Those who know me knows that I love love love love fried chicken!!! However, once in a while, I like to cheat on chicken a little bit, as I just can’t get over how good roast duck is……..well, I guess that’s how I would describe my craving and desire toward roast duck. Roast duck is not cheap, and a good roast duck is certainly hard to come by unless you have a China town in your area, or you live in Asia. Back to my food philosophy: If you can’t find it, learn to make it; if it’s too expensive to buy it, go make it yourself!
Anyway, I have been on an endless quest to learn to make roast duck the professional and authentic way ever since I come to the US. Back home, when I was growing up my family never bought a raw duck and prepare it our self, my eldest sister, who is the culinary goddess of our family never made an attempt to prepare it, till this day I still don’t know why, perhaps I should find out from her. However, most family in Asia do not attempt to cook duck as it has bad reputation of not healthy, difficult to cook and can easily ruined if not prepare properly.
In all my attempts in the past few years, I had one pretty successful attempt of cooking roast duck, however, it seems to be a bit sloppy as I had to handle the duck carefully fearing that the stitches of the cavity would burst open and all the flavor juice leak out. Besides, the flavor of the sauce still seem to be missing something, not as good as those you get from the restaurant.
During my last trip back to Asia, I came across a book dedicated to roasting, and the book show many professional equipment used, unique method of preparing the meat before roasting, and the recipe seems very fascinating that you would know any housewife wouldn’t bother to execute, so I had the instinct thought that the book is for professional/restaurant audience.
Back to my foreplay with the duck, emm…. I mean getting ready to roast the duck. First I need to prepare a “Master BBQ/Roasting sauce”, which consist of sugar, salt, chicken powder, bean paste, soy sauce, sesame paste, Hoisin sauce, Oyster sauce and some seasoning that I can’t even remember.
I had to buy two bottle of sauce just for this dish as I never used them before, they are Sesame paste and the ground bean paste. Laying all the bottle around, it makes me wonder how on earth am I’m going to store all these bottle of stuff in the fridge? I guess I just have to make room for them by getting rid some of the salad dressing, wine, jam……. actually a second fridge sounds very good now!
Before making the sauce, I also need to gather some aromatic, they are chopped garlic, shallot and tangerine rind. If you ever wonder why my shallot and garlic look half round, then you have to read this.
The sauce preparation is not rocket science, just stir fry the aromatic until fragrant, then pour in all the sauce mixture and cook for a few minutes until it thicken. I only prepare half of the recipe, because, I don’t think I want to deal with 600 gram of Hoisin sauce, 300g of soy sauce and 300g water…… which will end up with more than 1 liter of sauce!!!! Anyway, half of the recipe yield a few cups of sauce, and I portion them to individual container to freeze. Guess how much of this sauce I’m going to use for the roast duck? Two TABLE SPOON!!!!! It’s very very hard to divide the master sauce recipe to smaller portion because I just cant’ divide 1/10 teaspoon of ingredient further!
Anyway, the sauce is very sweet smelling because of the large portion of Hoisin sauce, and it’s very thick like slime too. It doesn’t smell and taste like a roast duck sauce, so I was very concern that the recipe could just be another fake recipe that doesn’t yield authentic roast duct, but it’s too late I had to move on anyway.
Besides the master roasting sauce, I also need to prepare a salt mixture, which consist of salt, sugar and 5 spice powder.
The salt can be prepare early and keep in a container. You know, I haven’t written Chinese for such as long time, sometimes I just make up word, like the 2nd word, which is suppose to be “salt”…….I’m turning into a Banana!!!! (Yellow outside, white inside, got it?)
I made the sauce and seasoning salt the day before I want to cook the duck, but the duck had been thawed in the fridge for two days. The duck fits nicely into the 1/3 size hotel pan, which save rooms in the fridge.
As I was getting ready to take the duck out of its package, I found out something that’s very upsetting, my duck has been polluted with up to 12% of junk like salt, water and Sodium Phosphate!
Who on earth in USDA gave it a grade A stamp, and decide that all duck sold should come with a package of Orange sauce? This is a laughing joke to the Chinese, the nation of duck lovers!
It took me a while to get over the disappointment of the way the duck has been handled by the processing factory, and finally take the duck out of the package. The duck has been so compress in the package, the breast looks very full, like it got implant or something, but that’s the way I like my duck, big and fuller breast, so no complaint there.
