Monday, September 16, 2013

Nanjing salt water duck

Summer months in Taipei could be—and almost invariably were—brutal. The heat and humidity were completely enervating, and on days and nights like those it was very difficult to work up enthusiasm for food. 

But man (and woman) cannot survive on ice cream and beer alone, so the people who live in the more sticky parts of China (and I have to point out that this covers pretty much the entire country) have come up with some pretty amazing summer foods.

This simple yet breathtakingly delicious duck dish is one such example. You can’t find too many dishes easier than this, but few people seem to make it at home anymore, and I would like to change that. It is salted overnight, braised in no more than water, salt, and aromatics, and then refrigerated overnight, and that’s that.

I have come to like duck legs here in the States. For one, they are a heck of a lot cheaper than buying an entire bird, they slice up easily once cold, and they are almost all meat. 

If you do not have a heavy cleaver, get duck breasts, which can be easily removed from their cradle of bones and then simply sliced once cooked.

Rub salt and spices into the duck
Who knew duck was a great hot weather option?

Nanjing saltwater duck
Nánjīng yánshuĭ yā  南京鹽水鴨
Serves 6 to 8

Duck and salt rub:
4 whole duck legs (legs and thighs attached) with skin on
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons five spice powder 
2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns

Braising liquid:
2 green onions, trimmed but left whole
1 star anise
5 slices fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sea salt
Filtered water

1. Start this two days before you wish to serve it. Rinse the duck legs, pat dry with paper towels, and pluck off any pinfeathers you find, as well as thin yellow skin. Place the legs in a plastic container. Sprinkle them with the salt and spices, and then rub these thoroughly into every part of the legs. Cover the containers and chill the duck legs for about 24 hours.

Sichuan peppercorns give a clean flavor
2. The next day, rinse the duck legs thoroughly in plenty of cool tap water, being sure to get rid of all the salt and spices. Place them in a small saucepan and add the braising ingredients, as well as water to barely cover. Bring the water to a full boil, then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Poach the legs for 30 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. 

3. Let the legs cool in the braising liquid. Remove the cooled legs to a resealable bag and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, use a very sharp heavy cleaver to hack the legs into ½-wide slices. Serve cold or just slightly chilled.


  1. I am going to do the duck recipe this weekend what is best to serve with the duck for a complete meal
    Thank you
    Bill Roberts

    1. Hi Bill. I'd serve this with some congee, pickles, and a stir-fried veg of some sort. There are recipes for all these on the blog (please use the Search function in the right-hand column). The congee is nice because it is sort of like a soup and is not too highly seasoned, which allows the duck to shine. This duck dish is great as a bar snack, too, along with some warm rice wine or cold beer.

    2. Thanks Carolyn
      I had thought about a stir fry but was not sure
      Thanks alot for the info

    3. A stir-fry would be good too, just as long as it's not too highly seasoned. And you're most welcome!