Recipe source The New Paper
100g lengkuas (blue ginger)
50g ginger (cut into four thick slices)
2 stalks of lemon grass, bruised 1 fresh bay leaf (substitute with dried bay leaf if unavailable)
5 star anise 5 cloves 1 cinnamon stick 10 whole peppercorns (either black or white)
2 to 3 tbsp raw sugar 3 to 4 tbsp olive oil 2 tbsp premium thick dark soya sauce 1 bottle (640ml) of standard grade dark soya sauce Water (enough to cover duck)
1. Place 4 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of raw sugar in the wok over low heat. As the sugar is melting, add in 2 tbsp of thick dark soya sauce and the bottle of dark soya sauce. Add 200ml of water
2. Next, add in rest of the ingredients except the duck and water.
3. Allow the mixture to boil for 15 minutes before adding in the duck. Fill the wok with enough water to cover the duck. Cover the wok and allow it to boil on low heat.
4. Once the braising liquid comes to a boil, it will take 40 to 45 minutes for the duck to be cooked. Turn the duck at intervals to ensure it is braised with an even colour all around.
5. Use a metal skewer or chopstick to test if the meat is tender enough. The remaining liquid can be refrigerated for later use.
It’s simple, straightforward, and uses copious amounts of dark soya sauce, but this recipe turns duck meat into something thoroughly tasty, right down to the bones.
When Mr Albert Lee, 73, a retired pastor who is a Peranakan Teochew, first told me the ingredients for making his family’s recipe for Teochew braised duck, I was surprised it requires an entire bottle of dark soya sauce.
“Use high grade soya sauce,” he reminded me several times.
Despite my misgivings that the braising liquid would be too salty, I did as I was told.
The result? A braising liquid that is a tad salty on its own, but perfect when drizzled over a steaming hot bowl of white rice.
A Teochew friend I invited over to do a taste test asked for a second bowl of rice to go with the sauce.
The saltiness level was to her liking and she enjoyed how flavoursome the duck meat was, as sometimes braised duck meat can turn out rather bland.
The recipe is one of Mr Lee’s personal favourites, and was handed down to his mother from his grandmother.
He has eight siblings, and among them, the only other person who knows the recipe is his 88-year-old sister.
He says: “This braised duck recipe brings back fond memories of my childhood when my mother used to cook it.”
Mr Lee’s mother was from Malacca and Mr Lee himself was born in Muar, Johor, in Malaysia. They moved to Singapore after the Japanese Occupation, but he forgets exactly when.
He does however remember how, in Muar, they reared ducks and chickens.
“Normally, we would have this dish on festive occasions and my mother would also cook it to celebrate our birthdays,” says Mr Lee.
“You could choose, on your birthday, whether you wanted to have braised chicken or duck. I always chose duck when it was my turn.”
To make full use of the braising liquid, Mr Lee suggests that after cooking the duck, braise a chicken or pork belly with it.
He recommends using a fresh bay leaf if available as it takes away the gamey taste of duck meat. And he insists on the use of raw sugar as he says that is key to a richer flavour.
He made only one change to his mother’s recipe – using olive oil instead of vegetable oil because he deems it healthier.
He usually uses a wok for cooking the duck.
Testing out Mr Lee’s recipe, I incorporated a few tips from my father who taught me our own family recipe for braised duck.
I rubbed five spice powder into the cavity of the duck, stuffing it with one head of garlic, a thick slice of ginger and a bunch of spring onions.
I also added whole garlic cloves to the braising liquid.
Plus, I allowed the duck to steep in the braising liquid for a good hour after the stipulated cooking time.