Peking Duck

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The last time I made Peking duck was 35 years ago.I know this because I did some serious cooking between getting married in early 1982, to when my baby arrived in late 1983.

During this time I dove head first into cooking, making my way through The Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook set. I wanted to learn how to cook, and those cookbooks were the only ones I owned, gifted to me by my mother when I got married!

There were 27 cookbooks in that set, with both International and regional American cuisine represented. The first was published in 1968. I still treasure them today.


Growing up, my mother, who was a passionate and crazily talented cook, whipped up International dishes from her set of Foods of the World cookbooks, so I was familiar with a lot of “exotic” ingredients, and fortunately not intimidated by the recipes when I began cooking seriously.

My favorite dish from the Chinese cookbook was Peking duck, served with Mandarin pancakes, hoisin sauce, and green onion “brushes!”

Preparing all of the elements, including the duck and the Mandarin pancakes, was not difficult, but it was time consuming. And I loved it.

Until the baby was born. At that point I continued to cook a lot, but I couldn’t make recipes that took hours of preparation. No more Peking duck!

Fast forward to 2019. Peking duck popped into my head. I have no idea why. So, it’s been so many years since I’d made it, or enjoyed it. Time to fix that!

Peking Duck
Pei-ching-k’ao-ya

1 – 5 pound duck
6 cups water
1/4 cup honey
4 slices peeled fresh ginger root, 1″ by 1/8″ each
2 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths

The sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sugar

12 scallions
Mandarin pancakes, recipe below

Wash the duck under cold water, then pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Tie one end of a 20″ length of cord around the neck skin. If the skin has been cut away, loop the cord under the wings. Suspend the bird from the string in a cool, airy place for 3 hours to dry the skin.

In a 12″ wok or large flameproof casserole, combine 6 cups water, 1/4 cup honey, ginger root and cut scallions, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Holding the duck by its string, lower it into the boiling liquid. With string in one hand and a spoon in the other turn the duck from side to side until all of its skin is moistened with liquid.


Remove the duck and hang it again in the cool place, setting a bowl beneath it to catch any drippings; the duck will dry in 2 to 3 hours. Discard the liquid in the wok.

Make the sauce by combining hoisin sauce, water, sesame seed oil and sugar in a small pan, and stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to its lowest point and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes. Pour into a small bowl, cool and reserve.

To make the scallion brushes, cut scallions down to 3″ lengths and trim off roots. Standing each scallion on end, make four intersecting cuts 1″ deep into its stalk. Repeat at other end. Place scallions in ice water and refrigerate until cut parts curl into brush-like fans.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Untie the duck and cut off any loose neck skin. Place duck, breast side up, on a rack and set in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the bird.

Roast the duck in the middle of the oven for one hour. Then lower the heat to 300 degrees, turn the duck on its breast and roast for 30 minutes longer. Now raise the heat to 375 degrees, return the duck to its original position and roast for a final half hour. Transfer the duck to a carving board.


With a small, sharp knife and your fingers, remove the crisp skin from the breast, sides and back of duck. Cut skin into 2 by 3″ rectangles and arrange them in a single layer on a heated platter.

Cut the wings and drumsticks from the duck, and cut all the meat away from breast and carcass. Slice meat into pieces 2 1/2″ long and 1/2″ wide, and arrange them with the wings and drumsticks on another heated platter.

To serve, place the platters of duck, the heated pancakes, the bowl of sauce, and the scallion brushes in the center of the table.

Traditionally, each guest spreads a pancake flat on his plate, dips a scallion in the sauce and brushes the pancake with it. The scallion is placed in the middle of the pancake with a piece of duck skin and a piece of meat on top. The pancake is folded over the scallion and duck, and tucked under.

One end of the package is then folded over about 1″ to enclose the filling, and the whole rolled into a cylinder that can be picked up with the fingers and eaten.

Mandarin Pancakes
Po-ping

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
1-2 tablespoons sesame seed oil

Sift flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the center and pour into it 3/4 cup of boiling water. With a wooden spoon, gradually mix flour and water together until a soft dough is formed; on a lightly floured surface, knead it gently for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle about 14″ thick. With a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter cut as many circles of dough as you can.

Knead scraps together, roll out again, and cut more circles.
Arrange circles side by side, brush half of them lightly with sesame seed oil and, sandwich wise, place the unoiled ones on top.

With a rolling pin, flatten each pair into a 6″ circle, rotating the sandwich an inch or so in a clockwise direction as you roll so that the circle keeps its shape, and turning it once to roll both sides. Cover the pancakes with a dry towel.

Set a heavy 8″ skillet over high heat for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to moderate and cook the pancakes, one at a time, in the ungreased pan, turning them over as they puff up and little bubbles appear on the surface.