Cleaning the duck is straight forward, stuff your hand into the rear and do some cavity search……
First take out that stupid pouch of orange sauce that the factory put in to make an attempt to poison you with lowest quality chemically tasted fluid.
The cavity search goes on and pull out some liver, heart, kidney, and the neck. I have no idea what to do with them yet since the quantity is not big enough to make Southern Dirty rice, so I just put them in a bag and freeze them for now.
There is no meat on the wing, so just chop them off but leave the drumlet alone. Also, it might be tempting to cut off that long piece of rubbery fatty neck skin, like an old man’s loose double chin, but DON’T, there is reason to the madness later.
Rinse the cavity and leave the butt alone, yes, leave that triangle piece of fat blob alone, otherwise you will feel sorry later.
Once the duck is properly cleaned, let’s move on to the hardware. First this is not some sort of S&M sick game, and no, I’m not trying to reenacting any of the scene from the SAW series movies. The chef in restaurant use these tool to roast duck, and you can only get them from restaurant supply store, so don’t bother to look for them in any BBQ store, or adult novelty store……
Half day before you want to eat your duck you need to get this going……. yes, HALF DAY! It’s time to put together the duck sauce, which consist of two tablespoon of the master roasting sauce, the seasoning salt that I label with my own made up Chinese word, some star anise, ginger and shallot.
Before we incorporate the duck sauce into the duck, first we have to sew up the neck, this is where the long flappy neck skin is for! Use the short knitting needle looking piece of skewer to accomplish this so that the top part of the cavity is completely seal, so no juice can flow out if the the duck is upside down. The looping of the loose skin make it a tight seal.
Next is to pour the duck sauce into the cavity, and sew up using the long knitting needle looking skewer, and jam that long needle through the big fat butt to anchor the skewer so that it stay in place. If you cut the butt off while cleaning the duck, well, you’re on your own, good luck try to seal the cavity without it leaking like some poor soul just got food poisoning and have the diarrhea of the century!
You can hang the duck using the cheap way of a few S hook with string, but it’s not graceful…… I mean not professional and hard to manage.
Tuck two of the J hook under the drumlet and secure them into the back of the duck.
The duck is then ready for its how shower: boil a big wok of water then dung the duck in it while rinse the un-submerge area with the hot water. Take the duck out and reboil the water, repeat until the skin tighten and turn slight yellow.
As the skin tighten, some of the feather that’s hard to pick out during duck cleaning become more accessible. Get your poultry dedicated tweezers and start plugging away!
Repeat your tweezers feather cleaning process with the breast area. As the skin tighten, it also exposed the holes that the factory punctured to pump in those salt water solution, argg!!!!!
To make the job more manageable, you really really have to hang the duck, really!
Thanks goodness I have my pot racks, there is no Cabinet tall enough for me to hang a duck anywhere in the kitchen! Make sure the duck is not touching other pots, otherwise you will have to clean them later.
According to the recipe book, the duck need to be air dried for 3 to 4 hours. To ensure even drying, I used a fan blowing at the duck. The ring above the duck neck make rotating the duck easily, basically you can spin the duck 360 degree without twisting the hook on the top that’s attach to the pot rack. Oh, make sure to put a tray under the duck to catch the messy dripping we need to deal with later.
The fan do speed up the drying process a bit, shortly after I hang the duck and done tweezers my way to plug out as much feather as I could, the skin already turned more yellow and loose that wet look.
It’s a tedious process, but make sure to plug out all the visible feather on the breast area, no one like a hairy breast! Ehh…. I mean feathery breast. It should be shinny smooth like baby’s butt.
While the duck is drying, start brushing the maltose black vinegar solution that I made before preparing the duck. The purpose of the maltose solution is to give it a golden brown when it’s roasted. The recipe didn’t explain how often or how much should I glaze the duck, so I just apply the glaze every now and then until I get the color that I think will turn out golden brown when it’s roasted. The tray under the duck is there to catch any glaze dripping do you don’t end up with splatter of glaze all over the counter top. The glaze also make the factory punctured holes more visible……. poor duck, I hope it had a good life before gone through all these torture in its after life.
The back of the duck is very straight and release grease while it’s drying, so it’s a bit challenging for the glaze to stick on.
It was late in the evening, and it’s close to dinner time, so it’s time to fire up my modified roast box, which is also my new smoker box. I bought a charcoal smoker box last Winter when it was on clearance and only cost me about $50.
