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.

NOTE:

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

Bouquet Garni

I’m not talking about herbs today, but about beautiful things that lift up your soul. This sounds quite hifalutin, but I think it’s important to surround yourself with beauty, whether that’s posters that bring back memories, paintings that talked to you and that you were lucky enough to be able to afford, or just something you picked up on a walk, or along the beach (and I’m not talking about your life partner). On a cautionary note; a visit to the museum is not a good way to get started on a collection, unless you’re a robber. Of course one of the most cost efficient ways of acquiring beauty is by buying flowers or plants. Buy good quality, take good care of them and even cut flowers can give you joy for a few weeks.

After saying this, you won’t find it surprising that one of the things Eddie and I really missed during the lock-down were flowers. In fact we were so desperate for something green that we went and collected assorted big leaves and just used those in vases. It did the trick, but was really no replacement for flowers.
You can spend a fortune on flowers, but you can also buy some simple things which will give you much pleasure without leaving you bankrupt. I went to the flower wholesale shop on Jalan Tun H.S Lee and picked up a big bunch of lilies, a bunch of cheap roses and some green bushy stuff for filler. I honestly thought that at RM24 a bundle, the roses would be dead within a day. Oh me of little faith!

I actually got four floral arrangements out of the stuff I bought. I wouldn’t say that they are marvellous, I’m not exactly an expert florist, but they’re not bad, right?
Eddie is the expert when it comes flowers, so I followed his advice and stripped most of the leaves off the bottom of the stalks, cut the bottom on the bias and made sure they were all properly in the water. But I had to keep some of the leaves at the top because I like that more natural look.

This is my little bouquet on my work table, where I am currently sitting and typing. I light a candle pretty much at any time of the day, the cat sits here at my feet and when I get stuck with work, I contemplate the flowers. Or I get myself a gin and tonic. If it’s after 5pm, that is.

Here is the leftover green stuff. I love this vase, but it’s really porous, so I’m using the glass half of our Boston shaker inside, just to keep the stalks fresh. These plants are great, because you can also just let them dry up and they will still be very decorative. At least that’s what Eddie says. I haven’t tried it yet.

Then there are all the orchids Eddie keeps buying. They really are the best value for money. We buy a load and for some reason, they last for months in our flat. The ones you see below are three months old.

Epilogue:

One week later and the flowers are by now dead. Except for one. This single white rose has been holding on, so I’ve honoured her tenacity and included her in the new bouquet. Here she sits, bravely holding on and I find her fading beauty quite attractive despite the slight stoop and the frayed edges.

Tortilla con Morcilla

There were some just surviving potatoes left out on my worktop yesterday. Those little washed ones of indeterminate origin, as well as an onion that was trying to grow into a plant before expiring, so I was thinking of what to make of them before they needed to be binned. With our recent purchase of chorizo(ed?) morcilla, the Godzilla of Chorizo (sorry, couldn’t resist) and that box of Spanish smoked paprika, I knew exactly where this was going: Tortilla Espagñola.

Five simple ingredients, a moderate effort and one is rewarded with a wonderful dish big enough to serve four. Add a simple salad and a few ripe tomatoes sprinkled with salt a little more paprika and you have a feast for the Gods. Or at least for a couple of hungry mortals. Morcilla, for the uninitiated is Spanish black pudding, or blood sausage. The one I’m using is Chorizo Morcilla, so double the joy! If you are wondering where to get Spanish products, check out https://www.mysybaritas.com/, which is a small, privately owned and run importer and retailer of Spanish goods. Word of advice to the faint-hearted; If you can eat those Chinese duck liver sausages, you will enjoy morcilla. Just don’t think of the blood.

Four of the Five Simple Ingredients

Before we get started, I have to point out that I’m not Spanish, have no Spanish aunties who taught me how to make “the real tortilla” suckling a newborn while stirring potatoes over a hot coal stove, so apart from having eaten a fair amount of them in Spain, I’m pretty much flying blind. But don’t let that deter you. The end result, whether authentic or not, is delicious.