Regulate the heat so that the pancakes become specked with brown after cooking about 1 minute on each side. As each pancake is finished, gently separate the halves and stack them on a plate.

Serve them at once or wrap them in foil and refrigerate for later use.

Gochujang Pork

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This post is a perfect example of why I love food blogging. There are many reasons, actually, like the friends I’ve made – some even in person! But learning about ingredients and foods from different cuisines is really exciting to me.

Gochujang is one such ingredient, a sweet Korean chili paste that I’ve noticed for a while. Thanks to Amazon.com, I now own some.

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I was reminded of this ingredient recently on Sally’s blog Bewitching Kitchen, when she posted Korean pork ribs, and on The Not So Creative Cook, when Jhuls posted Steak with Gochujang Sauce, and on A Cookbook Collection, when Donna posted Korean Chicken Wings. I knew I had to make something!

To test out the paste, I created a sauce using gochujang and a few other Korean ingredients. A wonderful reference for Korean ingredients can be found here, from Sue’s blog My Korean Kitchen.

I didn’t add anything sweet, because the first ingredient in the list of the gochujang is corn syrup. This is unfortunate, but when I looked in to making my own, I decided to pass on that complicated culinary endeavor.

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Here’s what I did:

Gochujang Pork Tenderloins

2″ piece for fresh, peeled ginger
2 large cloves garlic
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup gochujang
4-5 tablespoons mirin
2 pork tenderloins
Salt
Pepper

Place the ginger, garlic, sesame seed oil, and soy sauce in a small blender jar or mini food processor, and process as much as you can.
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Add the gochujang. It’s so pretty and has a wonderful spicy ketchup aroma. I wasn’t sure what it’s viscosity would be, but it’s quite paste-like.
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To create my desired sauce consistency, I used about 5 tablespoons of mirin. I wanted the sauce pourable, but not thin.
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Have a baking pan big enough for the pork tenderloins on hand and drizzle in some oil.

Season the pork tenderloins.
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Spread some of the sauce on top of the tenderloins. Turn them over and place them in the oil.
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Spread more of the sauce on the top. Make sure you still have enough for serving time. Cover the pan with foil and let the tenderloins marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to cook the pork, remove the pan from the refrigerator and let the meat come close to room temperature. I set my oven at a roasting temperature of 375. One could certainly also use a charcoal grill, weather permitting.

Use an in-oven temperature probe to monitor the pork. I prefer an internal temperature of NO MORE than 155 degrees Farenheit.
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After cooking the pork tenderloins, immediately place them on a cutting board. After a good 15-minute rest, slice the pork cross-wise.
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Place the slices on a serving platter. Brush on some of the remaining gochujang sauce.
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If desired, sprinkle the meat with sesame seeds, cilantro, or chopped green onions.

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This sauce is so good I’ve made a gochujang-based BBQ sauce twice since I made this tenderloin recipe. Gochujang is fabulous stuff!

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Cherry Salsa

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The prettiest cherries I’ve ever seen was on a drizzly day in Trier, Germany. Coincidentally, the white asparagus was at its peak as well! This is a photo from 2006, while walking through a square on our way to lunch, where I failed miserably attempting to speak German and read the menu!

Later on this trip, we visited the Schwarzwald, or the Black Forest region of Germany, known for Schwarzwald Torte, or Black Forest cake. At the Black Forest open-air museum we ran in to these ladies wearing their bollenhut.

The tradition is that the hats/bonnets with the giant cherry-red woolen bobbles must be worn while ladies are single. After the point they are married, they get to switch to a black version. I think I would have just moved to a different part of Germany.

Recently I was lucky enough to pick cherries from a friend’s trees. As I mentioned when I posted on the baked goat brie topped with roasted cherries, I wanted to create recipes for these fabulous fresh cherries that went beyond the basic cherry pie. That’s when I decided on cherry salsa.

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Now I know that I’m the first to gripe when terms are loosely used in the culinary world – words like confit, coulis, pesto, and yes, salsa. But it’s the only word I could think of to describe this lovely seasonal condiment.

It not cooked like a chutney, and it’s not a sauce. It is similar to the fresh tomato salsa I make in the summer, which really is a salsa, and also the cranberry salsa I make for the holidays. I used fresh cherries,orange, cilantro, shallots and ginger. It has zing, a freshness, some tartness and sweetness.

Use it with any kind of meat and poultry, just like you would a chutney or cranberry sauce. Here’s what I did.

