A Jamaican Ginger Duck Recipe

Here’s how to make it — and the story

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

Summer holiday from school in Jamaica as a kid was long…very long.  The days seemed endless for a 7-year old kid…they seemed even longer when you were instructed by the powers that be (my dad) not to leave the yard or have any friends over. To a hyperactive Jamaican child that was like putting him in solitary confinement.  One had to get quite creative and imaginative to get through those type of days.

First off, we would breach the confines of our dictated borders as soon as the warden left for work by sneaking our friends in through the evergreen bush in the backyard lined with super sharp barbed wire.  A feat requiring the utmost dexterity to climb through the razor sharp barb-wire and tolerance for pain if you got snagged by one of the protruding barbs but couldn’t make a sound. We would then conspire ever so quietly at the far end of the backyard way up at the top of the breadfruit tree away from the prying eyes and ears of the security detail (my retired grandfather). It is here that some of our brilliant (and not so brilliant) schemes were cooked up.  At this particular meeting, the ‘committee’ did not have a specific agenda and was about to break for recess, when suddenly a flock of ducks was sighteed hovering overhead. Spontaneously, my brother started waving his hands over his head as if mimicking an air traffic controller directing an aircraft to safe passage.  To everyone’s surprise, one of the ducks diverted from the pack, as if heeding direction from my brother and made a beeline towards the breadfruit tree.

We all sat there in astonishment as the bird landed at the base of our ‘office’.  We all descended from the tree in record time and surrounded the bird who did not seem the least bit perturbed at our presence. It was as if he were making a formal introduction to the group.  My brother stepped towards the duck, a bit aggressive at first but when he realized that duck had no fear (or was just plain stupid), he relaxed his stance and realized he just made a new friend.

We all began playing with our new found friend and the story of how we met him was repeated at nausem for the next few days to anyone  who would listen, including my mom who was not convinced. Friendly Duckie, as he was appropriately named by the committee, became a part of the family and was probably the only living thing that found its way into our yard that our dogs didn’t decimate. It was as if he made friends with them too. For some strange reason, even though Friendly Duckie had ability of flight, he didn’t exercise that option since the day he first landed at the base of that breadfruit tree. So, we enjoyed Friendly Duckie’s company all summer. The one person he didn’t seem to be able to win over was my mom, as she was left cleaning up the unpleasantries left behind when Duckie found his way into the house when we were not around and ultimately when we went back to school at the end of the summer.

Dealing with all rigors of being back to school, we weren’t left much leisure time to take care of Friendly Duckie and those chores fell on my mom who was not pleased with that idea. It was somewhere around Christmas time that we realized that Friendly Duckie must have moved on from us for the lack of attention and neglect and finally exercised his option to take flight.

That holiday season, we were saddened by Friendly Duckie’s absence. However, it was quickly forgotten amidst the excitement of the holidays. That Christmas my mom outdid herself with her cooking. I especially remember the many accolades she received from friends and family for the unusual dish of Chinese style ginger duck, which was far removed from the standard fare of baked ham, roast pork and other traditional Christmas delicacies we were used to having. We too were quite delighted at this star of the table at that time. It was many years later that it was revealed to us that Friendly Duckie was in fact the main feature of our Christmas table that year.  A saying that we had as kids is appropriate here: such is life in the tropics.

My mum’s ginger duck recipe follows.  Hail to Duckie.

P.S. As far fetched as this story sounds, we only changed the names of the characters to preserve their anonymity and avoid litigation.

Chinese Style Steamed Duck With Ginger Sauce

Ingredients:

For the duck:

1 steamer pot (large enough to hold the bird)

1 large whole Long Island duckling
2 tablespoons salt

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves (for garnish)

For the sauce:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons fresh minced ginger

1 1/2 cups white vinegar (can substitute with rice vinegar)

1/2 cup cooking liquid

Method:

For the duck:

Put steamer pot on stove top over high heat.  Bring to a boil.
Mix salt, five-spice and pepper together.  Rub the duck all over and under skin and in the cavity with the dry rub. Place duck in the steamer pot and cover tightly with a lid. Steam duck for approximately 1 hour or until meat pulls away from bone without much effort. Remove duck from steamer and allow to cool enough to handle. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid from steamer for the sauce.  Once cooled, pull the meat away from the bones and reserve. Discard bones.

For the sauce:

Put all ingredients for the sauce in the medium sauce pan and bring to a boil stirring to incorporate all ingredients. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl and reserve to use as dipping sauce.  Arrange warm duck meat on serving plate and drizzle with some of the dipping sauce and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.

Serve warm with remaining dipping sauce on the side.

Note: this dish is all about the dipping sauce, so the duck meat is purposely not highly seasoned in order to experience the full flavor of the dipping sauce.  This dish can be served on its own or in the style of pulled pork such as on a bun or Asian pancake or over rice.  It is an interesting and delicious alternative to pulled pork and is very versatile in its uses.  Think spring rolls, tacos, quesadillas, pizza toppings ; the possibilities are endless.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS  when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s  The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.