Every so often, it's nice to make the effort to make something a bit special, a bit outside your comfort zone. I like to make the most of little sis's visits to do something along those lines. Last time she was in town (in May, I notice - how neglected I have been!) we made sushi and this time I decided it was to be crispy duck pancakes, everyone's Chinese restaurant favourite. Well, mine at least!
Doing a little preliminary web surfing, reports of making it were not positive, the general consensus seeming to be that it's too much effort and it is doesn't taste as good as in a restaurant anyway. But undeterred, I picked up a copy of Ken Hom's Foolproof Chinese Cookery from a charity shop, phoned up the butchers to make sure they had a duck and sent Mr Splorer off to buy a wok big enough to steam a duck in. I rubbed the duck with five spice powder and sichuan peppercorns inside and out (though for inside I just poked it about a bit with a wooden spoon - I'm not THAT committed to my crispy duck!) and left it for 24 hours. I steamed the duck in the wok for two hours and then left it to dry for another two. Finally, I graciously allowed Mr Splorer to deep fry the quartered duck.
And was it worth it? Oh yes, it was! It was delicious, and did taste rather like the yummy duck pancakes you have in a restaurant. It served five of us, with the bones picked totally clean. Combined with home-made Chinese pancakes, a rather scrumptious Hoisin sauce from the Chinese supermarket, cucumber and spring onion, it was a heavenly thing to scoff down on a Sunday lunchtime. And although it was time-consuming, none of the individual steps were difficult. I'm not sure I'll be making it often, but (now we have the massive wok), it would be the perfect thing for a special occasion, or when I really want to impress!
Crispy aromatic duck from Foolproof Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom
1 2.75 kg duck, fresh or frozen
6 slices of fresh root ginger, 7.7 cm × 5 mm (3 × ¼ in)
6 spring onions, cut into 7.5 cm (3 in) lengths
plain flour for dusting
1.2 litres (2 pints) groundnut oil
For the spice rub:
65g (2½ oz) Sichuan peppercorns
25g (1 oz) whole black peppercorns
3 tbsp cumin seeds
200g (7 oz) rock salt
[I didn't use this much, as I only had 20g Sichuan peppercorns, and it still tasted good!]
If necessary, defrost the duck. Rinse well and blot dry with kitchen paper. Mix all the spice rub ingredients together and rub the duck inside and outside with the mixture. Wrap up with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Take the duck out of the fridge, unwrap and brush off the excess spices. Stuff the ginger and spring onions into the cavity and put the duck on a heatproof plate. Set up a steamer or the rack in a wok. Fill it with 2cm of water and bring to the boil. Lower the duck and plate into the steamer/wok and cover tightly.
Steam for two hours, pouring off the excess fat from time to time. Add more water if you need to. Remove the duck and remove the ginger and spring onions. Leave it to cool for two hours, until it is dry and cool.
Just before you want to serve it, cut the duck into quarters and dust with flour. Heat the groundnut oil in a wok or deep fat fryer. When it is almost smoking, deep-fry the pieces of duck two at a time. Fry the breasts for about 8-10 minutes and the legs for about 12-15 minutes, until the duck is crisp and heated through. Drain on kitchen paper. You can shred the duck with a fork, though we had fun ripping the meat off the bone with our hands!
Chinese pancakes from Foolproof Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom
275g (10oz) plain flour, with extra for dusting
250ml (8 fl oz) very hot water
2 tbsp sesame oil
Put the flour in a bowl and gradually stir in the water with a fork. Add more water if the mixture seems dry. Turn the dough our and knead it for about 8 minutes, or until it is smooth. You might need to dust with flour if the mixture is sticky. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and rest it for 30 minutes.
Knead the dough again for about 5 minutes, again dusting with flour if necessary. Form it into a long roll about 45cm (18 in) long and 2.5 cm (1 in) thick. Cut the role into 18 equal pieces and shape each one into a ball.
Put the sesame oil into a small bowl. Take two of the balls. Dip the bottom of one ball in the sesame oil and place the oiled side on top of the other ball. With a rolling pin, roll the two pancakes simultaneously into a circle about 15 cm (6 in) in diameter.
Heat a frying pan or wok over a low flame. Put the pancake into the pan and cook it for 1-2 minutes until it looks dry. Turn over and cook the other side until it's also dry. Remove from the pan and let it cool a little. When it is cool enoguh to handle, peel the two pancakes apart. Repeat to cook all the pancakes.
To reheat them, steam them or microwave them wrapped in cling film. (Apparently if you heat them in the oven, they dry out.)
My tip: make sure that the pancakes are getting cooked all over - we made ours a bit too big for the frying pan at first, and it was much more difficult to separate the two pancakes.