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Monday, March 16, 2009

And then there is DUCK!! Cantonese Style Roasted Duck

I absolutely love duck. The richly flavored meat, the crispy skin when roasted, the layer of fat which adds so much flavor. This is a bird whose glory I think is overshadowed by the ever popular chicken. Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy chicken. But I have a love affair with duck.

Duck has its own rich flavor, unlike chicken which we usually add flavor to. Plus, the meat has a nice meaty texture.

Of course, ducks also have their downsides compared to chicken. For example, ducks have less meat than chicken. What I mean by that is that a 1 kg chicken will yield more meat when cooked (i.e. feed more people) than a 1 kg duck. Why? Because duck is fattier and much of this weight is lost during cooking.

That leads to my second point-- the fat content. In this day and age, when obesity reigns and everyone is watching their fat, carb, calorie, and sugar intake, duck doesn't appear to be in the running of healthy "diet" foods. But I truly believe in everything in moderation.

Thirdly, duck can be a little unapproachable. It is not as widely available in supermarkets, especially whole, and not many people have experience cooking it. Also, it can be more expensive than other poultry.

Okay, there it is…now you are thinking, I don’t want to eat duck. It will make me fat, it will cost more money, and I don't even know how to cook the thing. And maybe some of those points are true. But I am telling you, once you have had a good duck, you will crave it. And you will never compare it to chicken again…. Ever!

My memories of duck go way back to my childhood. I remember seeing those shiny ducks hanging in the windows of the noodle houses in China Town. I remember walking in with my mom as she chose a duck and asked the gentleman behind the counter to cut it up for her. I remember him using one of those huge knives and really whacking that thing until it was cut into nice, uniform pieces. Then he would scoop all the pieces off his wooden chopping block with the side of the knife and slide them into a white Styrofoam take away container sitting on a scale. Then, into a small pink plastic bag and off we went.

The smell of the roasted duck during the car ride home was almost unbearable. I would imagine myself biting into my first piece right when we got home, not even waiting for the rice to be served or the vegetable accompaniment to be quickly stirfried. This was really love.

When I go home to visit, one of our meals needs to include a properly roasted Cantonese style duck. It is a requirement. I write it into our itinerary. No joking. It needs to be done.

I recently found out that they sell frozen ducks at Carrefour in Dubai. I decided to try to recreate these familiar tastes and textures at home. So, I gave it a shot, and it was well worth it. Granted, it took time and patience, but it was so good, that I am already thinking about doing it again. So you need to try it.

Now having said that, this is definitely not something that you can do everyday, but when you do take the time to do it right and taste the results, I am sure that you will make time to do it again and again.

Cantonese Style Roasted Duck
Serves 4

1 whole (4 to 5 pound) duck

For Outside Rub
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper

For Stuffing
1.5 inches cut into slices fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
1/2 bunch green onions
1/2 orange peel cut in big strips
1 teaspoons five-spice powder

For Basting
1/8 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Preparing the duck is very important, because ducks have a lot of fat. If you want the skin to crisp up, you need to trim any excess fat and remove the tips of the wings. Blanch the duck in a large pot of boiling for about 5 minutes. Remove and dry very well, inside and out, with kitchen towels. Then, prick the duck all over, being careful only to cut through the skin and fat layer, not the meat! Place the duck in the fridge and let it cool down and dry completely before proceeding.

For the Rub: Combine the 5 spice, salt and pepper, and rub all over the outside of the duck.

For the Stuffing: Mash all together (I used a pestle and mortar) and rub inside the cavity of the duck. Leave it all inside. At this point, you could tie the duck legs together so the stuff doesn’t fall out, but I never do and never have a problem.

Place the duck on rack in a roasting tray breast up (we want the skin to crisp) and put it in a 375 degree oven.

Prepare the basting liquid by putting all ingredients into a pot and bringing to a simmer over medium heat. After the first hour, flip the duck over and baste. Then, after every 30 minutes afterwards, flip and baste until the duck is cooked and the skin is crispy. Should take about 3 hours to be fully cooked. You will know it is cooked when a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 165 degrees F or 75 degrees C.

Take duck out and let rest for about 10-15 minutes. Take the juice (drippings) from the bottom of the pan. Serve with white rice, and the drippings drizzled over the duck.

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