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Duck: Domesticated for Thousands of Years

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food in History

Summer Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(2) pages: 25 to 30


The first records of duck domesticated in China was during the Warring States period (475 - 221 BCE). Not all agree because some say it was even earlier but how much earlier, they never mention. We do know that duck dishes were, and still are, the pride of Chinese cuisine. Ask any chef and he or she will agree and certainly mention China’s Peking Duck.

Speaking of that dish, in Beijing there are five restaurants called ‘Peking Duck Restaurant.’ Long Island, specifically Suffolk County, is lucky to have two with the same chef from Beijing splitting his time though not evenly between them. One is in Selden, the other in Glen Cove, both have ‘Tao’s Fusion’ in their name. He does not fry his ducks off as many Chinese chefs do in the USA; and he had actual Peking Duck ovens shipped to him from Beijing to roast his ducks. The one in Selden was featured in this magazine’s Volume 24(1). Read it and about ducks in China and Chinese restaurants in various issues of this magazine in the Article listings and in the Poultry recipes listings, too.

A few duck pottery models have been found and dated from thousands of years ago. Some were male Mallard ducks with their green heads. Kenneth F. Kiple and Conee Ornelas Kreimhild, in the first volume of their Cambridge World History of Food confirm this, and they believe that the Long Island duck is a descendant.

Ducks are most often found in pairs indicating their conjugal fidelity. A strong attachment to their mate shows when one dies, the other pines and often dies soon thereafter.

Chinese ducks are prepared for the table after they are killed and dressed; and one can see many of them hanging from their neck in windows of Chinese markets. They do dry for at least half a day, and are brushed with sugar water or maltose a few times when drying. They are placed on poles and put into a very hot oven. Before so doing, their skin is loosened from the flesh to help dry both under and outside the skin.

Long Island ducks used to live in marshes or on duck farms at the water’s edge. Most have been closed for health reasons, but we do know of one great duck farm in Pennsylvania that raises their ducks in the cleanest and most hygienic manner one can imagine. One sees many of their ducks hanging in market windows in New York City’s Chinatown and elsewhere. We once visited that farm and were impressed with it. The ducks there walk on wire mesh, their droppings go through it and are collected and given at no cost to local farmers after this farm sterilizes them.

Peking duck is classically served with special thin pancakes or with steamed buns. On them, hoisin sauce, scallion slivers or those of cucumbers or both are served with the very crisp duck skin. This skin is put in one or the other after the sauce and greens, and all are wrapped in these exteriors. The skin crackles when biting into it.

Do you know that China raises more ducks than any other country in the world? Cantonese Roast Duck is also very popular and can be eaten this way or simply roasted and put on a plate without pancakes or buns. Pressed duck is another way duck is served. In and around Nanjing they call it Nanjing Ban Ya or Pressed Duck. In 1905 it won first prize at the Nanjing Fair.

Making any type of duck requires tending and it is a meticulous preparation. Salting often comes first, and the duck’s big bones can be discarded before baking. The skin is often brushed with oil and/or sugar water or maltose before baking or roasting. Made any one of these three ways, the ducks can be served alone and often are before any other dish comes to a main meal. The thin pancakes with Peking Duck are, in Chinese, called pi. In English they are called pancakes and they look like crepes. Making them requires just flour and water and steaming them.

Classically, the carcass goes back to the kitchen where it is used to make duck soup served at the meal’s end. A stir-fry duck dish using the meat and some vegetables can be served before the soup.

Other duck dishes can be made and served at any meal. For or near Chinese New Year, a duck banquet with all dishes made of every part of one or more ducks imaginable is popular. We had such a banquet this past Chinese New Year. It included a dish of boned duck necks, one of duck tongues, another of duck gizzards, a duck breast dish, another of duck legs, one made with stuffed boneless duck wings, and many other duck-centered dishes. It was our first duck banquet experience and ten of enjoyed it.

Here are some duck recipes for your pleasure. Do enjoy one, many, or all of them at one or more meals on Chinese New Years Day or any day.

