SIU NGAAP – Roast Duck, Cantonese style.
Because Savage Kitten has never mentioned our relationship to her family (as her siblings have likewise kept their private lives utterly private), she ends up at the old mother’s house every holiday with her kin, wondering what craziness will happen this year at the dinner table (which I will hear about in detail when she returns – it’s good to live a Cantonese-American life vicariously). (*)
What this means is that she and I celebrate Thanksgiving a day later than everyone else. Or, for one day longer – it is, after all, outside the land.
And because we are secretive, and not hospitable (small apartment, filled to the rafters with books, a veritable fire hazard of a place – please move gracefully, like a cat, not kajumpily, like a heffalump), we need only enough food to feast the two of us, not a bird the size of an ox.
Besides, she will have already eaten turkey the evening before, and I rather dislike them.
Something smaller and better, then.
For that, a duck is perfect. Which I’ve been doing now for nearly a decade (before that, she would do a chicken or a fish, and I would do the vegetables, salad, and a sweet for after).
I really like duck, though. Especially if brined and roasted at a high temperature.
The advantage of cooking a brined bird at high heat for a relatively short period of time is that it turns out crisp skinned, juicy, and tender.
Here, then, is the recipe.
SIU NGAAP (Roast Duck).
For a five to six pound duck:
Four and half cups sherry.
Three cups soy-sauce.
Six Tablespoons cane-sugar.
Six Tablespoons fresh lime juice.
A large thumblength fresh ginger, smashed with the flat of a cleaver.
Six to eight whole star-anise.
Four or five bayleaves.
One Teaspoon whole peppercorns.
Quarter Teaspoon cinnamon powder.
The duck must be freshly bought, or entirely thawed. Go over it with a tweezer to pull out the more obvious feather remainders, and rinse out the cavity with cold water.
Whisk the ingredients listed above together until the sugar has dissolved. Place the duck in a roomy plastic bag, and pour in the sherry and soy-sauce mixture. Tighten the bag so that the duck is entirely covered by the marinade, and tie the top to prevent leakage. Place the package in an oval basin in the refrigerator to soak for at least twenty-four hours, tied end up (the duck can lie down, but the basin and the tied end up are so that the chance of a leak is lessened).
On the day that you will roast the duck, remove it from the refrigerator and drain the marinade into a saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and pour it over the duck (placed in a roomy pot for this purpose), in order to tighten the skin. Reheat the marinade, and repeat the pouring. Do this one time more. Pat the duck dry, place on a rack, and let air dry for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare rack and roasting pan, with a layer of water in the roasting pan so the drippings do not smoke or burn. Roast the duck for one and a quarter hours, turning twice for an even colour. Start breast up, and finish breast up. Check on the beast occasionally to make sure he isn’t turning too dark (and if you fear this happening, place a tin-foil tent over him to prevent him colouring further).
Let the bird rest for half an hour on the kitchen counter before carving. When carving, use a pair of clean kitchen shears instead of hacking at it with a chefs knife – who says you have to make a dinner-table performance of it?
You could also hack it into chunks with a Chinese cleaver, like the fat guy at the take-out counter of the Sin Kam Po does.
Save the dripped grease in the roasting pan to clarify later, as duck-fat is gorgeous with potatoes. There should be between one and four cups after clarifying; the amount of grease largely depends on how fatty the duck is, and how much of that lovely fat oozed out while roasting.
The remaining marinade is not worth keeping, though a little bit can be boiled up into a salty jus, or incorporated into a whiskey sauce.
One and a half cups good stock.
Half a cup whiskey (Bourbon or Irish).
Quarter cup reserved marinade, or two Tbs soy sauce.
Some chopped garlic, parsley, and chives.
Pinches of pepper, sugar, and dry ginger.
One or two cloves and bay leaves.
About four Tablespoons of the grease from the roasting pan.
A few sliced mushrooms optional.
Sweat the garlic and herbs (and optional mushrooms) in the duck-grease till softened. Before they brown or turn colour, add everything else. Raise heat to boiling, turn low and simmer till the alcohol has cooked off and the sauce has reduced by about forty percent. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
A simple chutney goes well with duck, as a dab on the side of your plate. Here's a recipe for a quick fruit chutney.
Half a cup chunky peach or plum jam.
Quarter cup each: Orange juice, sherry.
A little minced ginger, a hefty squeeze of lime juice, and a heavy dash of vinegar (balsamic, if you have it, otherwise red wine vinegar will do).
One Tablespoon Louisiana hot-sauce.
Half a Teaspoon chili pepper flakes.
Quarter Teaspoon cayenne.
Pinches of salt, dry ginger, cinnamon powder.
Note I: In stead of actual ginger and sugar in the duck-marinade, up to half a cup of ginger syrup can be used. In which case, add about a teaspoon of salt to the marinade.
Note II: If you prefer not to use sherry and soy-sauce, you can make a simple brine. The proportion of liquid to salt to sugar would 20 parts water to one part salt, one part sugar. If you intend to soak longer, add a jigger vinegar and some extra salt. But twenty four hours is just about right.
(*) Note regarding the secrecy of the relationship. Savage Kitten is of Cantonese ancestry, I am not. And her mother is very old-fashioned, old-country, old-school (and yes, I have actually met her a few times on the street in C-town, and I know that type very well, so I do know what I'm talking about).
Now, imagine this monologue, in a rural Cantonese dialect:
“You married a WHAT??!?!! How can you do this to us, after all we’ve done for you!?!?!?!? Bitch!!!! You should’ve married a dentist from our hometown!!!!! Not a kwailoh!!!!! AND they smell bad!!!! Szei lo-faan!!!!! Disobedient girl!!!!!! Why did we even teach you to read???!?!?!!! Chee-loui!!!! You should NEVER have gone to school!!!! Fan-ah ney, szei kwai-chu!!! Oh, if only your grandfather were alive today!!!!! What will we tell the relatives!!!!!! Cursed dead daughter, we should’ve sent you to live on the farm!!!!!! Oooh, I'm having an attack, aaah!!!!! Your own people aren’t good enough for you??!!?!! We never should’ve come to this country!!! We should’ve married you off when we had the chance!!!! Sold you!!! For cheap!!!! Should’ve drowned you!!!! Traded you for a pig!!!!!! No one will respect us now!!!! Now we will NEVER find spouses for your syblings!!!!! Aeeeyahhh!!!!!! The shame, the shame, the horror, the horror, aaaaaaaauuurrgh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Now try to imagine these themes being repeated until the old lady grows weary. Which might take a very long time, as elderly Cantonese mothers are full of piss and vinegar. With more histrionics than you can possibly imagine.
Doesn’t it seem so much simpler to just not say a darn thing and quietly elope?
Of course, we had to leave the piano behind when she moved out of C-town. Wouldn’t fit in the station wagon.
Have a happy thanksgiving, y'all.