This was probably the biggest hit in at my Chinese New Year’s party. For those of you who have never had duck before, it will be a life-altering revelation on the world of poultry. Previously the only poultry I really had any experience with was chicken and turkey. Personally, I am really not a fan of either. Despite the most heroic of efforts, the Thanksgiving turkey is often dry and bland. The same generally holds true of chicken. Really my favorite chicken recipes are ones that bury the chicken in enough other flavors and fat that you barely notice it. But duck! Oh my! Duck has real fat in it – it has NOT been turned into a lean, almost inedible, mass produced meat product. It actually has flavor!
Per the cookbook Chinese Feasts & Festivals, smoked duck is a specialty of Sichuan and Hunan, two interior provinces of Chinese which often specialize in a more spicy Chinese cuisine. But this dish is not spicy hot. This Chinese style Tea Smoked Duck is tender, rich, and softly scented with a sweet tea aroma.
So, for now, this is the last of my pictures, as my party was in that crazy cooking stage and I was just desperate to the dish to the table. Thus no pictures were being taken as I was trying to get hot food on the table for my very patient dinner guests. I will have to revisit this recipe to get that final, mouthwatering shot. But so you don’t go completely without, here is a STOCK photo from a professional restaurateur of what my goal finished product should look like:
REFERENCE: Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook by S. C. Moey page 19
Ingredient Prep Time: 25 minutes
Marinating Time: at least 1 hour, preferably overnight
Stovetop Temperature: high
Steaming Time: ~60 minutes
Oven Temperature: 480° F or 250°C
Baking Time: ~20 minutes
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings
|salt||1 1/2 tsp|
|fresh duck, cleaned and dried||1 whole||6 lb||2.7 kg|
|black tea leaves||5 Tbsp|
|sugar||2-3 Tbsp||7/8 – 1 1/3 oz||25-37 g|
|sesame oil||1 tsp||1/8 liq oz||4.5 g|
|cucumber slices, to garnish||1 whole||8 oz||225 g|
|rice wine||2 Tbsp||1 liq oz||27 g|
|spring onions (also called green onions or scallions)||3 whole|
|fresh ginger||6 slices|
|freshly ground black pepper||1/2 tsp|
|hot bean sauce||2 Tbsp||1 liq oz|
|plum sauce||4 Tbsp||2 liq oz|
|soy sauce||1 Tbsp||1/2 liq oz|
|sesame oil||1/2 tsp|
Large wok or stock pot, vegetable steamer, beer-can-chicken rack (helpful), turkey lifters
1. Sprinkle the salt on the duck and rub well over the entire body including the body cavity. Set aside.
2. Combine the Marinade ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Rub the Marinade into the duck and body cavity with your fingers. Allow to marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, turning the duck over once or twice and rubbing it with the Marinade occasionally.
3. Combine the Dipping Sauce ingredients in a serving bowl and mix well. Set aside.
4. Fill a large wok a third full with water and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Place a wire or cake rack in the wok and set the dish with the duck on it. Alternatively, fill a large stock pot with 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) of water and place a stainless-steel vegetable steamer in the pot. The water should not come up over the steamer. Place the duck on the steamer. (I think this would also be the perfect use for a beer-can-chicken rack. I think I will try that next time.) Add any extra Marinade to the boiling water. Cover the wok/pot and steam the duck over rapidly boiling water for 1 hour until tender, adding more hot water whenever the water runs low. Cook until the internal temperature of the thigh is 165°-170°F (74°-77°C) with an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. (Note, the duck will look just terrible at this point as the steaming does not brown the duck skin at all. I will look rather raw.) Drain off the sauce and fat, and discard any spring onions and ginger that might remain from the Marinade.
5. To smoke the steamed duck, line the bottom of a wok with double layers of aluminum foil. Combine the tea leaves and sugar, and spread the mixture evenly on the foil. Place a wire rack or criss-crossed chopsticks over the tea leaves and carefully balance the duck on top, making sure it does not touch the leaves. Cover the wok and heat over high heat until smoke begins to escape from under the lid, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low and continue to smoke the duck for another 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Turn off the heat and leave the duck in the covered wok for 5 to 10 minutes to brown further. Remove from the wok and lightly brush the whole duck sesame oil.
