Friday, December 30, 2005

Eight Treasure Duck

Growing up, I was no expert on Chinese food. I'm still no expert by any means but I have been diligently trying to beef up my knowledge and to cook more complex (to me anyway) Chinese dishes.

My first encounter with real Chinese food must have been when I was about 5 or 6 years old. It was a Chinese wedding banquet and I was enthralled by the seemingly never-ending plethora of dishes. The food was colourful, beautifully presented, absolutely delicious and wonderfully exotic yet strangely familiar to me.

In our family, our idea of Chinese food was so muddled with European, Indonesian, Malay and Indian influences that it has become a whole new category on its own. My grandfather was the only one who cooked "authentic" Chinese food and only because they were herbal and medicinal dishes he prescribed to his patients. My grandmother was not that keen on Chinese food for some reason so this encounter with real Chinese food was a revelation. I was thoroughly in love with the rich yet delicate taste sensation of Chinese food.

What was even more amazing was the variety and quantity of food. For years I thought all Chinese people ate 10 courses at home! I was terribly envious and keep angling for invitations to every Chinese home I knew. Imagine my disappointment when I realised the truth.

I was at a friend's home for a Chinese New Year dinner a long time ago and out came this fabulous duck dish onto the dinner table. I remember inhaling the wonderful fragrance with glazed and lustful eyes. The duck was beautifully bronzed and gleamed seductively in the flourescent light. With a deft cut from the cleaver, a luxurious outburst of glutinous rice, chestnuts, lotus seeds, gingko nuts, Chinese sausages and mushrooms spilled onto the platter.

I was entranced. The stuffing was delicious and the duck succulent yet crispy. I was absolutely enamoured.

I never ate this dish again but that brief fling years ago was a lambent ember in my gluttonous soul.

Recently I came across a recipe in Carrefour's website for Eight Treasure Duck. I, of course, saved that with alacrity, although with no real intention of cooking it any time soon. Until I was at the wet market and I saw a lone duck languishing in the corner of the poultry seller's stall. Out of curiosity I asked her for the cost of the duck. She was in a hurry to close her stall so giving me an assessing sideway glance, she said, "Aiyah, I give you ten lah."

I declined gently and was all ready to bugger off to the vegetables stalls when she called me back.

"Miss, miss ah! OK lah, OK lah .. you so smart to bargain one. I give you six lah. OK, six?"

I bargained? I thought I just walked away ... but $6 for the duck was a pretty good deal I thought. I could make Itek Tim or braised duck or red curry duck with lychees or roasted duck ... wait a minute! Eight Treasure Duck! I did a quick pantry check in my head and realised I had most of the ingredients for the dish already! Hurrah! The nerd in me rejoiced.

The deal was sealed. Eight Treasure Duck it was.

I was a little nervous. I've never made this before and the only "oven" in the house is this strange contraption that the landlord assured me was an oven. Upon doing some research on the Internet, I discovered that this is something called a turbo boiler which is apparently the quintessential Filipino oven of sorts. Strange.

Anyway, I plunged in with my usual haphazard daredevilry. With the stout-hearted bravery of the Black Knight, I assembled the ingredients and found some items wanting so I headed back down to the wet market again. The good thing about wet markets is that you can buy things in very small quantity instead of the prepacked jumbo packs of commercial supermarkets. By wasting less and actually paying only for what I need, wet markets are a real boon.

I modified the original recipe a little and it turned out very well. The only thing I might do differently is not to oversalt the stuffing. Forgetting that I had already salted the cavity of the duck liberally, I also added salt to the stuffing. It was definitely too salty but not unbearably so.

Eight Treasure Duck
1 whole duck
1 420g jar boiled chestnuts
- I couldn't find this so I used fresh chestnuts which I boiled. I regretted this as they were very fiddly to prepare. Next time I will use dried chestnuts and boil them instead

1 packet fresh lotus seeds
- how much is 1 packet? I had no clue so I just chucked enough into a cup. I also used dried lotus seeds and just soaked them

1 packet sweet Oriental sausages
- again with the 1 packet. How many sausages is that? Just tell me, dammit! I decided to use 2 normal Chinese sausages with 1 Chinese liver sausage for a smokier and richer taste. One of my better brainstorms
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked
- I may use 8 next time as I think the proportion was a little off and anyway, 8 treasures, geddit?
1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
-I used 2 large bunches
1 red or brown onion, chopped
- I actually forgot this! Thankfully, it did not seem to compromise the taste of the stuffing

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked
- I used 3 as the proportions just did not look right and thank God I did!

