Callum’s crispy duck
Duck pancakes are a family favourite. Ideal for sharing with friends and fun to put together, it had never occurred to me to make my own. But in the spirit of the New Year (and a special one to me, as I was born in the year of the rooster) I thought it worth challenging myself so I chose Jeremy Pang’s recipe for Crispy duck breast with pancakes and cucumber pickle.
I haven’t used duck before and I was a little worried about the double cooking required in this recipe, lest I should overcook the meat. But the combination of blanching, frying and finally roasting – each for a short period of time – actually created a crispy skin while keeping the duck tender and succulent. As long as you don’t get sidetracked (and I have a very short attention span) this is easy enough. However, leaving the meat in the oven for an additional couple of minutes is the difference between very rare and well done, so I made sure to set alarms on my phone instead of lackadaisically guessing times.
I must admit that I am a fan of shredded duck in pancakes, and was concerned that I wouldn’t enjoy sliced breast as much, but this is actually a delicious variant on the more typical takeaway recipe. It was also a slightly different meal because of the accompanying sides. Jeremy Pang recommends a cucumber pickle and spicy plum dipping sauce as an alternative to the classic hoisin. Both are an absolute doddle to put together; it took me about five minutes to make these and they had a really nice, gently aromatic flavour.
I would absolutely make these crispy duck pancakes again. I was pleased to learn some new techniques, blanching amongst them, and it was a really simple recipe. These pancakes are an ideal treat to celebrate the New Year and the perfect introduction to cooking Chinese cuisine.
Jack's takeaway chicken
To celebrate the Lunar New Year, I decided to make the, err, American takeaway classic General Tso’s Chicken. But, as Fushia Dunlop writes in Every Grain of Rice, the dish was originally created by a Hunanese chef in exile in Taiwan. That’s good enough for me.
It’s the Chinese year of the fire rooster – so what better way to celebrate with a chicken dish infused with a firework of bird’s eye chillies. One of the best things about the dish is that it utilises lots of storecupboard items, so once you have the ingredients you’ll easily be able to make it again (and trust me, you’ll want to.) It’s a relatively simple recipe to follow, and there are lots of elements that you can prepare in advance making it an ideal dish to make for a large party.
I had never deep-fried chicken in a wok before, and after watching countless episodes of Casualty in which oil fires cause unspeakable damage, I was wary of this cooking method. So arming myself with a moistened tea towel and rigorously checking my exit routes, I began. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more delighted with the results: the chicken was cooked to a perfect golden crisp, while sealing in the marinade flavours. I had to fry in two batches, but the speed of the cooking meant that this wasn’t a problem.
After cooking the chicken, I added the chillies, but couldn’t believe how quickly they burnt – Dunlop notes this in her recipe, and I should have taken heed. General Tso would have disappointed by my lack of military precision. My second attempt was much better though and the sauce quickly became deliciously thick and sticky.
This was good! As someone whose experience of Chinese meals mainly comes from takeaways, I was surprised at how fresh the dish tasted. The flavours were cleaner and more harmonious than the usual Chinese food that I’ve eaten. I was also amazed how quick and simple the recipe was to follow – it is definitely a meal that I’ll be making again.