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by Jacqueline M. Newman


Spring Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(1) page(s): 17, 18, 19, and 32

Ducks of several kinds are traditional and ancient Chinese foods. At least two species were known as domesticated at least since about 3000 BCE. They were kept for their meat and for their eggs. Later, in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), records indicate duck meat was popular made in many ways. One bamboo slip found at the Han Tomb Number 1, known as Ma Wang Tui, speaks about ducks as does a silk manuscript found in that same tomb. It specifically says duck is one of nine ancient grand soups, the soup remaining after cooking duck, and assuming it is cooked in water. This duck dish was referred to as Yu Keng; the word for duck in Chinese now is not yu but ya or yarou. The word keng was and is used for a stew. Other early writings speak about wild ducks acquired when hunting. Assumedly, they were eaten. Also, in the Shi Qing, stewed ducks were written about, and the bird itself can be seen in Han tomb paintings.

It is known that three types of ducks were eaten in early China. One was Anasplatyrhynchos, a Mallard-type duck. Another was the Anatidae or wild duck. The third was Aix galericulate or white duck also known as the Mandarin duck. Since early times, every part of these animals were used; they still are. They were used for meat. Eggs laid were consumed, too. The feathers were used for clothing and in coverings, the down used, as well. Even their excrement was collected and of value; it was used for fertilizer.

Early on, ducks were preserved in many ways. Mostly this was done in winter; several techniques required some weeks. Then and at other times, ducks were stewed, baked, or roasted. Others were preserved in a wine residue, or layered with salt and spices such as pepper, ginger, anise, cassia, and citrus peel. Some were smoked, then aged a couple of weeks, and then used. Still others were cured with salt, sodium nitrate, sugar, ground white pepper, fennel, and some black pepper.

Today, many ducks are cured Nanjing Style. Most of these are made from ducks whose feathers are brown, gray, black, and/or speckled. These are cured and pressed. In the Sichuan Province and surrounding areas, they make Camphor-smoked Ducks and Tea-smoked Ducks, often the skin and cavity rubbed with a mix of coarsely ground Sichuan pepper and salt. In Beijing, using the white-feathered Mandarin duck, now known as the Pekin Duck, they prepare lots of Peking and regularly roasted ducks. Some ducks are put on long skewers and roasted standing near but not against the wall of a very hot oven. In the south of China, they like theirs Cantonese style after marinating the bird in a saline solution, then frequently brushing the skin with maltose or another sugar. There is a recipe for that in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 11(4) on page 14. The Cantonese like the skin very shiny, and you have probably seen many of these ducks hanging in the windows of a Guangzhou-style restaurant.

In China, some ducks are force fed for about a week before slaughter. Mostly ducks forage for their own food. Those kept in cages on boats are let out in the morning to get their own food. They feed on and in the water and dutifully return later in the day. Those that stray can be collected when the boatman releases a peregrine falcon to chase after them. Interestingly, that is not needed too often. Those kept on land can be and are fed. Some are rented to farmers for clearing their rice fields of snails and insects during and after their flooded fields are drained.

A good illustration of how every part of a duck is used for food is best illustrated describing a classic Beijing Duck banquet. It may start with the expected Roasted Beijing Duck. The fist course can be just the duck skin served with wheat pancakes brushed with hoisin sauce topped with scallions; the duck skin sitting on this mixture and inside the pancake. This wrapped food is often eaten out of hand. Other courses follow such as Sauteed Duck Kidney, Sauteed Duck Liver and Intestines, Deep-fried Duck Tongues, Salt-fried Duck Pancreas, Smoked Duck Brains, and Duck Eggs Steamed with Duck Feet. In addition, there will be several stir-fried dishes using duck meat, and the meal can end with duck soup.

Roast duck is popular at weddings, actually two of them are served then. Ducks mate for life; that is the message when serving them at such an event. For that event, and often for others and even just for family use, the Chinese prefer purchasing their ducks live, getting the seller to clean and eviscerate them, and to leave both head and feet attached. If they plan to make Peking Duck, now called Beijing Duck, they have the vendor slit the throat making a small aperture, then the have that person blow air in that opening to separate skin from flesh. They do that again before cooking, and then they seal the aperture leaving air inside so that it heats and cooks the skin inside and out making it as crisp as possible. Once home, they will put the bird in a pot of boiling water to make the skin taught, this also helps crisp it.

Early literature about ducks is fascinating. Some wonder why duck feet are popular. The Chinese enjoy their texture. They know that duck webs cured in rice wine were topics of sensuality in early novels; so they like them, too. They like the meat because it is considered neutral or slightly warm. When cooked with taro and used at the Moon Festival, a holiday they adore, they especially like to eat duck.

Overall, the white or Pekin duck is highly thought of and considered a beneficial food. But the Chinese do not serve it to pregnant women; they are encouraged not to eat any lest their children have webbed feet. Duck is considered so beneficial, it is served to estranged couples believing its powers can reconcile them. Yuan Mei called duck the original genius food, so serving it before an important test is also a popular notion. Some time ago, potted or boiled duck was considered food for the emperor, that helped make a royal place for this bird.

