It must be because it’s autumn that I’ve been craving duck. Recently, I was at Shun Lee Palace on east 55th Street in Manhattan having dinner by myself. It was an interesting high end, white table cloth restaurant where tuxedoed Chinese waiters plate everything in the dining room. I watched with fascination as a special cook from the kitchen came out and carved up a Peking duck — sorry, Beijing duck for patrons sitting next to me. It got me thinking about ducks. When I returned home I started researching Beijing duck. I knew it was a big deal banquet item in China. Chinese chefs train for a year to learn how to prepare it as well as how to raise and fatten the ducks for this dish. The whole deal about Beijing duck is eating the crispy skin; the meat is almost an afterthought served on special little crepes with scallions. Instead of a Beijing duck, I made a 2Gourmaniac version of Deep-Fried Steamed West Lake Duck.
1 – 4 to 5 pound whole duck
6 – dried black Chinese mushrooms
4 – tsp lite soy sauce
canola oil for frying
6 – slices of fresh ginger root
2 – cloves star anise
2 – Tbsp Shaoxing wine (can substitute sherry)
2 – tsp salt
2 – tsp honey
hot water to cover the duck
2 – Tbsp lite soy sauce
3/4 cup duck broth
1/2 cup celery
1/2 cup bamboo shoots
1 1/2 cup duck broth
1/2 cup cilantro
1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
1/4 cup water
First soak the mushrooms for about an hour. Then wipe the inside and outside of the duck really well with paper towels to dry it. If your duck no longer has a neck (mine didn’t) cut a small hole in the fat layer by the tail of the duck and tie a two foot piece of sturdy twine through it. If your duck does have a neck, simply tie the twine around the neck. Hanging the duck in an airy, cool place for at least two hours or up to 6 hours. I hanged mine from the cherry tree in my front yard: it was bright sunny day in the low 50’s with a nice breeze blowing, perfect for airing out and drying my duck. (Rosaria gave me one of her patented eyeball rolling wags of her head, and muttered something in Sicilian which I took to mean “disgusting”.)
After about 3-4 hours, I fetched my duck from the front yard, brought it into the kitchen and coated it with the 4 teaspoons of lite soy sauce. I then cut off a long hank of kitchen string and trussed the duck. I put 4 cups of canola oil in a wok, got it real hot, around 375° and carefully lowered my duck into the wok with a large Chinese strainer (or you can use a good pair of thongs.) Cook each side of the duck including the two ends until golden brown. Remove it from the wok and place it in an oven-proof pan, bowl, or in my case a large pate mold. (It’ll become clear why in a moment.) Finely dice the giblets and place in a small mixing bowl with the Shaoxing wine, sliced ginger, salt, honey, and remaining soy sauce. Mix well with a whisk and pour the mixture over the duck. Take boiling water and also pour it over the duck until the pan is almost full.
Now for the steaming. Take a large roasting pan or whatever will hold the pan that contains the duck. Put the duck pan inside the larger roasting pan, add boiling water so that it comes up at least 3/4 of way on the sides of the duck pan. Take two pieces of aluminum foil and make a tent over the roasting pan. Side the whole thing onto a burner and maintain the water at a slow boil for 1 3/4 hours. Be sure to check on the water level periodically, never letting the level drop below half way down the side of the duck pan. When the duck is done, softly firm to the touch, remove from the “steamer” and remove the duck from its pan, and allow it to cool. Strain the duck broth from the duck pan, allow it to cool in an iced bowl of water. When cooled, put it in the freezer so you can easily skim the fat off in about an hour. The duck can be made several hours ahead up to this point.
Twenty minutes or so before you’re ready to serve, take the duck, cut away the truss string and de-bone the duck like you would a chicken. Then carefully cut the breasts and thigh meat into 1 inch squares making sure that the skin remains intact on each piece. Pour the 3/4 cup de-greased duck broth into a steamer and bring to a boil (If you don’t have a Chinese bamboo steamer, use a regular sauce pan or stock pot with a steaming basket). Place the duck pieces skin side up in the steamer for 10-15 minutes until throughly warmed. Take the mushrooms, celery and bamboo shoots, sliver them, put them in a sauce pan along with the remaining 1 1/2 cup reserved degreased strained duck broth and bring to a simmer. In a small bowl add the corn starch to 1/4 cup of cold water, and whisk until it forms a paste and the add it to the duck broth and vegetables: the corn starch will thicken the sauce.
When your ready, simply plate equal portions of the duck pieces over the vegetables and pour the sauce over them. Garnish with the cilantro and bon appetit — or however you say that in Mandarin.
Note: For the photograph of the plated dish, I served the duck pieces over home made steamed Asian buns with pickled golden beets which I just happened to have in the freezer and on hand.