Duck and Cabbage Soup
Ingredients:

1 roast duck carcass, meat and skin used elsewhere
1 teaspoon coarse salt
6 cups chicken or chicken and duck broth
1 cup slivered canned bamboo shoots, their liquid
discarded
2 cups thinly sliced Napa or Savoy cabbage, cut in two-inch pieces
½ cup Enoki mushrooms, roots removed and discarded
3 large shiitake mushrooms, soaked in two cups warm water until soft, the water reserved, the stems discarded, their caps thinly slivered
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce (optional)
½ teaspoon sa cha sauce (optional)

Preparation:

1. Chop the duck carcass into half dozen or so pieces. Discard any innards attached. Put the bones and any reserved duck meat in six cups of water and bring this to the boil and then simmer for one hour. Discard the bones and strain the water returning that to the pot.
2. Add another four cups of water to the pot, bring it to the boil, and add the broth, reserved mushroom water, drained bamboo shoots, both mushrooms, and the soy sauce and simmer this for half an hour.
3. Add the oyster and sa cha sauces, if using them, and simmer everything for ten more minutes. Then serve in pre-heated individual soup bowls or a pre-heated soup tureen.

Duck With Young Ginger
Ingredients:

1 pair skinless and boneless duck breasts, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
6 water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
1 red pepper, pith and seeds removed, and cubed
2 scallions, cut in one-inch pieces
5 slices fresh young ginger, each quartered
19 fresh asparagus, cut in one-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable oil
½ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese white vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 Teaspoons piquant chili oil

Preparation:

1. Toss the duck slices with the salt and cornstarch, and set them aside.
2. Mix water chestnuts, red pepper and scallion pieces and set them aside.
3. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for one minute, then plunge them in ice water for one minute, and then drain them.
4. Next, drop the asparagus pieces in very hot oil for one minute, drain them on paper towels, and set them aside.
5. Mix wine, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and the piquant oil, and set this aside.
6.Heat a wok or fry pan, add three tablespoons of oil, and stir-fry the duck slices for half a minute. Then add all the vegetable pieces and stir-fry one minute more before adding the fresh ginger and the soy mixture and stir-fry this for half a minute. Then serve on a preheated platter.

Braised Duck With Red Bean Squares
Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 duck, about five pounds, cut in quarters
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 square red fermented tofu
3 Tablespoons liquid from jar of fermented red tofu
1 Tablespoon sesame paste
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing wine
1 Tablespoon each, dark and thin soy sauce
1 cup canned bamboo shoots, drained and sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar several sprigs fresh cilantro, for garnish

Preparation:

1. Heat a wok or fry pan, add half the oil, and fry the duck pieces, two at a time on each side until tan. Then remove them to a plate and fry the other two pieces the same way.
2. Chop the fried duck into two-inch pieces.
3. Add the rest of the oil to the wok or pan, and stir-fry the garlic, shallots, and the tofu and tofu juice. After one minute, add the sesame paste, wine, soy sauces, and the bamboo shoots and stir well before adding the duck pieces, and the chicken stock. Simmer for one hour, then remove the liquid to a freezer-safe bowl.
4. Put it in the freezer for half an hour or until the fat congeals, then remove and discard the solid fat.
5. Return the duck, bamboo shoots, and the liquid to the wok or pan, and reheat it. When hot, serve in a bowl garnished with the cilantro.

Duck with Cloud Ear and Vegetables
Ingredients:

1 whole cooked boneless duck breast, cut in two-inch cubes
2 Tablespoons Chinese black Zhejiiang vinegar
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
2 Tablespoons rendered duck fat
3 Tablespoons cloud ear fungi, soaked until soft, thick ends discarded. And cut into one inch slices
1 cup mixed Chinese greens such as bok cai, cut into one-inch pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into half-inch angle wedges
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 slices fresh peeled pineapple, blanched in hot water, then cut in wedges
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with one Tablespoon cold water

Preparation:

1. Marinate duck pieces in a mixture of vinegar, sugar, salt, and water chestnut flour for half an hour, then drain in a strainer.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add rendered duck fat, then stir-fry the duck for two minutes before adding the cloud ear fungi pieces and the vegetables and cucumbers and fry for another minute. Then remove the solids from the pan.
3. Fry the shallots in the remaining fat for one minute, then return the solids and the duck mixture to the pan, add the wine and drained and blanched pineapple pieces. Stir three times before adding the cornstarch mixture, then bring this to the boil. Serve in a preheated bowl.

