When I think of the family feasts of my Singapore girlhood, there’s always a duck in the picture.
To say that my people — that would be the Teochew ethnic group from Southern China — adore duck would be a major understatement. During a recent trip to Shantou, the area in China where my great-grandfather lived as a boy, duck and goose were inescapable at every dinner table.
So it’s more than slightly sacrilegious to say that I often avoid duck simply because it isn’t one of my favorites. (Hey, I’m a big hunk of red meat kind of gal — what can I say?)
I do make an exception for some versions, however — and Teochew-style braised duck is one of them.
While I’m really good at eating it, making it is another matter altogether. But this was something my Aunty Alice, the best cook among my mother and her sisters, was intent on fixing right away.
On a recent weekday, she arrived at my Singapore home armed with two ducks and a bag of ingredients and the tutorial began…
Aunty Alice isn’t Teochew (my mother’s side of the family is Hockchew) but her husband is. Earlier this year, her sister-in-law agreed to share her family recipe for Teochew braised duck with her. And it goes something like this:
First, we peeled and sliced up galangal, peeled and bashed several garlic cloves and measured out some sugar and dark soy sauce. (This sauce is thicker, much sweeter and has a more intense flavor than regular soy sauce.)
Then, we cleaned the duck — which entailed chopping off its behind and head, carefully washing it inside and out and snipping off as much loose skin as we could get to.
(Duck skin is incredibly fatty and will make the sauce very greasy.)
Then, we mixed together some five-spice powder and salt and rubbed it all over the outside and inside of the duck. Next, we stuck that duck in the fridge to let it marinate for at least two hours.
I’d share a picture of the marinating duck here but it looked pretty unappetizing at this point.
Instead, here’s a shot of my cheery Aunty Alice as we prepped for the next step …
Once the duck was marinated and ready to go, we heated up the wok over low heat and added some sugar, stirring it until it melted.
Then, we tossed in the sliced galangal and bashed garlic and stir fried it until the mixture turned brown.
Next, in went the dark soy sauce…
… then, we lightly rinsed off the duck and slid it into the wok.
We coated the duck with sauce, turned it over and poured enough water into the wok so that the liquid covered half the duck. Once the liquid came to a boil, we covered the wok.
Every 15 minutes, we uncovered the wok and turned the duck over before covering it up again. After 50 minutes to an hour, the duck was done.
We let it rest for 10 more minutes, and it was ready to serve.
The whole procedure was so easy that I started to feel cheated that I’d gone all these years without making Teochew braised duck.
But I needn’t have fretted because just days later, I’d learn another Teochew braised duck recipe –this one would be from my Aunty Khar Imm, who learned it from my late grandmother, a legendary cook in my family. Her braised duck is a wetter dish that involves star anise and hard-boiled eggs. I’ll share that recipe some other time — perhaps in my book.
Meanwhile, here’s my Aunty Alice’s recipe, which has been handed down from generation to generation in her husband’s family.
I feel incredibly lucky to have learned it — and once you make it, I hope you do, too.
Aunty Alice’s Teochew Braised Duck Recipe
1 whole duck
10 to 15 thick slices of peeled galangal (Ginger can be used as a substitute.)
15 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly bashed
2 leveled Chinese soup spoons (each one is about 1.5 to 2 TB) of five spice powder
2 leveled Chinese soup spoons of salt
2 leveled Chinese soup spoons of sugar
1 Chinese rice bowl (slightly over 1 cup) of dark soy sauce (Add more if you like the taste of soy sauce.)
*Note: Dark soy sauce can be purchased in many Chinatowns in U.S. cities.
Trim duck, cutting off its head, behind, nails and feet, if you’re not planning on eating the feet. Wash it thoroughly inside and out.
Mix together five spice powder and salt and rub it all over the outside and inside of the duck. Transfer to refrigerator and let it marinate for at least two hours.
Heat a large wok over low heat, add sugar, stirring until it melts. Add galangal and garlic, frying the mixture until it is brown. Add dark soy sauce.
Then, lightly rinse the marinated duck — this will make the end product less salty. Slide the duck into the wok then coat the top of the duck with gravy and turn over. Add enough water so that the liquid comes up to the halfway mark of the side of the duck. Bring the mixture to a boil and cover.
Uncover and turn the duck over every 15 minutes before covering again. After 50 minutes to an hour, take a chopstick and see if you can poke it through the fleshiest part of the duck. If the chopstick goes through fairly easily, the duck is ready. If not, cover and continue boiling until the chopstick pokes through easily.
Once it’s ready, turn off the heat and let the duck sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Then, slice it up and serve it with rice, with the sauce on the side.