A home cook-friendly recipe for aromatic crispy duck, offering alluring flavors and exceptional tenderness. Perfect for stuffing your favorite buns or pancakes.
What is aromatic crispy duck
If you are a fan of the legendary Peking Duck, you’ll find today’s recipe, Aromatic Crispy Duck (Xiāng Sū Yā/香酥鸭), a wonderful alternative. I didn’t know about this Sichuan-originated delicacy until I savored it in Chinese restaurants in the UK, where it enjoys considerable popularity.
The making of aromatic crispy duck involves classic cooking methods prevalent in Chinese cuisine. Initially, the duck is marinated with salt and spices and then steamed until tender. Following this, it is briefly deep-fried to achieve a crispy crust on the surface.
Apart from its enticing aroma and crispiness, I particularly love its “fall-off-the-bone” tenderness, a result of the extensive steaming process. When wrapped in hot buns or pancakes, each mouthful creates a delectable eating experience.
Why this recipe
I’ve carried out several tests before settling on a home cook-friendly version of this dish. Here is how this recipe simplifies the traditional method:
- Use duck legs instead of a whole duck, which can be challenging to fit in everyday cookware.
- Marinate with ready-made five-spice powder, rather than toasting and grinding whole spices from scratch.
- Speed up steaming with an Instant Pot, if available.
- Opt to steam the duck in advance and deep fry it just before serving.
To make this recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:
Making aromatic crispy duck involves three straightforward steps: marinating the meat, steaming it until tender, and then deep-frying to crisp it up. You can flexibly schedule these steps to fit into your routine.
Step 1: Marinate
Remove the duck legs from their packaging. Use a paper towel to remove any moisture on the surface.
Select a plate that’s big enough to accommodate the legs and that can fit into the steamer you’re using in the next step. Ideally, the plate should also have a certain depth to collect the liquid that will accumulate around the duck during the steaming process.
Pour Shaoxing rice wine over the duck legs, then sprinkle them with a mixture of salt and five spice powder on both sides. Use your hands to rub the seasonings in, ensuring they’re evenly distributed and adhere to the legs.
Tuck half of the chopped scallions and sliced ginger underneath the legs, then scatter the rest on top. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the fridge for 10 hours or overnight.
Step 2: Steam
Pour plenty of water into the wok/pot you’re using for steaming. Use a large steamer basket, a steamer rack, or even a small bowl to support the duck plate. Whatever you choose, it should keep the plate stable and elevated above the water level. Cover the steamer tightly with a lid.
First, bring the water to a full boil over high heat. Then reduce to medium heat and let it steam for about 1½ hours. Be attentive during this process. It’s essential to check the water level every half an hour to prevent it from drying out. When necessary, top up with hot water to maintain a consistent steam.
Once done, carefully remove the duck legs from the steamer and discard any aromatics clinging to their surface. Allow them to dry completely, ideally over a rack so that any excess liquid can drip away.
Step 3: Deep-fry
Before deep frying, pat dry the duck legs with a paper towel to reduce splashing. Heat oil in a wok or pot that sits stably on your burner to 375°F/190°C. Gently slide in the duck legs one by one and fry for 2-3 minutes until their surface browns.
Carefully remove the legs, then heat the oil up to 390°F/200°C. Return the duck to the oil for a second fry, lasting about 20 seconds, to further enhance the crispiness. Afterward, take out the duck and let it rest on paper towels, allowing any excess oil to be absorbed.
Once the duck cools enough to handle, remove the bones from each leg. Do this by twisting them from both ends while holding the duck with your other hand. Then chop the meat into bite-sized pieces, or simply shred it using two forks.
Before we move on to the serving section, I’d like to share a few tips you may find helpful:
- Make ahead. Marinate and steam the duck in advance, then store it in the fridge or freezer, tightly covered with plastic wrap. Deep fry it whenever you plan to serve the dish (thaw it beforehand if frozen).
- Instant Pot. You can also use an Instant Pot for steaming. Fill the inner pot with 1 cup (240ml) of water, then put in the fitted steamer rack. Arrange the marinated duck legs on the rack, making sure they don’t touch the water. Set to steam for 40 minutes then allow a natural release of the pressure.
- Broth. Save the liquid collected in the duck plate while steaming. It’s full of flavors, making it a great base for broth. Dilute it with water for noodle soup or wonton soup. Alternatively, add tofu and leafy vegetables to create a quick and nourishing soup.
How to serve
My family’s favorite way to enjoy aromatic crispy duck is to make a wrap, similar to how you would eat Peking Duck. Here is the classic combination:
- Steamed bao buns, which I used for shooting this recipe, or Peking duck pancakes (aka mandarin pancakes, spring pancakes). They can be homemade or store-bought from the frozen food sections in Chinese/Asian stores.
- Scallions, cut into slivers
- Cucumber, cut into matchsticks
- A savory sauce, such as sweet bean sauce(甜面酱), chili garlic sauce, hoisin sauce, plum sauce, etc.
Freshly cooked aromatic crispy duck also tastes wonderful on its own, accompanied by an optional dipping condiment, such as Chinese salt and pepper mix/椒盐, chili oil, etc. Therefore, you can serve it as a centerpiece, complemented by other savory dishes and steamed rice.
Other festive dishes
Looking for other recipes for special occasions and festive gatherings? Check out these popular ones on the blog:
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Aromatic Crispy Duck (香酥鸭)
- Neutral cooking oil
- Pat dry the surface of the duck legs with a paper towel. Pour Shaoxing rice wine over, then sprinkle the mixture of salt and five spice powder. Rub with hands to ensure an even coating.
- Put half of the chopped scallions and sliced ginger over a deep plate that can fit into your steamer. Lay duck legs over then scatter the rest of the scallions and ginger on top. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge to marinate for 10 hours or overnight.
- Add plenty of water to the wok/pot that you’re using for steaming (see note 1). Use either a steamer rack or a steamer basket to support the duck plate (remove the plastic wrap). Cover with a tight lid.
- Bring water to a full boil then turn the heat down to medium. Leave to steam for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Make sure you check the water level every half an hour and top up with hot water when necessary.
- After steaming, transfer the duck legs to another plate or a rack to cool, with the scallions and ginger removed (see note 2 & 3).
- Once the duck legs have cooled down, dry their surface with a paper towel. Start the deep frying process by heating the oil to 375°F/190°C. Carefully slide in the legs (fry in two batches if your cookware is small). Leave to fry 2-3 minutes until they turn golden.
- Fish out the legs using a slotted spoon and set aside. Increase the oil temperature to 390°F/200°C. Slide the duck back into the oil and fry for 20 seconds or so to crisp it up further. Take out and rest over paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
NUTRITION DISCLOSURE: Nutritional information on this website is provided as a courtesy to readers. It should be considered estimates. Please use your own brand nutritional values or your preferred nutrition calculator to double check against our estimates.