I remember our first Christmas in Berlin six years ago, the air was cold and crisp. It started to snow just a few days after we arrived in November, but it didn’t last for too long, though the weather remained fairly cold. After about one and a half month later, all our moving boxes had been emptied and we started slowly settling into our new home. We were relatively excited about celebrating our first Christmas in Berlin with the whole family (from Alexander’s side). In fact, it was one rather significant festive time for me: it was my first Christmas in a new country, being a new mother meant paying extra attention to make our home looked festive and preparing presents for my child (I did’t really celebrate Christmas before I had Lilly, as one can imagine, it wasn’t such an important festive day in Asian culture). And above all, I had to prepare and cook a big Christmas dinner for the whole family for the very first time!
I did’t cook turkey though as anyone would for Christmas, instead, I wanted to do something different, so Alexander and I decided to make it an Asian theme dinner: crispy prawn rolls as an appetizer alongside some sparkling wine, two roasted crispy aromatic ducks (a dish which I first tasted in London, was a speciality in nearly all the Chinese restaurants there) served with pancakes, trimmings (julienne cucumber and spring onion) and hoi-sin sauce; vegetable fried rice and a green salad for main course. I can’t remember what we had for dessert, but we definitely had lots of food, wine and talks. It wasn’t an easy meal to make I have to say but everyone was satisfied at the end, so I went to bed that night a very happy girl.
Since my parents-in-law are getting older and traveling away from home for Christmas proves to be too much for them, so we have been spending nearly every Christmas at their home in Frankfurt for the past few years. But before we travel, we will normally have a small Christmas dinner at home in Berlin. This year, I decided to cook duck again, not crispy duck, but a recipe inspired by one of my mother’s best dishes. I still remember observing my mother to cook this dish when I was a teenager: she would part poach, part steam a whole duck in her big wok with sweet soy sauce, the smell is incredible and the whole apartment was filled with this umami yet sweet scent! When the duck is cooked, the deep golden colour of the skin was glossy, flavorful and absolutely delightful to eat. the meat would almost fall off the bone, so mother would gingerly but skillfully chopped the duck into bite-size pieces and arranged them neatly on a serving platter. The luscious jus would then be poured over the duck meat before serving. It was one of our family favorites and still remains so, and I am pretty certain my mother would have been pleased to know that her legendary recipe will be passed on for generations to come.
This recipe here definitely has the spirit of my mother’s dish, I used only duck breast in oppose to a whole one because I was only cooking for three. I added star anise and cinnamon stick in the sauce in order to provide a warm, licorice and festive taste to the whole dish, it worked brilliantly! I served the soft, juicy duck slices with steamy hot Jasmine rice and lightly poached Kalettes (a hybrid breed of kale and Brussel sprouts which I happened to come across in the supermarket), with a glass of dry cabernet sauvignon, I was in heaven!
Soy Poached Duck Breast
- 2 duck breasts, each weights about 300g (600g in total)
For the poaching sauce:
- 4 tbsp. Tamari or light soy sauce
- 2.5 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. Shaoxing rice wine
- 500ml Water (plus more if needed)
- 1 thumb-size ginger, crushed
- 1 piece (about 2 tbsp.) Yellow rock sugar (Asian Market)
- 2 Star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Steamed Jasmine rice
- Poached Kalettes (or any other vegetable of your choice)
Rinse and pat dried the duck breasts and set aside.
Prepare the sauce for poaching: combine all the ingredients in a wok and covered, simmer for about 10 minutes. Have a quick taste of the sauce, it should be strong, savory with a slight, subtle sweet taste.
Add the breasts, skin side down (they should be nearly submerged in the sauce) and bring back to a low simmer. Poach the meat for 20 minutes or until they are cooked through, or if you prefer it pink inside, just take 2-3 minutes off the cooking time. Turn once half way through the cooking.
Transfer the duck on a warm plate and cover with foil to rest.
Bring the sauce back to boil (plus any resting juice) for about 6-7 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half and slightly thicken.
Slice the duck breasts just before serving and ladle over some delicious sauce. Served with steamed rice and vegetables.
And a very Merry Christmas to you!