On braised duck
I always tell people that the best part of being married is gaining access to another family’s food culture. Even though I’m Hokkien, I grew up on a lot of Cantonese food. My dad’s side isn’t traditional - even though my grandma is very Chinese in mannerisms, she has been obsessed with clean-eating for as long as I can remember. For that reason, she never made anything braised - everything was light soups and broths. My mom’s Cantonese family is super traditional, so there were lots of steamed fish and soups on the dinner table. While there was the occasional pork trotters braised in vinegar, dishes like lor bak (braised pork belly) or lor ark (braised duck) never made an appearance.
Wex’s mom is Teochew while his dad is Hokkien, and both dialect groups are big on braised duck. It’s something that his family orders every time we go to my grandmother-in-law’s favourite Teochew restaurant. That particular version is quite light (both in flavour and colour), and it is almost more about the duck/ goose than it is about the masterstock.
At home, my mother-in-law makes a particularly good version, where she stews the duck with sea cucumber until the duck is tender and the sea cucumber is gelatinous. It is so so good and I’ve only had it once at their Christmas party one year. Compared to the restaurant version, my mother-in-law’s braised duck is darker and more robust, with a slightly thickened gravy that she pours over the sliced duck and sea cucumber. I’m not sure if the version she makes is more Teochew or more Hokkien, since the information online on what makes each dialect group’s braised duck unique is scant.
But recently I came across a photo of Sia Kee’s version of Hokkien-braised duck, which looked unlike any other braised duck that I’ve seen. It had braised peanuts and the whole lot is slathered with a thick glossy gravy. It looked so good and I just had to give it a go. I’ve actually made soy sauce chicken and served it with braised peanuts before, and the Hokkien boy in Wex loved it so much that the minute I told him that I was gonna make braised duck, he was like, “Remember to add peanuts!!”
Just like Teochew-braised duck, this version starts with a duck that is rubbed with cooking caramel (or dark soy sauce) and five spice powder. Marinating the duck overnight really makes a world of a difference. It is then braised in a soy-based liquid with lots of spices like cinnamon and cloves.
In the same braising liquid go skin-on peanuts. They braise for almost as long as the duck, though if you have a pressure cooker, it would be a lot quicker. When I posted about the peanuts on Instagram, so many people got so excited, and justifiably so!! Braised peanuts are just so underrated. These get spooned over the sliced braised duck.
The key shiok factor here is the sauce - simply the braising liquid thickened with a cornstarch slurry - slathered over everything.
Coriander is a definite must-have. It cuts through the richness of the dish. I know that for some people, coriander tastes like soap… I guess you could use spring onions instead but it’s not the same.
Last of all, we have the all-important chilli sauce! I don’t know what the Hokkiens serve with their braised duck, but Teochew braised duck is always served with a vinegary condiment. Vinegar and braised duck (or most soy-braised things) is like a match made in heaven. Traditionally, it would be just vinegar, garlic, chilli, sugar, salt, and sometimes galangal. But Sia Kee’s version seems to be sambal-based. I had some homemade sambal tumis in the fridge, so I mixed that up with chopped garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar.
And that’s it! I only plated up the breasts and the legs. The rest of the meat left on the carcass was shredded up and turned into duck porridge the next day, along with any leftover braised peanuts and the braising liquid. Just a note on the braising liquid, it is something that you can keep in your fridge or freezer and reuse again and again just like sourdough - just top it up with water each time you use it. You can use it in so many ways, but my favourite will have to be braising momen tofu in it. You just have to try it, it is amazing. (I can’t take credit for this idea, I learnt it from Maria Virgin Chicken at Chinatown)
Hokkien-style braised duck