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Fresh Cherry Salsa

1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
1 shallot, minced
1 slice of ginger, approximately 1″ in diameter x 1/4″ thick, minced
Zest of 1 small orange
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave, if cherries are tart
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cayenne
2 cups cherries, halved if they’re large

Combine the cilantro, shallot, ginger, and zest in a bowl. Add the liquids, the salt and cayenne.

Then add the cherries and stir gently to combine. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

I love using sesame seed oil, and I thought it would enhance the shallot, ginger, orange and cayenne.

Serve at room temperature.

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I served the cherry salsa with a simple roast chicken and butternut squash.

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The flavors are spectacular.

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Asian Glaze

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For the past few years I’ve been noticing more and more products like barbeque sauces, marinades, finishing sauces, and the like being sold at supermarkets and gourmet food stores. I’m sure that some are good, but being someone who must make everything from scratch (I can’t help myself) I tend to turn up my nose at these usually overpriced products.

Let’s all agree that anything made at home will always be better and less expensive than purchasing it pre-made. And then when you make it in your own kitchen, you don’t typically add food color, additives, preservatives, thickeners, and other such chemicals.

So some of these products are Asian. But the thing is, it is so darn easy to make your own, with just a few basic Asian ingredients. You can also adjust the ingredients to make the liquid more Thai, more Vietnamese, more Chinese, etc., depending on what you’re after.

I would definitely use the following recipe as a marinade, or to toss some into a stir fry. But because I’m cooking these ingredients a bit, thickening them slightly, I’m calling this a glaze. It can be applied to any grilled meats and fish, or even to vegetables for instant Asian flavor. Here’s what I did.

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Asian Glaze

Shallots, about 6 ounces after trimming and peeling
1 tablespoon peanut or other oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce*
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 lime

Begin by finely chopping the shallots. At the end of this sauce you have the option to puree it, so don’t worry about the uniformity of the chopping if you’re going to be pureeing the glaze.


Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a small pot. Heat it over low heat, and saute the shallots for about 5 minutes.
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Add the soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, and honey to the shallots. Give everything a good stir

Then add the ginger, garlic, and about 1/3 cup of water.
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Stir well, then let simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes. It depends how you want the consistency of the glaze.

Add the cayenne and squeeze in the lime juice, then remove the glaze from the heat.


Use the glaze while still warm.

I typically cook fish in butter, but butter isn’t very Asian, so I used a little olive oil to pan fry the Swai, and sprinkled it simply with salt and pepper.
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If you don’t like the chopped bits, you can place the glaze in a blender and blend until smooth. It will make the glaze thicker as well.
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If you want, top everything with sesame seeds, pine nuts, or some cilantro!

* If you don’t have sweet soy sauce, use an extra tablespoon on honey.

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Other possible Asian ingredients:
Mirin
Rice wine vinegar
Fish Sauce
Chile Paste
Black bean paste
Hoisin Sauce
Oyster Sauce
Miso
Shrimp Paste
Curry Paste
Sesame Oil

How to Stir Fry!

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Stir frying is something I do quite often in my kitchen. For one thing, Asian stir fries, with traditional ingredients, are simple and delicious. Secondly, they’re quite healthy, because of the lovely balance of meat or seafood and vegetables. They’re also a good use for leftover meat and vegetables, and mostly, I love them because no recipe is required.

It does help to be familiar with Asian ingredients. My stir fries are more on the Chinese side, but add some fish sauce and you’ve got yourself a Thai stir fry! As I have said before, you can certainly follow recipes, but I often cook the inspired way. That is, being familiar with the traditional ingredients of a cuisine, and using those in your dish. It may not be a perfect stir fry according to Chinese chefs and grandmothers, but no Chinese food police are coming to my kitchen to arrest me any time soon!

First, it’s important to have the basics – onion, garlic, and ginger. These can be part of the stir fry, or used in a marinade. If I do marinate meat before a stir fry, I only use a little peanut oil or olive oil – enough to blend the aromatics. Liquid additions are wonderful, but then the meat has to be patted dry before cooking. An oily marinade is just easier.

The seasonings for stir fries are easy to find, fortunately. Soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame seed oil, chile paste, hot sauce, and hoisin sauce. Other optional ingredients include fermented bean paste, shrimp paste, plum sauce (which I don’t care for) and oyster sauce.

One Chinese seasoning is called Chinese 5-Spice, which, obviously, is a mixture of spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and pepper. I’ve noticed that some also contain fennel. As with most spice and herb mixtures, I hesitate to use them. Just like using a purchased curry powder, every dish you make will end up tasting the same. For this dish today, I just want the meat, vegetables, and seasonings to shine. But use the spice mixture if you like it!
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The protein used in a stir fry has to be good quality and quick cooking. For example, I wouldn’t use beef or pork that requires 4-6 hours of cooking. I’m talking beef and pork tenderloin, chicken thighs and breast, scallops and shrimp.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes, unless you are expecting the Chinese food police to show up. Of course there’s traditional bok choy, Chinese cabbage, Chinese eggplants, snow peas, and so forth, plus ingredients that play a minor role like bean sprouts, dried mushrooms, chile peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and cilantro. But if you want to use carrots and broccoli, you can make a delicious stir fry as well. Or spinach and tomatoes!

