When my maternal grandparents fled China in 1949, and resettled in southern Vietnam, they brought with them many unique food traditions from the Teochew region of Guangdong province. One of these traditions was to make a special rich and aromatic braising brine to cook goose and duck.
What’s special about it? Versatility. Yes, goose and duck is traditional, but chicken and pork work too. Even boiled eggs and fried tofu when money is tight. And you never waste a drop. Like a fine wine, it improves with age. Wrap it, freeze it, and reuse it. Each cooking session intensifies the brine, leaving a more complex and rich stock.
In my cookbook, it features on Day 11 as “1 to 5 Super Brine”, named after the 5 bowls of sauces used to make it.
I’m so grateful my grandparents took the time to teach me this utterly delicious recipe as well as the Teochew dialect. In today’s China, Teochew culture and dialect is rapidly fading, as Mandarin homogenises language and culture. How ironic that I, a naturalised British Chinese gal from Southeast London feels a duty to preserve it.
1 fresh duck@ 1.65kg (at room temperature) rubbed in a tablespoon of salt 2 hours before cooking.
Bowl 1, 100ml sesame oil
Bowls 2, 200g sugar – brown
Bowls 3, 300ml clear rice wine (the good quality drinking type)
Bowls 4, 400ml light soy sauce
Bowls 5, 500ml water
4 clove garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger crushed
2 sprigs of spring onion (white part only)
To be added to a small muslin bag:
4 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 liquorice stick
2 black cardamom
1 tablespoon clove
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn
2 Bay leafs
Optional: Garlic Chilli dipping sauce for duck:
75ml of white vinegar
5 teaspoons white sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil for frying chopped garlic
Preparation 25 minutes plus 2 hours pre-salting of duck
Cooking – 1hr 20 minutes: 40 minutes on each side
- Pour bowl 1 containing the sesame oil into a large non-stick pot (deep enough to rest the entire duck) and heat the oil. Add the spring onions, ginger and garlic and stir fry for 1-2 minute to slightly brown.
- Add bowls 2, 3, 4 and 5 to the pot and allow it come to boil before reducing heat to a gentle simmer. Place all the dried spices into a muslin cooking bag and tie it before adding the bag to the simmering brine.
- In a separate pot, add boiling kettle water and turn up the heat. Carefully, place the duck and blanch for 5-10 minutes to cook out some impurities and fat. The water should look oily and foamy.
- Remove the duck pan from the heat to the sink and pour away the boiling water. Rinse duck under the cold tap to wash away any remaining fat and impurities. Place duck in a colander and dry with paper kitchen towels.
- Turn the heat up on the brine and carefully lower in the duck. Continually baste the duck with the brine while the brine comes up to boiling point. When the brine reaches rapid boil, turn the heat down to a low setting for gentle heating. Put on the lid and allow the duck to slowly simmer on one side for 40 minutes.
- Turn duck over to the other side for another 40 minutes to ensure the brine flavours are evenly absorbed.
- Check the meat is cooked by inserting a knife into the centre of the duck thigh. If the juices run clear and the knife is easily removed, the meat is cooked. Turn off the heat. Flip the duck over one more time and allow the duck to remain in the brine until the brine is completely cool.
- Make garlic and chilli sweet vinegar: dissolve the sugar in the vinegar. Fry garlic in the oil until light golden brown then add garlic and chillies to the sweetened vinegar.
- Remove the duck and carve into thin slices. Display on a large plate and drizzle on a little of the brine over the sliced duck.
- Serve immediately with plain rice and garlic and chilli sweet vinegar.
Only a rich and robust wine can stand up to the intensely aromatic flavours of duck braised in this super brine. A high alcoholic red wine that is earthy, spicy and fruit-packed such as a premium wine from Spain’s Rioja and Priorat regions would be a perfect match!
- This super brine is like a fine wine, it will taste even better with ageing! So DO NOT THROW ANY AWAY. Keep the brine (with the muslin bag left in) in a sealed container in the freezer. Remember to remove the fat deposit from the surface after defrosting. You can replenish the brine with more of the sauces mention in the ingredient list if needed.
- Don’t skip the pre-cooking salt rub over the duck as it will taste much more flavoursome. Ideally, if you have time, do it 24 hours before.