Tortilla con Morcilla – Potato Omelette with Spanish Blood Sausage

I like writing “Blood Sausage” because the idea of a sausage made of blood freaks some people out. I’m a bit mean like that. If you just can’t bring yourself to it, you can easily replace the blood thing with plain old chorizo sausage. Just make sure you buy a fresh, soft one. Just squeeze it when no one is looking and you’ll get this one right. And if you don’t do pork, use lamb chorizo, or even lamb merguez! But please go and order a little tub of proper Spanish smoked paprika, like this one. Your tortilla really needs that.

makes 1 medium tortilla, 8 small slices

  • 600g potatoes
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 120g onion
  • 30g garlic
  • 50g morcilla, Spanish black pudding sausage
  • ¼ tsp Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp duck fat
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 eggs
  • salt & black pepper

Peel, wash and slice the potatoes to about 2-3mm thickness, then cut each slice into rough quarters. Put the potato slices into a bowl of water, wash and drain. Fill with water again. Add one tablespoon of salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Leave the potatoes in there for at least half an hour.

Peel the onions, cut them in half and slice fine. Crush the garlic, peel and chop it not too fine. Remove the skin from the morcilla, slice and then cut into thin strips. You want the sausage to crumble in the pan, so don’t worry if it’s not cut very evenly.

Drain and dry your potatoes. A cloth kitchen towel works very well for this. Don’t worry about breaking some of the potato slices. No one will notice. Crack your eggs into a bowl that is large enough to hold all your ingredients as well as the eggs. Salt the eggs with three pinches of salt and a heavy grind of pepper.

Heat the duck fat in a frying pan with sloped sides. Once the fat is nice and hot, add the onion, reduce the heat and fry for about 3 minutes, until the onions are starting to soften. The idea at this stage is to get them to be soft, but not brown. Once softened, push them to one side of the pan and add the morcilla slices to the other side and fry them until they start to render their fat, which should be quite quickly. Now mix them with the onions and continue to fry for a minute.

I am using a 28cm Pujadas 1921 pan with a 5.5cm rim. It might be the fact that it’s made in Spain that it is so perfect for making tortillas and omelettes. If you wonder why you could never shape your omelettes like a professional, get yourself one of these. Of course if you actually DO ponder this question, you need to get yourself a life too.

Pujadas is not a brand you will find in stores, but if you pop over to Everest Hotel & Restaunt Supplies http://everesthrs.com/ you can pick some good stuff up for a reasonable price. The website looks rather sleek, but don’t let that fool you, the shop does not. (Dear people at “everest”, please rethink your double colour logo, because it looks like you are offering a different kind of service.

Add the potatoes and toss them about in the pan to mix evenly with the onions and morcilla. Sprinkle the paprika over the whole thing, salt lightly and pepper quite heavily. Increase the heat to max and leave the potatoes to take on some colour. Don’t move them about all the time, just wait for them to brown, then toss them and leave again. Once your potatoes are golden and just cooked, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for a minute or two.

Pour your potato mix into the eggs and stir to coat all evenly. Return the pan to the heat and fry the omelette without moving it on a lowish heat. You may need to fold the edges that set quickly over to the top of the tortilla. Once the top of the tortilla has set enough to be turned over, grab a big plate, cover the pan with it and deftly flip the whole thing over. Gently lift the pan off, return it to the heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and slide the tortilla into the pan. Tuck the edges under the tortilla to give you that perfect tortilla shape. Once the tortilla is fully cooked (but not dried out), slide it onto a large serving plate.

NOTE:          Tortilla is actually nicer when it has cooled down a bit and it’s good at room temperature too, so this is an ideal party dish. And just in case you were wondering; neither mysybaritas nor everest pay me commission or give me free stuff. It’s just where I shop and I like to share these suppliers you may not know about.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag – Tip:

You can just as well make this tortilla plain, without any meat. But try it with thinly sliced prawns, quickly marinated with salt, smoked paprika and a little chopped, fresh rosemary. Fry the heads and shells of the prawns in duck fat or olive oil, discard the shells after colouring the oil and continue with the oil as above.

Japanese Curry Udon

Japanese Curry is neither. It’s not really Japanese and it’s definitely not a curry. Even the curry powder used is an English interpretation of curry powder. It’s all really rather weird; No person in ANY curry cooking country would ever make curry like that. And yet it is so delicious you can’t stop eating it. It’s like McDonald’s after a heavy night of boozing. It’s like KFC; you will love it secretly, but never admit to anyone that you do.

Making it is dead easy and I promise it will be better than any you can eat in a restaurant that would serve Japanese Curry Udon, because no talented Japanese chef would ever put it on the menu. And I’ll let you in on another little secret: I made dashi for this curry, but I swear it would have made absolutely no difference if I’d used stock cubes, or even water flavoured with a little soy and oyster sauce.