The only requirement of a stir fry is that all the different components are cooked properly at the very end when all of they are all tossed together. So if you’re using carrots and broccoli, steam-cook them first until almost completely tender, then add them to the cooked meat at the end. Perfection! Spinach and tomatoes wouldn’t require any pre-cooking. It’s all about common sense.

Here is the stir fry that I made using what was in my refrigerator one night. Enjoy, and make sure to customize it to your tastes and ingredients!

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

1 1/2 pounds cubed beef tenderloin
1/2 cup olive or peanut oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 – 1 1/2″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound sugar snap peas or snow peas
1/3 cup soy sauce
3/8 cup mirin
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 medium onions
2 medium red bell peppers
Fresh cilantro, chives, or chile pepper slices

Drain the beef well on paper towels, then place the cubed beef in a large bowl or re-sealable bag. I used the ends of a whole beef tenderloin, from which I had cut filet mignon slices, which is why the “cubes” are different shapes. The volumetric uniformity of the cubes is what’s important in a stir fry. Mine are on the large size, but uniformity is what’s critical.

Add the oil, garlic, ginger, and salt to a jar of a small food processor.
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Process until smooth, then pour over the meat.
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Toss the meat, or bounce it around in the bag to make sure the beef is uniformly coated with the flavorful oil. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Bring the meat to almost rooom temperature at least an hour before beginning the stir fry.

When you’re ready, begin by trimming the peas, if necessary, and steam them just until crisp-tender. For me, this was 5 minutes of steaming. Snow peas are thinner and would require less cooking time. However, cooking time also depends on how crisp you like your vegetables.


Let the peas cool. If you think you have overcooked the peas, or any vegetable for that matter, toss a cup full of ice over the vegetables in a colander. This will cool them off faster, and the melted ice will drain away. Set the peas aside.
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In a measuring cup, measure out the soy sauce, mirin, hoisin sauce, and sesame see oil. Whisk the mixture, and set aside.
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If you’re not familiar with hoisin sauce, I’d suggest buying some. You don’t need much for fabulous flavor. It’s just a soy bean paste. There are different qualities and brands. This is the one I can find locally, but when I have the opportunity to visit an Asian market, I buy more “authentic” brands.
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Slice the onions and peppers to your liking. I like more of a wedge look. Have these in a bowl nearby.
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Have everything you’re going to use in your stir fry near the stove. A lot about Chinese cooking, much like all cooking, is to have everything on hand during the cooking process. It’s mise en place on crack, because things can move quickly

To begin, heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil* and just when it begins to smoke (have your ventilation system on) add a handful of cubed beef. Let them sit for a minute, before tossing around, then leave them alone for another minute or two. Get the cubes to the point where all sides show browning, but don’t allow any further cooking. Remember, there will be a little cooking boost at the end.


Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, then continue with the remaining beef.
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When you are done with the browned beef, lower the heat on the stove by about half. Add the onions and peppers, and saute them, tossing them around occasionally to create some caramelization.

If you want them cooked softer, you can put a lid on the skillet/wok for about a minute.


when you’re happy with the “cook” of the onions and peppers, add the peas and toss gently.
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Then add the beef cubes and any juices that might have accumulated in the bowl.
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Immediately pour in the seasoning mixture, and combine it gently. Stir occasionally, to make sure the beef cooks through to your liking. Mine, of course, will end up medium-rare.
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If the stir fry seems like it has too much liquid, remove the beef and vegetables, using a spider sieve, and place in a large serving bowl. Then reduce the liquid in the skillet/wok.
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Pour the reduced liquid over the stir fry, toss gently, and serve.
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Most people enjoy rice with their stir fries, but I prefer it as is.

Serve the stir fry with chile paste or sriracha or even cayenne pepper flakes for those who want a boost in heat. I’ve also included dried chile pepper slices, and you can always serve black or white sesame seeds for a pretty topping.
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* You may not need any extra oil if you have enough extra oily marinade. Make sure to use all of the marinade in the stir fry for extra flavor.
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note: Some recipes call for cornstarch to thicken the final sauce for a stir fry, but I don’t bother. If you’re not careful, the sauce will become gloppy, which reminds me of bad Chinese American restaurant food.