Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Making light work of leftover duck

In the aftermath of Chinese New Year feasts, my fridge is filled to the brim with food. It's really a sin to waste anything and I'm loathe to just toss food away. I do freeze some of it, to be savored at a later date when I'm not feeling so stuffed with New Year goodies. A comfort soup made with the carcasses of various meats. A simple pasta with leftovers. For now, though, especially in the hot weather, I'm craving something light and citrusy, to counter all the rich food I've been enjoying.

Duck is one of the staples on most dining tables during Chinese New Year. Every food item that's served during this auspicious occasion has special significance for the Chinese and duck symbolizes fidelity, but don't take my word for it. (I had to look it up on the internet.) I think it probably represents one of those luxury food items that just connotes wealth and prosperity.

The same goes for pomelos, the soccer ball-sized citrus fruit that's kind of like a grapefruit though green in color and usually sweeter. Its name in Cantonese sounds like prosperity and wealth, so it's a must on Chinese New Year menus as well.

I'm fortunate that in this part of the world, we get pretty good roast duck in restaurants, because I have absolutely no idea how to make one myself. There are also shops that specialize only in roast duck, chopped up and served on a plate of plain rice that's delicious with the gravy that accompanies the duck. There are also food trucks in suburban neighborhoods that offer up the freshly roasted bird. I'm told that in the buildup to Chinese New Year, the trucks start selling them at 6 am (in the dark!) and the popular ones don't even have time to chop them up for you!

Duck is really one of my favorite birds, so much more flavorful than say, turkey. It definitely has less meat than a chicken but its gamey taste makes up for this lack. It's equally yummy when roasted, stewed or braised. I've tried duck confit and duck l'orange, but really, no one comes close to the Chinese when it comes to preparing duck. Peking duck (no one calls it Beijing duck), served in the Chinese capital with the thinnest skin and tiniest sliver of meat, has to be one of the most decadently delicious dishes.

Everything ready to be assembled into rice paper rolls
A hearty pot of duck soup
When I was recently in Melbourne, I watched as my friend S expertly roasted a duck form scratch, then shredded the meat to be savored in Vietnamese style rice paper rolls with lots of veggies and rice noodles. She also made an awesome dipping sauce to go with it that had her entire family (and me) making roll after roll. The next day, she used the duck bones in a flavorful soup with salted vegetables. This is in fact my all-time favorite soup. It was the first dish I asked my mom to make when I came home after two years abroad in college. In fact, that's my death-row meal, because I reckon it'll take them a long time to figure out how to make it!

I had a version of pomelo salad with roast duck that had a light Thai style dressing in a restaurant once, long ago. It no longer exists and the recipes I found on the internet didn't quite have the same ingredients as I remember in the dish I savored. So I've concocted my own recipe that calls for some basics and really, whatever vegetables you can find. This time when I made it, I didn't have quite enough coriander, so I added some rocket I still had in the fridge, and shredded cabbage for crunch. I threw in the little bit of jicama I also had lying around in the fridge, which I shredded finely. Coriander and mint add a nice bite that cuts through the gaminess of the duck, as does the Thai dressing made with lime.

A simple duck pasta
When I have more than the usual amount of duck meat left over, I sometimes makes a simple pasta with it. While boiling the pasta, I sauté the shredded duck meat in some olive oil, adding garlic, chill flakes and pine nuts. Then at the last moment, I throw in some rocket to wilt and voila, another yummy dish made with leftover duck. My duck bones are sitting in the freezer, waiting to be turned into my favorite soup. Duck really is the Wonder Bird!

Pomelo salad with roast duck

1 cup roast duck meat, shredded
1 cup pomelo chunks (can be substituted with grapefruit)
1 cup roughly chopped coriander and mint (other salad leaves can be added or substituted, depending on your preference)
3-4 stalks of finely chopped lemongrass (use only the tender inner leaves)
3-4 shallots, finely sliced
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, toasted and chopped roughly
2 tablespoons cashewnuts or peanuts, toasted and chopped roughly

For the dressing:
Juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar, dissolved in hot water (can be substituted with brown sugar or honey)
1 chilli, chopped finely (more can be added, or omitted entirely, to taste)
A dash of peanut oil

Make the dressing, and adjust accordingly to taste.
Assemble the salad ingredients, adding the dried shrimp and nuts at the last minute so they retain their crunch.
Toss with dressing and serve immediately.

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