I was going to start by making my own, homemade udon, but then I ran out of time and energy and opted for my standard go-to. Yup, a packet of these. I use them for everything, from laksa, to claypot loh shi fun (without loh shi fun). I’m not promoting this brand, or even claiming it to be particularly good, it’s just what I keep in the chiller because it has a hell of a long shelf life. The packets I have in the chiller now on the 28 July 2020 say they will expire end of August 2021. It’s probably passed through the Fukushima reactor, but hey!

Treat this recipe with absolutely no respect whatsoever. Just make the curry roux as I’m telling you. For the rest you can pretty much do whatever you like. Use any vegetables you have in the chiller, if you don’t eat or like, or feel like pork, use chicken or beef, or fish or seafood, or crabstick (maybe not). Any leftover roast or piece of steak will do and the half wilted cabbage that’s been in the chiller for two weeks will be just fine.

Japanese Curry Udon

enough for 2 greedy people

For the Japanese Curry Roux:

  • 50g butter
  • 40g flour
  • 1 Tbsp/10g Madras curry powder
  • 1Tbsp/10g garam masala powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder (more if you like)

You know this one, we’ve made it before (didn’t pay attention did you?). It’s easy and can’t really go wrong, as long as you keep stirring like a fool and don’t turn your heat too high. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Fry at medium heat until the mix is a light brown. Turn off the heat and add the curry, garam masala and chilli powders. Keep stirring until the mix has cooled down.

A word on Madras curry powder:

Said to originate from Chennai, the former Madras, it isn’t an Indian spice mix at all, but was formulated for the Colonial masters who could not stomach the heat of a real curry, but liked the exotic flavours. It’s very light on heat, but great on tangy zestiness and it is the thing you need to make Japanese curry. Don’t replace it with any of the local Malaysian or Indian curry powders. It’s not going to work. And if you can’t get the famous Watch Brand Madras Curry Powder, look for the yellowest curry powder you can find.

For the Curry Noodles:

  • 2 packets, 400g udon noodles
  • 800ml dashi or stock (or flavoured water; see Tips below)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1 big spring onion
  • 75g roast pork belly
  • 100g uncooked pork loin
  • 1 Tbsp mirin or sake
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • all the curry roux from above
  • 2 Tbsp oil for frying

Peel and slice the carrots into medium rounds. Slice on the bias to get a nicer looking carrot. Cut the top and bottom off the onion, slice it in half from top to bottom, then cut each half into 6 wedges. Cut about a third of the spring onion into rounds to garnish the dish and chop the rest. Slice the roast pork belly into thin slices and do the same with the pork loin.

Cook the udon following the instructions on the packet. They should be fully cooked before you add them to the curry. The ones I am using just need to be softened in a bit of hot water. In fact. You could just drop them into the curry, but I find it better to wash off whatever the manufacturer has put on top. Least thing to do is place them in a colander and pour a kettle of hot water over them.

Heat the oil in a donabe or clay pot, or really any other flat pot that will hold the noodles and all the sauce. Fry the chopped spring onion for 30 seconds, then add the uncooked pork loin and stir until it is cooked through. You do not need to brown the meat, it won’t hurt, but it is not necessary. Now add the carrot and onion and stir for a minute. Add the roast pork belly and just heat through. Pour in the dashi and bring to a boil. Dissolve the roux in a little hot water, so it’s easier to mix in and mix it all in. Season with the mirin and soy, adjust the seasoning, sprinkle the spring onion rounds over and serve.

For the Dashi (makes about 1 litre):

  • 18g konbu, Japanese kelp
  • 25g katsuboshi, shaved bonito flakes
  • 1.5 litre water

Cut the konbu to size, so it fits into your pot. Pour the water over and turn the heat to medium. You want the water to heat slowly, so the konbu is steeped very gently. Do not let the water boil, or your stock can become slimy and bitter, so go slow. Once the water is just below boiling and you see the first little fizz rise along the side of the pot, turn off the heat and leave the konbu to steep for another 20 minutes. Remove the konbu and bring the stock to a simmer. Add the katsuboshi and bring back to the boil, then turn off the heat. Leave to infuse for ten minutes and then strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Hausfrauen Ratschlag – Tips

If you don’t have any stock at home and don’t want to use stock cubes, flavour a litre of water with with 1 Tbsp oyster sauce, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine and ¼ tsp Maggi seasoning. It won’t replace a good stock, but it’s better than plain water and it will do very well in your Japanese Curry Udon.

Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 5: Steaming the Duck

Today we are going to steam our duck. It has been marinating in its spiced salt for two days and is ready to hit the steam bath. We’ve come quite a long way in this long project, so don’t give up on me now!

  1. Five Spice Powder (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 1: Five Spice Powder)
  2. Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 2: Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix)
  3. Marinating the Duck (the link above will show you how to marinate the duck)
  4. Black Bean Paste (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 3: Black Bean Paste)
  5. Hoisin Sauce (see Hoisin Sauce)
  6. Steaming the Duck
  7. Pancakes & Garnishes
  8. Frying the Duck

Here is our starting point for today, our 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.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin Sauce is ridiculously easy to make and I promise you, it is so delicious, you’ll be licking the spoon (I know I did). I do recommend that you make your own Black Bean Paste as well as your own Five Spice Powder, which will make all the difference. Neither is particularly difficult to do and once you have them, both will keep very well for quite a while.

Dissolve the palm sugar in the hot water. Break up the plums or prunes with your fingers and remove the stones if they are not pitted. Put the plums into a blender, add the black bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and five spice powder. Pour the palm sugar and water in and blend until very smooth.

I like to put the blended sauce through a strainer to get a finer texture, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. If you do, you will have to push it through with a spoon. Not difficult, but a little more work. Pour your hoisin sauce into a glass jar and keep it in the chiller, where it will happily survive for a few months.

Use is as a dipping sauce for dumplings and yong tau foo, as a marinade for beef of chicken that you plan to grill. Add it to stir fried vegetables, add a teaspoon to any broth, stock or soup to enrich it, slather it on your burger or mix it with a little black vinegar and stir it into mayonnaise to dip your chips in. And of course, it is perfect spread on a little pancake before you pile the shredded aromatic crispy duck on.

Stir-Fried Beef with Bitter Gourd and Black Bean Sauce

This dish has been attacked and perverted by my mat salleh spirit. By right there should be lots of bitter gourd and a little beef for flavouring, but I felt like meat, so it’s a half and half affair. Feel free to adjust the quantities to your preference. As long as you stay with a total finished trimmed weight of beef and bitter gourd of some 400g, the quantities given will work. Bitter gourd is also called bitter melon (Momordica charantia, for short) and it is quite popular all over Asia, but can be a bit of a challenge for the Western palate. If you are new to the bitter gourd, I suggest using the bigger, lighter coloured one shown below, as the dark small one packs a lot more bitter punch.

To Stir Fry:

Homemade Black Bean Paste
  • 1 sirloin steak, about 250g
  • 1 medium bitter gourd, about 250g
  • 1 medium brown onion
  • 1 Tbsp Black Bean Paste
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • generous black pepper
  • oil or lard for frying
  • chopped spring onion to garnish

You can easily buy the black bean paste (aka black bean sauce) in a jar at your local grocers, or on Amazon, if you’re nearer the Amazon than the Peope’s Republic of China, but the best thing to do is to make it yourself. And this is how Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 3: Black Bean Paste

For the Quick Stock & Thickening:

  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • a dash of Maggi seasoning
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • 100ml water
  • 1 heaped tsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp water

Trim the steak of all sinew and as much of the fat as you like, then slice into thin slices, preferably against the grain. Marinate the beef slices in the soy sauce, rice wine, black pepper and corn starch.

Cut the bitter gourd in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and the white pith with a spoon, then slice into ½ cm slices. Take the top and bottom off the onion, peel it and cut it into six wedges. Separate the layers of the onion.

Mix the water with the oyster sauce, soy sauces, Maggi seasoning and sesame oil. Mix the corn starch with a little water to make a slurry.

Heat one tablespoon oil or lard in a wok and fry the beef with all its marinade until it is lightly browned and cooked through. Remove from the wok and keep aside. To get the beef to brown well, you need to leave it to sizzle and move it around all the time. Spread it in one layer at the bottom of the wok and wait 3 minutes, then stir it about. You don’t need all sides to be brown, but a nice little colour on some of the meat will improve your dish tremendously.

Add another tablespoon of oil to your wok. Note that there is no need to clean the wok in between. Add the bitter gourd to the wok and fry for 3 minutes. The degree of doneness of the bitter gourd is up to you. The less you fry it, the more bitter it will be. I personally just give it a minute in the wok, because I like it really bitter.

