It was cold and rainy as I wandered the market the other day — “nice weather for ducks,” as the old saying goes. I know it refers to damp meteorological conditions, but somehow that phrase always makes me a little hungry.
As fate would have it, Hudson Valley Duck Farm was selling its wares just a few feet away. I walked away with six fat moulard duck legs in my shopping bag. The moulard is a cross between the Muscovy and Pekin varieties, with legs that are perfect for braising, which is what I intended to do.
Until I changed my mind.
Maybe it was the fetchingly diminutive daikon radishes at the next stand, or the frilly cilantro. The duck was suddenly headed in a Chinese direction.
Some Chinese cookbooks recommend steaming duck before roasting it to crisp the skin. It is a good technique to master. Steaming yields moist, tender duck, and it provides bonus ingredients to save for later: the liquid left in the steaming pot contains a fair amount of rendered duck fat and a small amount of concentrated duck broth. The two will separate when refrigerated.
I seasoned the legs with a blend of toasted Sichuan pepper and salt and left them to cure for a few hours before cooking. Many pasta pots, mine included, come with a steaming basket insert. A few crushed cinnamon sticks and star anise pods in the basket would perfume the duck as it steamed.
It’s worth mixing up a batch of fragrant, flavorful Sichuan-pepper salt, both for this recipe and to keep on hand for all-purpose seasoning. (If you can’t find Sichuan peppercorns in a store, online spice merchants will have them.)
Sichuan pepper, unlike black pepper, is not spicy; it is pungent, floral and tingling, and makes almost anything taste better. (Try it with roasted chicken.) To make it, toast Sichuan peppercorns and flaky salt in a dry skillet over medium heat, then grind them to a coarse powder.
Before roasting the duck legs, I whisked up a simple glaze for them, with soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil and a bit of the fermented spicy black bean paste doubanjiang.
I wanted a bright, juicy salad of winter fruits to accompany the duck. Persimmons, oranges and pomegranate tossed with daikon, Serrano chile, lime juice, ginger and sesame oil provided a kicky contrast to the crisp-roasted duck. (Be sure to use Fuyu persimmons, which can be eaten unripe. The long, pointy Hachiya persimmon must be completely ripe to be palatable.)