour it gently, tablespoon by tablespoon.

The last thing for today is to tightly wrap the dish containing the bird and put it in the chiller for 2-3 days. 48 hours will be enough, but an additional day won’t do any harm, so do what’s convenient.


Depending on where you live, you may find it difficult to find sand ginger, whether dried or fresh. Scientifically, Sand Ginger is Kaempferia Galanga. Here in Malaysia, it is known as Cekur, in Indonesia it is called Kencur and to the Chinese it’s Sha Jiang. If there is a Chinese medical shop anywhere to be found, they will probably stock it. If you can find it fresh in the market, drying it is easy; just wash it and slice it into about 2mm slices, skin and all and cry it in the oven at 100ºC for about 30-45 minutes.

If you can’t find it at all, try a mix of dried galangal and dried ginger. It is available online, but it’s quite pricey, so might not be worth investing in for just one dish.

Steaming the Duck:

Our starting point for today is this lovely pink, marinated duck. You are going to need a bit of equipment for this part, unless you are lucky enough to have a steamer oven. You need a big steamer basket with lid and a wok large enough to deal with that basket. I’m using a 16″/40cm wok and a 14″/36cm steamer basket, which fits my duck and bowl perfectly.

Remove the clingfilm from the bowl and cover the bowl tightly with aluminium foil. Heat 2-3 litres of water in a wok large enough to accommodate a bamboo steaming basket that can hold the duck in its dish. Once the water is boiling rapidly, set the steamer basket in the wok and cover. You will need to steam the duck for 2-3 hours.

The water will evaporate, so be sure to add water whenever necessary. Use boiling hot water, so as not to interrupt the steaming process. I find that adding one litre every hour is sufficient. Try and keep the bamboo basket closed as much as possible, so the duck steams evenly.

After 2 hours, turn off the heat and carefully remove the basket with the duck in it. Unwrap a corner of the dish and use a small knife to check the doneness of the duck. It should be very soft and tender. For this dish, it is better for the duck to be too soft, rather than too tough. Once the duck is tender, leave it to cool  wrapped in the foil inside the basket. This will take a very long time, possible 4-5 hours. Once the duck has cooled down sufficiently, unwrap the dish, pour the liquid into a bowl and reserve it. Now wrap the duck tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate it overnight or for up to two days.

The liquid you have collected will make a wonderful base for a soup or a stock, but remember that it is quite salty, so make the necessary adjustments.

Frying and Eating the Duck:

Frying the duck is actually the easiest and fastest part of the process, but it is also the most dangerous. If you don’t have a sturdy wok stand, I would advise against even trying. A litre and a half of hot oil needs to be treated with respect, because it can cause considerable damage. There is no need to be afraid of frying the duck, if you keep a few simple rules in mind and if you keep your mind on the matter at hand. First step is to remove any children and/or furry animals, frisky partners and the like from the vicinity of the frying area. Next you need to find the right implements to hold and turn the duck without it slipping from your grip. Then remember to do everything slowly. Add the duck to the oil slowly, turn it over slowly and watch the bubbly oil foam to make sure it doesn’t leave the wok.

  • 1.5 litres cooking oil
  • Hoisin Sauce
  • young leek julienne
  • cucumber julienne
  • Chinese pancakes

Heat about 1.5 litres of oil to 200ºC in a large wok. While this is heating up, dust the steamed and chilled duck all over with corn starch. Shake off any excess starch and get ready to fry. Gently lower the duck, breast side down into your vat of boiling oil. Keep basting the upper side of the duck with hot oil. Turn the duck over carefully as soon as the beast side is a light brown. Now fry until the underside is nicely browned too, then remove the duck from the oil.

Even if you have kept the heat at full blast, the oil will probably have cooled down considerably, so heat it back to a smoking 200ºC. Repeat the whole frying process, getting the duck a beautiful golden colour. Once cooked, remove and drain on a rack for a few minutes.

Like so many very involved recipes with a lot of steps, most of the preparation can be done long in advance and the aromatic crispy duck will happily wait an additional day after you have marinated it and after steaming, it will sit, tightly wrapped in the chiller for 6 days and still be tasty once fried. So it really is something you can start on a Monday for the following Sunday dinner. I have to say that it is so very delicious, it’s well worth the effort.

Serve your duck with traditional Chinese pancakes, Hoisin sauce, julienned young leek or spring onion and cucumber. If you can’t find Chinese pancakes (or make them), the duck will taste just as good wrapped in fresh romaine lettuce leaves, or store bought flour tortillas or chapatis. Toast them lightly, then tear the top layer from the bottom one to make two “pancakes” out of each tortilla or chapati.

Shopping List:

  • 1 duck, preferably oven ready
  • 1.5 litres cooking oil
  • 1 jar Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • ½ tsp green fennel seeds
  • 1 Chinese or black cardamom pod
  • 1 piece cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp dried sand ginger slices (see Note)
  • 45g fine sea salt, about 3 Tbsp
  • 3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 young leeks
  • 2 English cucumbers
  • 30g of ginger, unpeeled
  • 4 spring onions
  • about 6-8 Chinese pancakes or 3-4 flour tortillas per person

2 thoughts on “Aromatic Crispy Duck

  1. total dedication. will try it the next time my family gets together! hope you & eddie are well. b x


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