Chinese duck pasta with mushrooms
Steaming duck legs with ginger, garlic, star anise and Chinese five-spice powder before roasting them infuses the meat with flavor and moisture for this Chinese pasta dish.
"Marco!" “Polo!” Before becoming an annoying swimming pool pastime, Marco Polo was an Italian merchant and explorer who, as popular myth has it, brought pasta back from China in 1295. Unfortunately, pesky facts have long ago proven otherwise. But since the journey for the creation of this dish went in the opposite direction – from Italy to China – for the sake of symmetry, I’m going to pretend that Signor Polo did indeed introduce the noodle to Italy.Skip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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Duck pasta. Those two magical words immediately had my full attention. My first thought was linguine tossed with mushrooms, garlic and onions sautéed in duck fat and olive oil and topped with sliced duck breast and maybe a little fresh tarragon. (Wow, this still sounds good – I’ll have to try it soon, I think.)
Seeking further inspiration and/or refinements to my basic idea, I was distressed to find loads of goopy, gloppy, tomato-saucy dishes (I’m sure they’re all delicious, but I could just taste any distinctively ducky flavor vanishing in a sea of red). Then Marion said, “What about doing something Chinese with it?” Suddenly, my duck pasta dish took off in a whole new direction – east. Far East.
In the United States, the popularity of duck is always optimistically characterized as “growing.” It seems some home cooks are hesitant about cooking duck because of its fattiness (and yet pork ribs and ground chuck fly off supermarket shelves, go figure) or because they just don’t know how to cook it.
The Chinese, on the other hand, love duck and have done so for some 4,000 years. In fact, per capita duck consumption in some Western countries is directly linked to the size of their Chinese immigrant populations. (Not so with France, where they, too, love duck and give the Chinese a run for their money consumption-wise.)
Things turn steamy. The Chinese also know lots of ways to prepare duck. As I searched for ideas, one approach that kept turning up was steaming the duck before roasting it. Health-conscious Western cooks have been steaming vegetables like crazy lately and will even steam a piece of fish now and again, but meat, not so much. Throughout much of Asia, however, steaming meat is a common cooking technique, often as a first step before roasting, frying or grilling.
Steaming the duck leg quarters for this recipe renders some of the fat, makes the flesh moist and tender and, most important, infuses it throughout with the flavors of the aromatics used – fresh ginger, garlic, green onions, star anise, and Chinese five-spice powder. Roasting the steamed duck with a lacquer of honey, soy sauce and rice vinegar (OK, in looking for a descriptive finish here and remembering the duck, my mouth is watering – I think that covers it).
Chinese Duck Pasta with Mushrooms
This dish involves more steps than many of my recipes, but everything is easy to do, and you can cook the duck ahead if you like, to simplify things.