Alternately, smoke the duck in the oven. Preheat the oven to 480° F (250°C). Spread the tea leaves and sugar mixture in a shallow pan lined with aluminum foil and place the pan on the lowest rack of the preheated oven. Place the duck on the middle rack and bake at very high heat, 480° F (250°C), for 8 to 10 minutes, turning the duck over once. Remove from the oven and lightly brush the whole duck with sesame oil. Duck should be practically falling apart at this point.
6. Cut the duck into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a serving platter.
7. Garnish with cucumber slices and serve immediately with the bowl of Dipping Sauce on the side.
MAKE AHEAD POINTERS:
The Marinade and Dipping Sauce can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator. The duck can be marinated overnight in the refrigerator. The tea and sugar mixture can be mixed any time in advance and stored in a cool, dark, dry location until needed.
POINTERS FOR SUCCESS:
This recipe tasted wonderful, but I definitely need to run it again. As stated above, I do think a beer-can-chicken rack would work perfectly for this recipe. The duck also gets really, really tender, and so having a method to transfer the duck from the steamer, to the oven rack, to a cutting board is vital. I think I am going to have to add two turkey lifters to my utensil collection. And, of course, whenever dealing with raw poultry, an instant read thermometer and lots of bleach are essential.
No guest posted questions at this time. So, please ask questions! I may (or may not) know the answer, but I find it fun to learn about the science of food!
FOOD SCIENCE GEEK OUT!
After making this dish, I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen regarding steaming. (As a side note, this is one of the ten most necessary books to any real foodie’s cookbook collection.) As would be expected, steaming is a method “best suited to thin, tender cuts of meat that will cook through quickly in just a few minutes.” Obviously, a whole duck is not what one would describe as a thin cut of meat. Thus, it is imperative to keep the body cavity open so that the meat can be cooked both inside and out. McGee also points out that “steaming does not guarantee moist meat.” This recipe would not work nearly as well with a super lean chicken. It is the high fat content in the duck that keeps the meat tender, not the cooking method itself. McGee presents two other steaming techniques that made me ponder this recipe – low-temperature steaming and pressure cooking. I cooked the duck at a rapid, full boil, 212° F or 100°C. I didn’t really have any tenderness issues, again, presumably due to the high fat content. Steaming with the water merely at a simmer (180° F/80°C) would cook the duck slower, allowing the duck to cook more evenly, and give a bigger window of time that the duck would be at the optimum temperature of 165°-170°F (74°-77°C). Obviously it will take longer to steam the duck. Another steaming method that I often overlook is pressure cooking. Per McGee “high pressure and temperature put together produce an overall doubling or tripling of the heat transfer rate into the meat, as well as an extremely efficient conversion of collagen into gelatin.” (Gelatin is one of the components of meat, along with fat, that makes it taste tender.) A general rule of thumb would be to decrease the cooking time by 2/3rds, so it would only take about 20 minutes to cook this duck. (Please note, that I have not yet tried this, and thus make no promises on its accuracy.)
Another question that might be posed is why the duck looks so horribly raw even after steaming. This would be due to the lack of Maillard browning. Maillard browning is the reaction between carbohydrate molecules (complex sugars) and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). This reaction results in the brown coloration of many dry-heat cooked meats and its full, intense flavor. Unfortunately, Maillard browning only occurs a relatively high temperatures. As the temperature of water steam can’t rise above 212° F/100°C (unless pressurized), the temperature of the exterior of the meat will also never get hotter. The exterior of meats cooked in dry-heat, such as roasted in an oven or grilled, or in oil can reach the temperature of their surroundings, anywhere from 300° F/159°C and up. As Maillard reactions generally take place at 250° F/120°C and above, moist-heat steaming will never successfully brown the duck.