Now add the black bean paste and the cooked beef and stir through to coat evenly and to lightly fry the paste. Pour in the quick stock, bring to the boil and slowly add the slurry to thicken the sauce to your liking. Adjust the seasoning, sprinkle the chopped spring onions over and serve.

Note:

This recipe works just as well with chicken, pork or lamb than with beef. The really interesting one, though is a fish version. Marinate fish fillets in the same marinade, but use white pepper instead of black. Once the fish has marinated for five, ten minutes, dust it with a tablespoon of corn starch, marinade and all and then deep fry the fish until lightly golden. Quickly add a tablespoon of butter and some chopped spring onions and cilantro and take the fish out. Continue as above, but add the fried fish at the very last minute, just before serving.
That’s made me hungry.

Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 3: Black Bean Paste

Black Bean Paste is a fantastically useful thing to have in the kitchen. It can elevate a simple dish and a teaspoonful can save a boring dish from oblivion. I will not only show you how to make black bean paste, but also show you one recipe that is both simple and delicious and really quick and easy to make. For our Aromatic Crispy Duck, we need Hoisin Sauce and for Hoisin Sauce, we need Black Bean Paste. You can easily buy black bean paste in the supermarket and there is nothing wrong with doing that. But I think if you want to buy it, just buy ready-made Hoisin Sauce and skip to Part 5: Steaming the Duck, which will be coming up in a couple of days. And here’s everything we have already done and all the things we still have to do to get to the most marvellous crispy aromatic duck.

  1. Five Spice Powder (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 1: Five Spice Powder)
  2. Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 2: Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix)
  3. Marinating the Duck (the link above will show you how to marinate the duck)
  4. Black Bean Paste
  5. Hoisin Sauce
  6. Steaming the Duck
  7. Pancakes & Garnishes
  8. Frying the Duck

For those of you who are as crazy as I am and want to make everything from scratch, here’s how you start:

Black Bean Paste:

  • 60g fermented black beans
  • 75g garlic ginger paste
  • 40g spring onion
  • 1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
  • 100ml stock or water
  • 2Tbsp / 30ml Chinese rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp / 15ml soy sauce
  • 1tsp / 6g sugar
  • ½ tsp / 3ml rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp / 15ml dark soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp / 30ml water

You CAN make your own fermented beans, but if you do, you’re even crazier than I am! In general, I will not bother to make something I can buy, if it does not improve my dish. I once spent weeks candying orange and lemon peel only to find at the end that it tasted exactly like the one I had bought in the store just in case my candying failed. Lesson learnt.

Start by soaking the fermented black beans in 300ml water for 1 hour. In the meantime, chop the spring onions fine and measure out the stock, add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, dark soy sauce and water to it. Stir to dissolve. Once the black beans are soaked, drain them and chop them real rough…

From the green stuff: Chopped spring onions, ginger garlic paste, chopped soaked black beans, (cornstarch slurry, which I didn’t use) and the stock mix.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the ginger garlic paste at medium low heat for about 2 minutes. Don’t let it take on any colour. Now add the spring onion and fry for another minute. Fry the black beans for a minute or two. Make sure not to burn them, or your paste will be bitter.

Give your flavoured stock another stir to make sure the sugar doesn’t sit at the bottom and pour in all into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until your paste has thickened. This is not a very thick paste and some people use corn starch to thicken and bind it, but I don’t think it is necessary. And here’s our
Black Bean Paste

In know I promised you a recipe and it will come, and a link will be posted right here:

Stir-Fried Beef with Bitter Gourd and Black Bean Sauce

Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 2: Aromatic Salt and Spice Mix

Here’s the second part of our quest for that perfect Crispy Aromatic Duck, served with delicious, thin pancakes and homemade hoisin sauce. In part 1, we made the Five Spice Powder, so that’s crossed off the list and all that remains to do before we get to sink our teeth into the crisp duck is marinating the duck, curing it and then steaming it, cooling it, drying it and… at last… frying it. I am making all the condiments from scratch, including the Hoisin Sauce, which is why I made five spice powder. We only need a half a teaspoon for the Hoisin Sauce, so I won’t blame you if you just buy some. BUT you will miss out on something quite special, because I promise you, nothing you can buy gets anywhere near the homemade one in depth of flavour. Not. Even. Close!

  1. Five Spice Powder (see Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 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

Aromatic Salt & Spice 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
  • 3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine

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.

NOTE:

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.

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.