Simmered Duck

It’s been a long time since I’ve cooked a duck, but inspired by the recent acquisition of a pastured one from our lovely local farmers at Back Forty Acres, we’re back on track. The beauty of a pastured bird is that it is much leaner than the conventionally farmed version, and the flavor – well, there’s just no comparison!

One of our favorite duck preparations is a dish in which the duck is simmered whole in a spiced liquid, then served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. In China, it would usually be chopped, bones and all, into bite-size pieces with a huge cleaver: you eat the pieces, spitting out the bones as you go. If that is unappealing or you don’t own a cleaver (or your kids refuse to eat it that way!) you can carve it much as you would a roast chicken or turkey, slicing the breast, removing the wings, and leaving the drumsticks and thighs intact or cutting the meat off the bone.

Eileen Yin-fei Lo has a detailed description of how the spiced liquid was made (and kept for years) in her grandmother’s kitchen, but it is possible to simplify the process and make the liquid for a single use if you don’t have the time or energy to keep it safe for that long! We also prefer a “white-simmered” version (which doesn’t contain soy sauce) to her “red-simmered” one.

Whole star anise and anise seed are generally available in the spice section of most grocery stores.

ingredients:

  • 1 duck, 4-6 lb
  • 2 T Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 stalks scallion, cut into 1″ sections
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 3 pieces star anise or 1 tsp anise seed
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan or other peppercorns – the black/white/green/red mix is nice here
  • zest from 1/2 an orange
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves

method:

  1. Rinse the duck with cool water, then pat dry. Rub it inside and out with the cooking wine, then with the salt, and let it stand 1 h in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the scallions and ginger inside the duck cavity, then put the duck in a large pot.
  3. Add  the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the duck.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, immediately reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1.5 – 2 h.
  5. Let the duck cool in the sauce just until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut it into bite-size pieces with a cleaver or carve it as you wish. It can be served as is, or with a garnish of fresh scallions.

variations:

  • The cooking liquid can be reduced over medium high heat until it’s a sauce consistency, then drizzled over the duck meat.
  • If you prefer the duck at room temperature, remove the bird from the liquid and let it cool up to 30 m before slicing.

do ahead:

  • Cool the duck in the liquid in an ice-water bath in the sink, then refrigerate it in the liquid if you prefer to serve it chilled.
  • The duck can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and chilled in this fashion. You can either serve it cold or remove it from the liquid and let it come to room temperature (about 30 m) before serving.
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Quick Vegetable Pickles

So now it’s finally summer in Ann Arbor – 90s and HUMID. Perfect weather for cold pickles on the side of any meal. Here is an adaptation of a recipe from my son’s godmother – I’ve changed a few ingredients to make it more Chinese. You can use just about any pickling vegetables you like, and it’s a great way to use up those green tomatoes.

You will need to plan ahead for this, though – the pickles need to rest overnight at room temperature, then be refrigerated until completely chilled, so plan on 24 hours before they are ready to eat.  This will make approximately 2.5 lbs of pickles – they will keep up to 2 weeks in the fridge (if you don’t eat them before that!)

vegetables:

You will need approximately 2.5 lbs of vegetables. Some of our favorites:

  • tomatoes (any color, including green), cut into 8ths
  • celery, cut into 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ sticks
  • carrots, cut into 1/2 x 1/2 x 2″ sticks
  • bell peppers (any color), cut into 1″ dice
  • green beans, ends removed, blanched and shocked
  • jalapenos, cut into rounds

brine ingredients:

  • 1 qt water (4 c)
  • 1/2 c vinegar, rice wine or apple cider varieties are best
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 10 coriander seeds
  • 1.5 T sea salt
  • 3 T sugar, raw cane is preferable
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed
  • 1 bunch cilantro, including stems, coarsely chopped

method:

  1. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil, then add the peppercorns, coriander seeds, salt, and sugar, and stir until salt and sugar are dissolved.
  2. Place all the vegetables in a heat resistant glass bowl or container.
  3. Tuck the garlic cloves and cilantro into the vegetables.
  4. Pour the boiling brine over the vegetables, making sure that you have enough to submerge them entirely.
  5. Cover lightly and rest at room temperature overnight.
  6. Refrigerate until chilled, and serve as a cold side dish.

do ahead:

These pickles will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, and their flavor will only improve with time.

Snowpeas in Vinaigrette

dressing

This is another recipe that I’ve created – not strictly Chinese, but the flavors in the vinaigrette make it almost so. You can serve this with Chinese food or as a quick vegetable dish for any meal – it’s particularly good with grilled salmon. Fresh snow peas are plentiful this time of year in Southern California, but you can also use frozen ones, although they will be a bill less pleasing in texture. Sugar snap peas would work just as well but require a bit longer cooking time.

ingredients

  • 12 oz snow peas
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1/4 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 2 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more or less to taste

method:

  1. Snap off both ends of the snowpeas, allowing the strings to pull away with the end (the strings are very tough and not pleasant to eat).
  2. You can leave the peapods whole, cut them in half.
  3. Steam (or blanch) the peapods just until crisp-tender and bright green (if you get to olive green, it’s a bit too well-done), then then shock in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color, draining well when cold.
  4. While the peas cool, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.
  5. 10-20 m before serving, combine the vegetable with the dressing, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

do ahead:
Peapods and dressing can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Do not combine until 10-20 m before serving, or the vegetable will turn an unattractive olive color.

