Traditional Long-Cooked Balinese Duck

Bebek Betutu

I was hoping very much that during my trip around Bali in 1993 I would find this delicious duck on restaurant menus. But no, it was nowhere to be found. Back in 1987, I had bebek betutu at the Bali Beach Hotel, not cooked by the hotel chefs but brought in by the general manager and his wife; it had been specially made for me by his mother in Bangli, in the traditional manner, the duck stuffed with cassava leaves and spiced with the full Balinese spice mixture. The wrapping, which consisted of layers of banana leaves and seludang mayang (the hard outer sheath of the coconut flower) opened to reveal a mass of black and tender meat. The colour of the stuffing had become black as well. Not very appetizing to look at, maybe, but the taste was exquisite.

Here is the recipe for preparing and cooking the duck in the oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 duck, weighing about 1.5–2 kg/3½–4 lb, cleaned and ready for roasting
  • 170–225 g/6–8 oz/1½–2 cups curly kale, vine or courgette/zucchini leaves, or spinach, blanched, squeezed dry and shredded

For the Paste

  • 5 shallots or 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 5 red chillies, de-seeded and chopped, or 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 candlenuts or macadamia nuts (optional)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 green cardamoms
  • 2.5-cm/1-inch stick of cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground or grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp galingale powder
  • ¼ tsp ground white pepper
  • 5-cm/2-inch stem of lemon grass, outer leaf discarded, chopped, or ¼ tsp powder
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 3 tbsp tamarind water or lime juice
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt

Method

Blend all the ingredients for the paste together until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and simmer for 6–8 minutes, stirring often. Then remove it to a bowl and leave it to get cold. Adjust the seasoning.

When the paste is cold, mix half of it in a bowl with the shredded leaves. Then rub the remaining paste on the duck, inside as well as outside. Stuff the shredded leaves into the duck. Wrap the duck, first with some banana leaves, then with two or three layers of aluminium foil, quite loosely, but sealing the top well. Everything up to this point can be done the day before, and the parcel can be left in the fridge overnight so that the duck marinates thoroughly.

To cook, pre-heat oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3, and put the parcel on a baking tray in the middle of the oven. Cook for 2 hours, then reduce the heat to 120°C/250°F/Gas Mark ½ and continue cooking for a further 3–4 hours.

To serve, unwrap the parcel and transfer the duck to a large dish. Separate and discard the oil from the cooking juices. Put the cooking juices in a small saucepan, add to this all the stuffing, which has now become a dark-coloured purée (but tastes delicious), heat, and serve it as a thick sauce. The duck has become very tender, and the meat will come off the bones very easily. With a fork, transfer the meat to a well-heated serving platter. Serve straight away with plenty of hot boiled white rice, with the sauce poured over the duck meat or in a sauceboat for everybody to help themselves.

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