In the Sung Dynasty, mantou were stuffed with duck and goose meat and considered better than those filled with pork or lamb. That, too, helped raise the image of duck. Emperors also spoke of eating duck sausage made with fatty pork, duck liver, wine, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and ginger. They were known to adore cured and smoked ducks, and they liked salt cured ducks (hueidan) and alkali-treated eggs, known as pidan. These emporiphics helped elevate the image of all duck food. Information about duck eggs can be found in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 11(4) on pages 27, 29, 30, and 32; and earlier there was an article called Duck-boys, Duck-eggs, and Egg Chemists in Volume 9(1) on pages 9 and 10.
Mustard-flavored Duck Tongues
1/2 pound duck tongues
2 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
2 inch piece stick cinnamon
1 piece of dried tangerine peel, about two-inch square
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon dry hot mustard mixed with two tablespoons cool water
2 Tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. Bring three cups cold water to the boil, then add duck tongues and return to the boil. Remove any scum, then add star anise, all the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and tangerine peel and simmer for five minutes. Then strain reserving liquid, but discarding the spices. When they have cooled, remove cartilage and bone from each tongue.
2. Mix salt, sugar, hot mustard mixture, rice vinegar, and sesame sauce, then beat well for one to two minutes. Add three tablespoons of the cooking liquid and mix before adding the duck tongues. Cover and refrigerate for four hours, strain liquid and discard, then serve.
Stewed Duck
1 duck, eviscerated, rinsed in cool water and dried
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 slab Chinese brown sugar, about three tablesppons worth
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce
2 knobs fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Cut duck into four pieces and rub each of them with salt and then with five-spice powder. Set aside for an hour.
2. Heat wok and keep it on a low light, then add sugar and melt it before adding soy sauce and ginger. Stir in duck pieces, then add five cups cool water, cover and simmer one hour turning duck pieces every fifteen minutes.
3. Remove the cover, add the sesame oil, and turn duck pieces two or three times in the remaining liquid. Then simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about half an hour or longer. Duck pieces should be soft and just barely clinging to the bone.
4. Cut duck into two-inch pieces and serve hot, warm, or cool.
Taro with Roast Duck
1/2 roast duck
3 cups taro root (about one and a half pounds), peeled and cut into two-inch cubes
2 cups corn oil
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 scallions, minced
3 Tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Cut duck into two inch pieces and simmer in one cup hot water for half an hour.
2. Heat oil, and deep fry the taro root cubes for five minutes or until light golden brown, drain and remove. Then fry duck pieces in that same oil for five minutes; then drain them.
3. Take one tablespoon of the remaining oil, reheat and fry ginger, garlic, and scallions, for one minute.
4. Then add soy sauce and three tablespoons boiling water. Add duck pieces and stir well, and simmer for five minutes.
5. Remove them and add taro root and simmer for about fifteen or twenty minutes until they are tender.
6. Return duck to the pan, reheat, and simmer for five minutes, then serve.
Duck Congee
1/2 roast duck breast meat
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 dried scallops, simmer in one cup of water for half an hour
1 cup glutinous rice
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 slice fresh ginger
3 scallions
2 Tablespoons fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
1. Slice duck meat and mix with soy sauce ans sesame oil and set aside for one hour.
2. Tear scallops into shreds and put in a large pot with both rices and the ginger. Add four quarts boiling water, bring to the boil then quickly lower the heat and simmer covered for two hours, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking.
3. Add duck and simmer another half hour, without the cover, and stir this every ten minutes.
4. Add scallions and simmer another three minutes, then put into a heated soup tureen. Sprinkle coriander leaves on top and serve.
Fried Duck Livers
10 duck livers, each one cut into four pieces
1 egg white
2 teaspoons water chestnut or all purpose flour
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
dash ground Sichuan pepper
2 cups corn oil
1 Tablespoon minced fresh coriander
1. Dry liver pieces then mix them with flour, rice wine, soy sauce, and ground peppers.
2. Heat oil and removing liver pieces one at a time, allowing any excess liquid to drip off, drop them into the oil and fry a few at a time until just golden in color. Do not over fry, and do not leave any pieces of liver in hot oil for more than one to two minutes, and drain them on paper towels.
3. Put livers in a heated bowl, sprinkle the coriander on top, and serve.
Duck with Three Peppers
1/2 half roast duck on the bone, cut into two-inch pieces
1 green pepper, seeded and cut into one-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into one-inch pieces
1 hot pepper, seeded and cut into half-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons of cool water
1. Heat two cups water to the boil, and cook duck pieces for fifteen minutes, then drain on paper towels. Do not discard the water.
2. Put all the peppers in the water and simmer for one minute, remove, and drain.
3. Heat oil and stir-fry garlic and ginger for one minute, add duck, peppers, salt, and sugar, and stir well. Stir-fry for two minutes.
4. Add cornstarch mixture, and stir-fry until thickened and clear, then serve.
Vegetarian Duck
10 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots
6 dried bean curd sheets
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 cup corn oil
1. Sliver mushrooms and bamboo shoots and mix them together.
2. Soak bean curd sheets in tepid water for fifteen minutes, then drain.
3. Heat the tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry mushroom mixture, ginger, and garlic for one minute. Remove and drain. Then add salt, sesame oil, rice wine, soy sauce, and five-spice powder and mix well.
4. Put sheets of bean curd one on top of the other, brush each layer with liquid from the mushroom mixture. Put the solids at one end of the top sheet and roll, folding in the ends making a package about two inches wide.
5. Heat steamer, and oil a plate, and put the roll seam side down and steam for five minutes over boiling water.
6. Heat the corn oil and fry the roll until golden, slice on an angle into ten one-inch sections and serve alone on the side with dishes such as Vegetarian Duck Soup.
Vegetarian Duck and Noodle Soup
1 section vegetarian duck
2 one-ounce packages Fujiianese (or Amoy-style) very thin wheat noodles (they usually come in one pound packages, use two of the tied amounts)
1/2 pound sweet potato, grated or cut into very thin slivers
5 cups vegetable broth or water
1. Sliver outside and inside parts of the vegetarian duck.
2. Heat the stock or water to just below the boiling point. Add vegetarian dusk, the noodles, and the grated sweet potato and simmer for fifteen minutes. Then serve.

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