Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the snake is looking to be a good one so far and last year, which happened to be my year, year of the Dragon, was a pretty darned good one. So to give a proper goodbye to the old and kick off the celebration for the new, I tried my luck at making something way out of my comfort zone – baozi, Chinese steamed buns. While I am getting better at Asian style cooking, this one borders on the verge of baking which requires measurements and patience…neither of which are my forte.
So when it comes to trying to make something this far off the reservation for me, I have to consult some kind of recipe. Where else would I find the perfect recipe other than at NoRecipe.com, of course. I have been following this blog for a couple years now – reading the stories, trying some of the recipes, and even taking inspiration for the look and feel of my own blog. Click here for his baozi recipe.
After making these, I consulted the opinion of my most knowledgeable Asian buddy and co-eater at many a Chinese restaurant about the resulting picture of my first attempt. I got a, “Nice try, but they should be shinier and more white.” I think if he tasted one he would have been a bit more positive because these things tasted fantastic.
This is definitely one of those things that requires years of experience to perfect the bun though, something that I will probably never achieve. What I did learn is to be careful about not having too much dough on top versus the bottom. A few turned out with an improper ratio of bun on top to meat in the middle – that is sorta like a cream stuffed donut that is totally under-stuffed. Still yummy, but slightly disappointing.
While the dough was rising for these buns, I had planned on making duck breast that I had impulse grabbed while walking out of Whole Foods. To my surprise when I got home, they were actually duck legs. <If it wasn’t for those meddling kids!!!> For this one, I decided to stick to what I do best so I just winged it. I know, I know… I am so quaky.
Duck puns aside, the result was, in my humble opinion, a scene stealer. As the duck braised in the oven, the sweet smell of star anise and cinnamon filled the kitchen. After spending a couple hours preparing this celebration feast, I failed to slow down enough to take a picture of this dish so hopefully the imagery (smellergy?) helps. A dark mahogany color and perfectly fall off the bone tender. Scrumptious.
Braised Chinese 5 Spice Duck Legs
2 duck legs, skin on
1-2 Tbsp Chinese 5 Spice
¼ onion rough chopped
1 inch fresh ginger root rough sliced
1 clove of garlic smashed
1 Tsp sesame oil
1 oz of sake
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup soy sauce
1 star anise
Pick a pan that you can fry the legs in and then braise covered in the oven. Preheat oven to 350F.
Score the skin of the duck legs in a criss cross pattern and the rub with the Chinese 5 spice. Let sit for at least 30 minutes in the fridge to take on some of the spice smell. When ready, add the legs skin side down to the pan and then heat to med-high. As the pan heats, the fat will begin to render, continue to fry for about 7 minutes, careful not to burn the legs or the spices. Once the skin side is golden brown, flip and fry for 5 minutes while spooning some of the fat over the legs. Remove legs to a separate dish.
Add onion, ginger and garlic to the pan and sauté for 3 minutes to release flavors. Deglaze the pan with the sake, letting the alcohol burn off for 1 minute. Add chicken stock, soy sauce and star anise then bring to a boil for 1 minute. Add duck, cover, and place in heated oven.
I left this in the oven for about 2 hours total, but turned the heat down to 275F about 40 minutes into it. The only thing I might do different is try and re-crisp the skin by removing the lid towards the end or putting them under the broiler for a quick couple minutes. And maybe, maybe…I am not sure, but maybe add a touch of orange. A touch of acidity might add just that extra pop. Regardless, the legs ended up full of flavor and very, very tender.
So there it is – a successful first attempt at steamed buns and a lucky turn out for accidental duck legs. I would say that is a pretty good start to the new year.