Chinese Coleslaw

This is a recipe I created for a party that we held for a group of my daughter’s friends – we let them decide on the menu, and as they were fairly evenly split between a traditional barbecue and a Chinese meal that we decided to combine the two themes. You can use the conventional round cabbage for this or you can branch out and try napa or bok choy. For the latter two types, I would salt the cabbage for the shorter amount of time (20 m) and squeeze even more gently than you would with the conventional variety.

ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, about 1 lb
  • 1 tsp salt

dressing:

  • 2 T sugar, preferably light brown or raw cane
  • 2 T vinegar, apple cider or rice wine varieties are best
  • 1 T sesame oil

method:

  1. Shred the cabbage finely (a mandolin comes in handy here), then toss w/ the salt and set aside for 20-30 m.
  2. Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.
  3. Rinse the cabbage in cold water, then gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  4. Combine the cabbage with the dressing, adjust seasoning, and serve.

Sweet & Sour Cucumbers

Just about any kind of cucumber will work for this recipe – I prefer the small Persian or Japanese ones, since they don’t have such large seeds and their skin is thin. English cucumbers are great, but who needs all that plastic packaging? If you use a conventional cucumber, you can scoop out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller before cutting.

ingredients:

  • 2 small or 1 large cucumber
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 T vinegar – rice wine or apple cider varieties are best here
  • 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 T sugar – brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white or Sichuan peppercorn as garnish – optional

method:

  1. Wash the cucumbers and pat dry. If you are using a thick-skinned variety, you may wish to peel them.
  2. Cut off the ends of the cucumbers, then cut each into sticks approximately 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 2″ long – usually cutting small cucumbers into 2″ sections, then cutting lengthwise into quarters is just about right.
  3. Sprinkle the cucumbers with the salt and allow to drain in a sieve for 20-30 m.
  4. In the meantime, combine the remaining ingredients except for the pepper in a bowl and set aside.
  5. Pat the cucumbers dry, then add the remaining ingredients, mixing gently to coat the cucumbers thoroughly with the sauce.
  6. Arrange in a bowl or on a plate, sprinkle with pepper if desired, and serve.

do ahead:

The salted cucmbers can sit for up to 6 h in the refrigerator, and the dressing can be made up to a day ahead. Bring to room temperature before combining and serving. You may need a little less soy sauce as the cucumbers will be saltier to begin with.

Steamed Zucchini

Like beets, zucchini is another vegetable I’ve never seen in China or in a Chinese restaurant. But occasionally I come across a recipe for it (as in Jack Santa Maria’s Chinese Vegetarian Cookery). I’ve used zucchini in a pinch (when I’d planned to make an eggplant dish and realized I didn’t have eggplant!) and found it to be a great substitute for both eggplant and cucumbers – it’s spongy in nature, like eggplant, so it will readily absorb any flavors you add to the dish. Beware though – this means it will also readily absorb a lot of oil.

The following dish can be served hot or cold.

ingredients:

  • 1 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 2″ strips

dressing:

  • 1 tsp ginger root, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/2 T rice wine vinegar or black vinegar

garnish:

  • 1 ea scallion, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 T chopped cilantro

method:

  1. Arrange the zucchini on a heatproof plate, then steam until just tender. Drain off any accumulated liquid. If you will be serving the dish cold, allow zucchini to come to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  2. Combine the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, pour dressing over the zucchini and mix gently to combine.
  3. Garnish with scallion and cilantro.

do ahead:

To serve this dish cold, you can steam the zucchini up to several hours in advance. Pour off any accumulated liquid and add the sauce just before serving. The dressing can be made several hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Pickled Beets

Beets…. Not the first vegetable that comes to mind when you think about Chinese food? I’ve never seen beets (called tang luobo, “sugar turnip”) served in a Chinese restaurant or in a Chinese home, but their sweetness is a great foil to the pickling process and five spice powder, so I thought I’d try it. And I thought they were great!

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

ingredients:

  • 3-4 small beets, tops reserved for some other dish
  • 1 T sea salt dissolved in 2 T water
  • 1 tsp brown or raw cane sugar
  • 2-3 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch of five-spice powder

method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or use any temperature between 300 & 400 if your oven is on for another purpose).
  2. Wash the beets well, then pat dry and cut off the root end. Wrap loosely in foil, place in a baking pan, and roast until a sharp knife enters easily to the center, approximately 1-1.5 h if the oven is at 350. Be careful not to pierce the bottom of the foil, or the beet sugar will burn onto your pan if you need to continue to bake.
  3. Let the beets cool, then slip off the skins and refrigerate until cool.
  4. Cut into thin slices, then into strips, or use a mandolin to julienne the beets.
  5. Toss the beets with the salted water and allow to rest at room temperature for 30-60 m.
  6. Rinse in cool water and drain well, then add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  7. Adjust the seasoning – you may need to add a bit of salt – and chill until serving time.

do ahead:

You can do steps 1-2 any time up to 1 week in advance – plan to roast the beets when you have something else to bake or roast, and you’ll save yourself time and do a nice thing for Mother Earth!

The completed dish will last up to a week in the refrigerator.