Recipe for the beer duck
I begin this letter by apologizing for not having responded in such a long time. Please do not think that I had forgotten it. Not at all. I just have had my hands full writting the latest post for my blog Talking about life-changing decisions and beer duck with Chloé. As I have previously told you, every time I finish one of my posts, I also try to replicate one of the dishes featured in it. And this time, as it happens, it was the duck´s turn.
Winter arrived to Beijing and arrived abruptly, without any prelude or prior notice. If it were for me, I would not leave the house until March. And it's not just because of the low temperatures but also because of the smelly engulfing pollution that often comes with it. It is the ideal time to prepare stews, casseroles, soups or any recipe that requires long hours of cooking, so to let the aromas of the spices unfold slowly in every corner of the house. To me, it seemed the beer duck had arrived at the moment in time.
I never cooked duck before in my life. And to be honest, I've eaten it very occasionally too. Sure, I've tried the famous duck confit and duck magret, and in China, the Sichuanese smoked duck or the famous Beijing duck; but that was it. So, the first thing I did was to look for inspiration and guidance in different duck recipes. I was forced to put aside for a few days The Explosion Chronicles - by the Chinese writer Yan Lianke, which I had been reading then. And, before moving on to the subject of cooking, just let me tell you that it is a book that you should read. Lianke, with what he has baptised as "spiritual realism", shows an apparently irrational and implausible China, full of contradictions; but (and here I think you can agree), for those of us who have lived in China, our daily life is often full of these elements. What initially looks like a work of fiction, as the pages keep on turning, strangely and inexplicably resembles our daily life.
Thus, I left aside the "chrysanthemum leaves supporting the large peony blossoms", the “chickens” that “started laying goose eggs and the geese […] laying duck eggs", a "garlic plant” that “sprouted fruits like wolfberries”, the “apple tree that, several years earlier, had been transformed into a pear tree" or the "old elm” that “became addicted to nicotine" from the cigarette cartons piled so high that they reached the branches; to peruse the recipes of wild duck of Champagne and wild duck with carrots and olives from La Cucina di Monsieur Momo, the duck with gooseberries and the duck with turnips a la Bourgeoise from the Cookery Dictionary by Alexandre Dumas; the recipes of Fuchsia Dunlop and those of Kei Lum Chan and Dora Fong Chan. It was the Jiangxi-style duck, from the book of the last two authors -China, which I used as a base.
As in their recipe, I used a head of garlic, ginger and dried chilies, but supplanted the rice wine (in quantity and quality) for Brown Leffe beer and added star anise, cinnamon and leeks. I introduced a new ingredient - dry tofu (腐竹fǔzhú), because it seemed to me that its texture went perfectly with the meat of the duck and also it combined very well with the sweet and spicy sauce. I also introduced Sichuan pepper, which in theory should not be used in dishes typical to Jiangxi but which I love (you can obviously leave it out). The key of the duck is to caramelise it with sugar at the beginning, so it gets a golden brown color and then to stew it with the spices for around 60min-90min. I must say, I was very pleased with the result, even Ayi and her husband (for whom she took a portion in a pot) gave me positive reviews. I will attach to this letter the card with the specific amounts, in case you plan to prepare it yourself.
From the cloudy and greyish Beijing of these last days, I bid farewell and remain waiting for news from you.
Recipe for the beer duck
1 duck (1.5 kg), cut into 4cm-5cm pieces (bone-in)
1 package (200gr.) of dried bean-curd (腐竹fǔzhú)
3 bottles of Leffe Brune beer (33cl.) or any other brown/dark beer
10 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 head garlic (cloves separated, peeled and smashed)
1 piece of ginger (about 8cm-length), thinly sliced
1 piece of leek (about 8cm-length), cut in 2 pieces
1 tablespoon salt
4 star-anise pieces
6 small dried chilies (crushed)
1 long piece of cinnamon bark
1/3 cup Shaoxing wine
1/3 cups Chinese vinegar
5 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons Sichuan pepper (optional since Jiangxi dishes don’t use Sichuan pepper)
1 grapple of fresh Sichuan pepper (optional)
In a large bowl, place the dried bean-curd cut in 10cm-12cm pieces. Cover with warm water and cover. After 30 min drain and set aside. The bean-curd will have become softer but still firm in the center.
In a large saucepan, place the duck pieces and cover with water. Add half of the Shaoxing wine and bring to a boil over high heat and blanch the duck for 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. This step is necessary to wash the duck from all the impurities.
In a bowl heat 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-low heat, add the sugar and stir with a ladle until it caramelizes. Add the duck and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until the bird acquires a nice amber color. Remove the duck and place aside.
Wash the wok and dry. Over a low flame, heat the wok and add 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the cinnamon and star anise, fry for 2 minutes. Add the fresh and dry Sichuan pepper, fry for 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger, fry for 2 minutes until lightly brown. Add the crushed chilies, quickly fry and add the duck.
Add the vinegar, the other half of the Shaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and salt. Add the beer. Mix well and cover. After 10 minutes, add the leeks. After 15 min add the bean-curd, cover the lid and continue stewing for about 60min -90min over medium-low heat.