Grandma's braised duck

Teochew braised duck or lor ark
Let me state for the record that I’m a great fan of food but I don’t cook.  That’s why it’s always a pleasure to discover recipes, especially the ingredients in food that I fancy and experience the joy of tasting such food again – when someone prepares it for me!


Whenever I recall food prepared by my grandma, her Teochew-style braised duck comes to mind.  Married to a Teochew, grandma who is Cantonese has made this duck dish one of her signature dishes for festive occasions.  I often mention it in my memories of Chinese New Year traditions in Ah Kong’s house and how everyone particularly enjoys her braised duck.  I can recall an uncle who is Hokkien, referring to grandma’s braised duck as, lor ark, while grandma says lo arp, the Cantonese way.

Grandma’s classic recipe is simple and the preparation rather straight-forward and I have seen her cooking a few ducks – one after another – in a gigantic wok for reunion dinners while we lived at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.  She was the master chef who did the cooking and finally, when the ducks were cooked and cooled, grandma would spread out sheets of newspaper on the floor before she sat down on a low stool and skillfully carved the ducks to present them beautifully on platters.

The fragrance and flavour of grandma’s braised duck is certainly a comfort food that evokes fond memories of my growing-up years.  At the start of the reunion dinner, the children will be served first and sent to sit at a table assigned to us [because the main table can only seat so many adults!] and I remember how mum would select tender pieces of breast meat drizzled with tasty gravy for me.  Grandma’s simple recipe for a slightly, sweeter gravy has been handed down to her daughters and I’m glad my mum and aunty Polly, have mastered the finer points of making this delicious duck dish.

I’m usually in the kitchen with my camera so I had the chance to observe my aunt prepare grandma’s recipe for Teochew braised duck in a step-by-step method:

First, clean the duck and pat it dry.  Then give the duck a good massage – inside and out – with salt and set it aside to marinade for at least two hours.  Some recipes suggest marinating the duck overnight but as grandma usually makes a few ducks at a time, she had no space in the fridge to keep them overnight!

Warm up a wok– big enough to hold the size of your duck – in medium heat with three tablespoons of cooking oil.  Add four tablespoons [or more!] sugar and stir until it has caramelized. 



Prepare a few pieces of galangal [about 200 gm] and give it a smash before adding to the caramelized sugar.  Some recipes include optional ingredients like star anise, cinnamon sticks and ground black pepper.




Reduce heat to medium-low before gently putting the whole duck into the wok.  Turn the duck over to baste it evenly.




Put in thick dark cooking caramel sauce and add water to the mixture until it is half-way up the duck.



Reduce to low heat, cover the duck and simmer for another hour and a half, making sure to turn the duck every 20 to 30 minutes.  Keep an eye on the gravy level and turn regularly to avoid getting one side overcooked or burnt!


Braise for up to two hours until the duck meat is tender and the gravy has thickened.  Notice how the gravy has been absorbed by the meat! 
Test taste the gravy before turning off the heat and then remove the duck to set it aside to cool.  Dish up the gravy and skim the surface to remove any excess oil.



Let the whole duck cool properly before it is carved.  Wear an apron [watch out for squirting juices and flying bits!] and wash your hands thoroughly before handling the duck, if you prefer not to wear gloves.



Remember there is also a method to carve and arrange the parts of a braised duck on a serving plate:  Place its head, backbone and feet on the bottom layer of the plate before neatly arranging the cut slices on top.  Warm up and drizzle some gravy on the duck before serving.

Teochew braised duck is distinguished by its sweetness and it’s up to you to add or reduce the seasoning according to the size of the duck and your individual taste.  This method of preparation is not complicated but it may take amateurs a few tries before they achieve the desired gravy flavour and meat tenderness. 

And don’t forget that before you can serve your braised duck, you should also master the skills to carve it!


When our schoolmates had a CNY gathering and each one brought a dish for the meal, my contribution was a whole Teochew braised duck.  Irene – who is familiar with my grandma’s lor ark specialty – was thrilled with my duck and when I told her that I cooked it, she believed me.  Later I revealed that it was actually bought and Irene was rather disappointed at how I led her on.  Now Irene and I always have a laugh over our little lor ark joke!

/pl

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