Duck rice is ubiquitous is Singapore, but sadly not as well known as its cousins, chicken rice. The poultry part of the chicken rice equation has its origins in ‘white cut chicken’, where chicken is simply cooked in hot water at a bare simmer with spring onion and garlic. It emerges silky and pale-skinned, its bath now a light chicken stock that can be used to cook rice. While chicken rice is loved for its simplicity, duck rice seems to exist on the other end of the spectrum. It is robust and full flavored – the duck braises in a dark, soy sauce-based liquid, made fragrant by way of a myriad of spices. The braising liquid can be used in place of water in the preparation of the rice, much like chicken rice.
Both Teochew and Hokkien versions of braised duck exist in hawker centres all over Singapore. The Teochew version is considered ‘lighter’, while the Hokkiens, with their preference for the pang (fragrant) and robust gravies, thicken the braising liquid (lor zup) with cornstarch, to drench the duck with. My preference is for the Teochew version – it is especially good with the vinegary chilli sauce.
Whichever version you make, be sure to keep the braising liquid – it is gold. Some cook call it mother sauce or master stock, because it can be reused over and over again and just gets better each time you add more meat and water. Melvin Chew says that he has been using the same mother sauce since 1983!
1 duck, rubbed with salt and rinsed
500g pork skin (optional)
5 tablespoons + 125g cooking caramel or dark sauce
2 tablespoons five spice powder
2-3 tablespoons oil
1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
100g unpeeled galangal, cut into thick coins
80g unpeeled ginger, cut into thick coins
100g unpeeled garlic cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
2 bay leaves
60g gula melaka
250g light soy sauce
2 tablespoons salt
Add-ons: Hard-boiled eggs, taupok, silken tofu
Coriander springs for garnish
For the chilli sauce:
4 red chillies
6 garlic cloves
4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon sugar
120g apple cider or white vinegar
Make a cut at the top of the duck’s breast, near the neck area, so that the braising liquid would be able to circulate through the duck during the braise, allowing for even cooking.
Rub the duck and pork skin with 5 tablespoons caramel all over. Rub 1 tablespoon of five spice powder on the outside of the duck and pork skin, and the remaining tablespoon inside the cavity of the duck. Marinate for 30 minutes.
In a wok, heat the oil and fry the onion, galangal, ginger, garlic and spices until the onion softens. Add gula melaka and fry until melted.
Add duck, pork skin, 1.8L water, soy, salt and the rest of the caramel. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, for 1.5 hours.
Remove the braised duck and pork skin from the wok and allow to cool slightly. Add eggs, taupok and silken tofu to the wok. Allow to steep for half hour in the braising liquid while duck and pork skin cool.
Prepare the chilli sauce by blending the chillies and garlic. Stir in the salt, sugar and vinegar.
Carve the braised duck, cut the pork skin into strips and serve with the sides. Garnish with coriander. If desired, serve with rice, cooked in the duck braising liquid instead of water. Do not discard the braising liquid; you can freeze it and re-use in future braises.
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