The inside of the box seems roomy and the food rack is quite accessible. I didn’t buy a gas smoker because they normally cost about $160. I need a gas smoker because some times charcoal smoker is hard to regulate heat, and loose heat faster in cold weather and you end up need to open the smoker more often to refill the charcoal etc.
I spent another $30 or so to get a propane burner, wok ring from the oriental grocery store, and 4 small clay flower pot to support the wok ring. Clay pot can take high temperature so it’s perfectly safe, just make sure they’re unglazed clay. When use for smoking, I would rest the wood chip box on the wok ring to burn up the wood chips.
The propane burner fixture installation is straight forward, just drill a hole at the back of the smoker box and run the hose at the back of it.
Once the smoker box get up to temperature, it’s time to cremate the duck, eh……I mean roast it. You need to wrap the drumlet and drumstick with foil as they get burn easily because they’re very skinny.
The recipe book didn’t say what temperature to roast the duck in, it just mention roast at medium heat for 15 minutes follow by 30 minutes of high flame……. I guess restaurant equipment just have simple setting like low, medium and high heat adjustment. I just use my judgement that 350F is the medium heat. Once the smoker roasting box get up to 350F, I position the duck into the roasting box. I have to put a flame disc under the duck to catch grease dripping, and protect the duck from direct flame because the burner can put out a lot of heat!
Hanging the duck in the smoker box is a big challenge as I didn’t consider the flame disc would take up so much room, leaving me not enough room in the roasting chamber to hang the duck, so I have to use the ring and a shorter S hook to hang the duck, and loose the flexibility of being able to spin the duck when I need to.
The roasting process was a bit of a nightmare. The weather was so hot and super humid, it’s unbearable for me to stay outside long to keep an eye on the duck. 10 minutes into roasting the duck, the smoker smoke up like a burning house. It turns out the flame disc collected tons of duck grease, and it being so close to the gas burner, I was basically boiling duck grease at the bottom and causing them to smoke up. Because of that unexpected situation, I can’t turn up the heat to roast the duck at 400F because I think the duck would be smoked instead of roast, and I’m afraid the duck grease would ignite and catch fire like gasoline and up really cremate my duck in the roasting chamber!
I roasted the duck at around 350F for the whole 45 minutes, and watch the smoker box the whole time in the humid weather as I don’t want to deal with grease fire on my driveway, and spread into the car garage. When it was time to take the duck out, I was quite disappointed, the duck doesn’t look crispy!!!!
Worst of all, the duck breast look wrinkle, and not evenly brown, looks like the bottom get more heat as there is more roasted color at the bottom part of the duck.
The tight area look more crispy and look like more fat has rendered off. It make sense because that part get more high heat exposure.
Once the duck is cool enough to handle, I took it off the rack and get ready to dish up. Even though the book didn’t mention about it, I decided to let the duck cool down by hanging it as I believe if I lay the duck flat while cooling, condensation may form and you would cause the underside of the skin to further loose its crispiness.
Before portion the duck, cut its cavity open after remove the skewer. When I pour the juice out, my disappointment went away. Why? The aroma and flavor of the sauce is spot on, just like those that you get from the restaurant!!!! It just has the right amount of star anise and five spice aroma, the right amount of sweetness from the Hoisin sauce, saltiness from the bean paste and umami from the Tofu cheese and gaminess of duck. I dished up a good portion for dinner with quite a bit of excitement.
The best part of roast duck is its drumstick, too bad the skin is not crispy enough.
My duck chopping clever skill seems to improved a lot, and I’m able to get a clean cut. I learn that you shouldn’t whack the duck hard, but just position the clever over, cut through the skin and use your other hand to firmly bang the clever to make a clean cut.
My quest to a perfect roast duck is not over yet, but I’m getting really really close! Not only that I get the right flavor and seasoning, but also the right meat texture. The fact that the neck and the cavity get seal tight, the seasoning sauce in the cavity get boil to steam the duck from inside out as well. Because the steam in cavity has no way to escape, it created a moist and tender meat, even at the thick duck breast area.
So what’s left? I need to master the skin and color portion of the art of roasting duck. I suspect the skin is not air dry enough, and the roasting box do not have good air circulation to create a convection effect to render the fat from the breast. I’m really tempted to roast a duck in my home convection oven next time, but the thought of cleaning duck grease off the oven wall steer me away from making that attempt. I do however have a secret weapon…… perhaps I should bring out my still new in box ultimate smoker bullet, we shell see. Time to look for another duck to plug hair, stuff, sew, hang and roast!