Until recently I would get my steamed duck from Chinatown. Then, almost overnight, it couldn’t be found anywhere. The stores where I had gotten the steamed duck, hole-in-the-wall joints that had been making it for years, were no longer offering it. This was disconcerting to me. Unlike everyone else I know, Asiatic or not, I prefer steamed to roast duck. Chinese roast duck is ubiquitous. We all know it and it’s featured at almost every Chinese dinner. This being the week of the Chinese lunar New Year, the Year of the Monkey, every banquet will serve it. But, to my mind, where roast duck is the preferred dish, steamed duck is for the connoisseur. Roast duck I can pass by. Steamed duck I cannot. So, here I was now, bereft. I couldn’t find my beloved fowl. I asked more than one proprietor, why no steamed duck anymore? They told truthfully, it didn’t sell as well as its other cousin. This further baffled me. Didn’t sell? In anger I thought, What do you want from the Great Unwashed. What the hell do they know?
Still, it didn’t solve my problem. Which meant that now I would have to make my own duck or go unrewarded. I canvassed my friends and acquaintances in Chinatown and finally came up with the following recipe. My one criteria: it had to be easy. I wasn’t going to mess with fandangled steamers and fryers and what-have-you. Some would question whether the recipe given could be categorized as steamed duck, some would say it’s mote like braised duck—and I don’t use a steamer. It’s all semantics. My friends call it steamed duck, and so do I. The dish is delicious. That’s all that matters. With some hot rice on the side, and a light red or chilled white wine, it can’t be beat.
One final note. Most places in Chinatown use Long Island duck, which is notoriously fatty. I’ve discovered there is other duck out there where the fat content is minimal. If you can, try to obtain a wild duck, or Muscovy duck, or Bavarian duck—which need no trimming of fat. If you do use the Long Island species, then remove fat from the cavity of the duck, and trim excess fat from the neck and body. And follow the recipe as is.
1 duck (4-5 pounds)
1 tablespoon salt
3-4 strips orange peel, about 2-inches long
1 tablespoon Chinese 5-Spice Powder
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 whole star anise, smashed with the side of a cleaver
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 red chopped, chili pepper
1. Rinse duck under cool running water, and pat dry with paper towels. With the tines of a fork or sharp knife, prick the duck all over.
2. Place duck in a large wok or pot. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and blanch duck in the boiling water for about 1 minute. This is done in order to rid the bird of its gamy taste. Remove duck from pot, drain well, and rub evenly with the salt, including the cavity.
3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients (minus vinegar sauce) to the water in the pot or wok. Bring to a second boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and gently lower the duck into pot.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 1 hour or until duck is tender (internal temperature using a meat thermometer should register 165 degrees F.)
5. Turn off heat and leave duck immersed in sauce liquid for another hour.
6. Remove duck from pot. Using sauce liquid, rub or brush duck all over. Cut into serving pieces. At this point, make vinegar sauce: combine ingredients in a small pan and heat briefly (about 3-4 seconds).
7. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add duck pieces, skin side down, and saute until skin begins to sizzle and brown. Turn and brown on other side.
8. Transfer duck to a serving platter and serve with vinegar sauce.
Yield: 4 servings.