Duck, Beans, and Tomatoes
Ingredients:

½ cup vegetable oil
1 pound boneless duck thighs, cut in one-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon sa cha sauce
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon maltose
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with the same amount of cold water
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in wedges
½ cup fresh green beans, ends discarded, and cut in one-inch pieces
½ cup drained canned diced tomatoes

Preparation:

1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the duck meat for three minutes, then remove it to a bowl and leave the oil in the pan.
2, Mix duck meat with the sa cha, salt, wine, sugar or maltose, and the ground pepper and let this rest for ten minutes.
3.Reheat the oil, and fry the onion pieces for two minutes, add the duck meat and the cornstarch mixture and stir fry for two minutes than add the green beans and the tomatoes and stir-fry for two minutes stirring all the time. Then serve in a pre-heated serving bowl.

Duck Neck With Garlic Chive Puree
Ingredients:

20 duck skinless necks, each chopped in two-inch lengths
½ cup maltose
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup Chinese white vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
1 cup carrots, peeled and roll-cut
½ pound garlic chives. Blanched, drained, and pureed in a blender
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup rice flour
½ cup cornstarch
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup club soda

Preparation:

1. In a non-reactive pot, put two cups cold water, the duck necks, sugar, vinegar, and the salt and simmer until the duck necks are tender, about an hour. Then cool them covered overnight in the liquid in the refrigerator.
2. Remove them to the stove, add the carrots and simmer for ten minutes, drain and discard the liquid.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan add the oil. Make a batter of the rice flour, cornstarch, and the all-purpose flour with the club soda, and add the duck necks. Take them out one by one and fry a few at a time in the oil for three minutes, add the carrots, and in one minute remove the necks and carrots, mix them with the garlic chive puree, and toss well, then serve in a pre-heated bowl.

Pressed Duck With Walnuts
Ingredients:

1 purchased pressed Nanjing duck, skin removed and kept whole; meat removed from the bones and mince, bones discarded
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup drained canned water chestnuts, minced
21 scallion, minced
3 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 egg white
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 cup vegetable oil
1 lettuce leaf

Preparation:

1. Put duck skin on a flat surface, wipe its inner side with a damp cloth, then dry it with paper towels. Brush it with the egg white on its under side, then sprinkle on the salt and pepper.
2, Mix duck meat with the walnuts, water chestnuts, rice wine, scallions and ginger, and then mix this with the cornstarch mixture. Spread over the main portion of the duck skin, then fold in the edges and flatten this skin-filled packet. Set it aside to dry somewhat for half an hor.
3. Heat the oil in a large fry pan, then slide the stuffed duck packet into the hot oil. Fry it until tan on one side then on the other side, and then remove it to paper towels. Cut it into two-inch cubes, and put them on a lettuce-leaf-lined platter, and serve.

Duck Web With Taro
Ingredients:

2 boned duck webs, rinsed and dried, then boiled for half an hour and re-dried with paper towels
1 pound taro, peeled, boiled until soft, mashed, and cooled
2 scallions, minced
3 shallots, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons thin soh sauce
1 scant teaspoon granulated sugar
1 one-inch cube fermented taro of tofu
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil

Preparation:

1. Boil duck webs, scallions, shallots, cornstarch, and half the thin soy sauce until they are thoroughly cooked, about forty minutes, then drain and let them cool.
2. Mash the taro with a tablespoon of the boiled water or another liquid. Dust the web tops with cornstarch, and spread the taro mixture on the duck webs. Let them dry for twenty minutes.
3. Heat a pot with the oil, and add the dried stuffed duck webs and fry them for about fifteen minutes. Remove them carefully with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. Cut each web in half the long way, and put them on a serving platter.

Duck Breast With Black Bean Sauce
Ingredients:

1 whole boneless duck breast
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
3 slices fresh ginger, minced
2 Tablespoons mashed fermented black beans
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sa cha sauce

Preparation:

1. Season duck breasts with the ground pepper. Then heat a wok or a fry pan, add the oil, and fry the breasts three minutes per side. Then remove them to paper towels. Next, slice them thinly and arrange them on a pre-heated platter.
2, Discard the oil. Dry the wok or fry pan, add the rest of the oil, and stir-fry the garlic and ginger for one minute before adding the mashed black beans, wine, sugar and soy sauce. Stir one minute, then add the siracha sauce, stir and pour over the duck slices. Now serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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