Spiced Duck Sichuan Style

The problem with cooking a whole duck (or goose, turkey, or any large game bird) is that you want the breast to be slightly pink (so that it’s not dry), but the leg and thigh cooked all the way through and tender. That is why the two parts of the duck are usually cooked separately.

This Chinese poaching method allows you to cook the whole duck, and have the breast, though not pink, still tender and moist. This method also gets rid of all the fat, but leaves the skin moist (though not crisp). Chinese chefs will then deep-fry the whole duck in a wok full of hot oil, which crisps the skin while leaving the breast meat moist and tender. It is the best of all worlds with duck, but the frying part is not recommended outside of a professional kitchen.

We served this at an AMFAR benefit in Napa Valley in 1998 to celebrate the Napa vegetable harvest, and included young red onions, fresh white beans, diced celery root, and squashes cooked separately, and then tossed together with olive oil, herbs, and cooked chopped pancetta.

Keep the poaching liquid and make an amazing soup by straining it and adding fresh ginger, herbs, and vegetables.

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Ingredients

  • 1 whole duck
  • ½ cup fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 2 bunches scallions, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch celery, chopped
  • 2 heads fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 6 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 stalks lemon grass
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 ancho chili
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons salt

Method

Choose a pot that will just hold the duck and enough liquid to cover it by 2 inches.

Put the duck in the pot, and add all the ingredients and water to cover by 2 inches. Remove the duck and bring the water to the boil and simmer 15 minutes. Put the duck back in and bring the water back to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook the duck for 1 hour, or until it is tender (the legs move easily on the body, but by no means are we at the point that the meat is falling off the bones).

Do not overcook the duck, as it will continue to cook as it cools in the broth (in order to maximize its flavors and moistness). When the duck is cool, carve it into legs/thighs and breasts with one wing bone on, and either grill, broil, or sauté. Serve with the black-eyed peas or the caramelized sugar and ginger sauce.

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