1 cup basmati rice
- I used glutinous rice instead
Chicken stock
1 tsp 5-spice powder
- what tsp? I went to town with the 5-spice powder
1 tsp salt
- I think I must have used more like 3 which was a mistake. Next time I will use 2
1 tbsp honey (for glazing)

1. Clean and dry the duck and remove the tail glands, chop off the head and remove the fat from the neck.

2. Rub the 5-spice powder and salt all over the duck, inside and out
3. Hang up to dry
4. Cook the rice in just enough chicken stock to cover. Make sure it is only 3/4 cooked and then remove from heat to cool

5. Dice the sausages, onions (which I would have if I had remembered it! Duh!) and mushrooms
6. Drain the shrimps and add to the mixture

7. Drain the lotus seeds and remove the green "hearts" from the centre. These are the tender green shoots inside the seeds and you will want to discard them as they are very bitter.

8. Stir fry all the diced ingredients, the shrimp, rice and lotus seeds and chestnuts till fragrant. Do not add oil as the sausages will grease the pan enough on their own.

9. Season with salt and pepper to taste
10. Remove from heat and add the coriander leaves and mix well
11. Cool completely
12. Stuff the duck with the mixture and skewer closer with toothpicks. You can sew it up too if you want but I was lazy so I just tucked and poked

13. Oil the rack and roast the duck at 220 deg C for 30 mins
14. Glaze the duck with the honey and roast at 180 deg C for another 30 mins
15. I turned the duck around and basted it with more honey as I wanted crispy or browned skin all round, which was not in the original recipe. So I did the switcheroo of sides, honeyed it up and roasted for another 5-10 mins till it was nice and brown
16. Remove and cool slightly
17. Serve by cutting up the duck so that the stuffing is exposed

Using the turbo boiler was a challenge. I read that the temperature was a little higher than the normal convection ovens so I was careful to watch the duck throughout. Good thing I did as it browned very quickly and by 20 mins I had to turn down the temperature in order not to have a charred duck with raw flesh. Adjusting the temperature did the trick though.

The duck was very tasty but I felt that the recipe was very tricky. I thought a lot of the proportions were unbalanced and I had to make a number of adjustments. The ambiguous 1 packet of this and 1 packet of that with no clear indication of measurements or amount was annoying.

It helps that I have eaten Eight Treasure Duck before so I had a feel for the proportions but if I was experiencing this dish for the first time I would be terribly confused. As is, I think I messed up on the amount of salt & I forgot the onion but all in all it is a very tasty meal.

I now have almost 80% of the duck left after lunch which I am going to cut up and put aside for many meals to come. I can't wait.

So, healthwise, this dish does not fare well. It is a very rich dish and the duck is extremely fatty. I gathered more than an entire bowl of duck fat rendering from the turbo boiler. Scary.

Therefore, I give this dish a 4/10 for health. Tastewise, it was pretty yummy so it receives a 7.5/10 with demerit points to the cook for being a daft git who added a little too much salt.

I have to duck now (I am so corny today) but I will talk a little about lotus seeds for Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging if I have time later. Have a ducky Happy New Year in case I do not have time to post before!

Categories - Chicken Run, Call Me Others, Chinese Herbs


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job! The duck looks really good. Wish I could have a taste. I look forward to reading about the lotus seed. I've never heard of it before, but I like the name.


4:33 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Thanks Paz! Lotus seed blog posted - hope you enjoy it!

5:07 pm  
Blogger Boston Chef said...

Looks absolutely delicious... healthwise, as long as you don't eat the whole thing at once you should be fine! "Daft git" cracks us up!

11:05 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Eat the whole thing! Lord almighty! LOL, thanks Bostonchefs for the visit and comment.

12:25 am  

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