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Traditional Chinese Braised Duck Legs
These traditional Chinese braised duck legs are perfect in so many ways. It’s an easy recipe with mostly hands off cooking time and tastes better the next day. So that means it makes the perfect entertaining dish.
Like any traditional recipe, this has so many versions, depending on the cook, the family and the region in China it’s being cooked in! The differences can be in the spices and aromatics used, in whether it’s a whole duck, or as in our recipe, duck legs, and then there’s also a matter of the actual braising liquid. More of that later.
Hawker Centre Braised Duck
In Singapore (and Malaysia), where I’m from, you’ll find braised duck very easily, sold at most hawker centres. Even these vary from stall to stall, some more savoury, while others border on the sweet.
While it is commonly acknowledged that the Singaporean braised duck is Teochew in origin, the Hokkiens also like to lay claim to it. if you didn’t know, Teochew and Hokkien are both Chinese dialects from mainland China (I was rather fluent in the latter, once a point in time). But let’s skip the cultural lesson for a change, as it’s not that relevant to the recipe, you’ll see why in a minute.
What are Hawker Centres?
They are a collection of food stalls selling a variety of dishes and can be out in the open, with or without covers, or in enclosed, air-conditioned buildings. Think streetfood stalls, just more organised; it is Singapore we’re talking about, after all.
Braised Duck Legs Recipe
Our recipe today though, isn’t really the one I grew up eating in Singapore. It is, in fact, the recipe that was taught in our Chinese cooking classes by Jenny.
You remember Jenny, I mentioned her in the Saliva Chicken recipe post; she conducted the Chinese cooking classes in my school, run out of my old kitchen.
This is the exact recipe she taught, nothing added, nothing taken away. So I can’t claim credit for it!
Make Ahead Chinese Recipe
These braised duck legs are a great make ahead dish, in fact, they taste even better the next day. It is not uncommon to serve it at room temperature either, it’ll make a great starter to a meal with some dipping sauce on the side.
Braised Duck Legs Ingredients
If you take a look at the ingredients list, you can see that most are easy-to-get ingredients, with the possible exception of the Shaoxing rice wine and Sichuan peppercorns.
Shaoxing Rice Wine
Is Chinese rice wine, made from fermented rice, and can easily be substituted with regular rice wine or dry sherry.
Don’t do alcohol? No sweat, just add a quarter tsp of regular, white vinegar for every tablespoon of rice wine, as a substitute for any recipe.
Click here to read more. They add a sweet, musky and floral flavour to the braised duck legs. And as you bite into one, your tongue will tingle, which makes for a delightful dining experience.
If you can’t get them, leave them out, and throw half a tsp of black peppercorns, just for flavour. They are not a substitute.
How to Serve Braised Duck Legs?
- I love to serve them warm, as part of an Oriental meal.
- You can also serve them as a starter, on a bed of salad, with a dipping sauce on the side. A traditional dipping sauce is just chopped up garlic and ginger in some clear vinegar. Take a look at the Vietnamese Spring Rolls recipe for an idea on how to make your own dipping sauce.
In Singapore, some boiled eggs and puffed tofu cubes are thrown in the braising liquid after the duck is taken out, and cooked away for 20 minutes to allow them to take on the rich flavour of the braising liquid.
Jenny liked to cook off the braising liquid, until it’s a thick, rich sauce, which is also my preferred method. However, some people prefer to leave the braising liquid as it is, and reserve it for another dish.
Did I mention easy, somewhere? Shall we get our aprons on?
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Chinese Braised Duck Legs
- you can use a wok, a saucepan or a sauté pan, big enough to take 4 duck legs.
- 2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
- 4 duck legs
For the Braising Liquid
- 1.5 litres (6 cups) water
- 4 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (see explanation above) (or any rice wine or dry sherry); for non alcoholic substitute, use 2 tsp of clear vinegar)
- 3 Tbsp light soy sauce (click to read more)
- 2 Tbsp dark soy sauce (click to read more)
- 4 large spring onions (scallions)
- 3 cloves garlic (medium sized, not too large)
- 5 cm (2") ginger
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns (click to read more) (or use ½ tsp black peppercorns)
- 1 tsp white sugar
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- chopped spring onions (scallions) or coriander leaves (cilantro)
Let's prepare the aromatics
- Peel the garlic but leave them whole.
- Scrub the ginger clean with a vegetable brush and slice into rounds, no need to be thin.
- Roughly chop the spring onions up into 3-4 lengths. Set everything aside while we brown the duck legs.
Brown the duck legs
- Heat the oil in your chosen pan over medium-high heat. This is going to smoke so open those windows, turn on the hob extractor and watch out for that smoke alarm!
- Brown the duck legs one side a time, about 2 minutes each side will do. Take the duck legs out and pour out all the fat from the pan. No need to wipe or clean the pan.
Let's get braising
- Pour the water into the same pan and bring to a boil first.
- Then add all the braising ingredients: rice wine, soy sauces, spring onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, sugar, sichuan peppercorns and white pepper.
- Bring everything back to a boil, then add the duck legs back in, skin side down. Cover, and simmer for 1½ hours. At the end of the 1 hour, check your legs, they should be practically done by this time, but I think that they taste better when the meat is practically falling off the bone. At this point, you should also have quite a little bit of the braising liquid in the pan. If you want lots of liquid, cover and cook for another 30 minutes. But if you like this dish dry, with a thick caramel like sauce, then cook for another 30 minutes without the lid. Be sure to baste the legs a couple of times to stop them from drying out.
- Serve up the duck legs, garnished with your chosen herb. It goes great with rice or noodles, as part of a Chinese or any Oriental meal.