Here, in its cozy casserole, is the first cousin to Master Sauce Chicken, another member of the “red-cooked” clan of soy and wine-simmered meats. Unlike them, this duck requires more wine, longer cooking, and an extremely gentle heat to bring it to full goodness. When done, the meat falls from the bones, lushly permeated by the winy sauce. With the addition of noodles, carrots, and dusky black mushrooms, this is a hearty but elegant one-dish meal, perfect for a winter night.
Chop off and discard the wingtips and tail. Remove the oil sacs and any fatty lozenges from around the neck and tail regions, then clean the duck thoroughly, as directed. Dry the duck extremely well, inside and out, to eliminate splattering. Pierce it all over with the tines of a long cooking fork to encourage the rendering of fat. Have a long-handled spoon, a plate lined with a triple thickness of paper towels, and some extra paper towels alongside your stovetop.
Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Sprinkle the salt evenly in the pan, then wait until it feels hot to the touch. Put the duck in the pan breast side down, then reduce the heat to medium-high as the fat begins to render. Keep the heat as high as possible without causing the fat to smoke. Grasping the neck or leg with kitchen tongs or a mitted hand, move the duck back and forth to brown the breast evenly, then turn the duck on its side. Brown the side, then the back, then the other side, tipping and moving the duck to brown it evenly, all but the spots under the wings and thighs. Pierce the skin repeatedly with the fork, especially around the thighs and shoulders where the fat is concentrated. The whole process will take about 15 minutes and render up to a cupful of dark brown fat. While the duck is browning, the wingtips may scorch. If so, just scrape off the black spots with the tip of a knife before putting the duck in the stew pot.
Turn off the heat, stick the spoon in the cavity, then lift and transfer the duck to the paper towel drain. Pat it dry with the paper towels, inside and out, to remove the oil and salt.
Discard the fat and wash the pan clean, using only hot water if you are using a wok and want this opportunity to enrich the patina. Clean the stovetop now, while the grease is hot and easily wiped away.
Choose a large Chinese sand pot or heavy casserole that will hold the duck snugly then adjust the heat to maintain a lively simmer. If you have a round bamboo mat, wash and dry it well, oil it lightly with corn or peanut oil, and place it in the pot. Or, lacking the bamboo mat, shave the single carrot into long ribbons with a vegetable peeler and clump the ribbons in the bottom of the pot to make a mat 6–7 inches in diameter.
Lightly smash the scallion and ginger to release their juices, then arrange the scallions in the pot as a further cushion. Place the duck on the scallions, breast side down. Combine the ginger, anise, soy sauces, wine and water, and add to the pot. Do not add the sugar at this time.
Bring the liquids to a simmer over moderate heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a weak simmer. If you are using a sand pot, begin over low heat to prevent the pot from cracking and use an asbestos pad to obtain an even, gentle heat. Baste the duck, cover the pot tightly, and simmer 1¼ hours, raising the lid periodically to check the simmer and baste the duck.
After 1¼ hours, carefully turn the duck, grasping the neck with tongs or a mitted hand so as not to tear the skin. Push the carrots back underneath the duck as best you can to cushion it. Scatter the sugar into the sauce, swish to dissolve, then baste the duck. Cover the pot and simmer an additional 1 hour, raising the lid periodically to check the simmer and baste the duck with the sauce.
At the end of the simmering time, turn off the heat. Gently remove the duck to a plate, then tip the plate over the pot to empty the cavity of sauce. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing down lightly on the scallions, carrot, and ginger to extract their juices. If you have a handy, spouted plastic fat separator, you may remove the fat while it is still liquid. Otherwise, refrigerate or freeze the sauce until the fat congeals, then scoop off and discard every trace of fat. Once the duck cools, refrigerate it sealed airtight, overnight if you wish. Bring it to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
You may prepare the accompaniments 2 hours to a day in advance of serving the duck.
Soak the mushrooms in cold or hot water to cover until fully soft and spongy. Snip off the stems, rinse the caps to dislodge any sand trapped in the gills, then squeeze the mushrooms gently to remove excess liquid. Cut the carrots on the diagonal into oblong coins a scant ¼ inch thick.
Bring the sauce to a simmer in a heavy saucepan, then taste and adjust if necessary to achieve a good balance of soy, sweet, and wine. Add the carrot coins, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, then cover the pot and simmer the carrots 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the mushrooms to the sauce. Replace the cover and let the vegetables steep in the liquid for 1½ hours. Strain the sauce and put the vegetables and the sauce in separate bowls. If you wish, they may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.
Thoroughly defrost the noodles if they are frozen. Fluff the noodles to separate the strands. Bring a generous amount of unsalted water to a rolling boil over high heat, then add the noodles. Stir to separate, then boil 1–2 minutes, or until they are partly cooked but still underdone. They will simmer to doneness in the sauce. Drain immediately, then rush under cold running water to stop the cooking. Shake to remove excess water, then toss the drained noodles with the sesame oil. If you are working in advance, the noodles may be bagged and refrigerated overnight. Bring the noodles to room temperature before using.
Thirty minutes before serving, return the duck breast side up to the casserole in which it cooked and pour the sauce on top. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the duck is heated through, about 20 minutes. Spread the noodles around the duck and poke them under the sauce. (Extra noodles can be accommodated in the cavity if your pot is not large enough.) Scatter the carrots and mushrooms on top of the noodles, then baste to gloss them with the sauce. Cover the pot and cook 5–10 minutes, until piping hot. Serve the duck in the covered casserole, or remove it carefully to a deep heated serving platter.
Traditionally, the casserole is placed festively in the center of the table, and the participants tear the soft meat from the bones with their chopsticks. For convenience, I set the table with shallow pasta bowls and Chinese porcelain spoons to make the eating easier and help each guest to noodles and accompaniments before inviting them to partake of the duck.
Leftovers are excellent reheated. Surplus sauce may be strained and used in the same way as master sauce, to cook or enrich vegetables, noodles, or meats.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.