Winner: Peking duck cassoulet

This week's champ creates a "fusion" cuisine the honest way: Through memory and old-fashioned making-do

Topics: Kitchen Challenge, Guest Chef, Immigrant cuisine, International cuisine, Food,

Winner: Peking duck cassoulet

This winning entry for the Salon Kitchen Challenge — in which we asked readers to come up with their best bean dishes — comes to us courtesy of Mamie Chen. Check out this week’s Challenge here.

As a first-generation Chinese American, I guess I had a head start in getting exposed to more “interesting” foods. It’s something I never realized and appreciated until I was interviewed for our high school French exchange program, when the teachers tried to gauge our cultural sensitivity and asked what I would do if my French host mother served fish one night, with its head still on.

I responded: “Personally, I don’t really like the head. But my mom always says it’s the best part. So I would make sure to offer the head to the eldest person at the table. Especially the eyes. But if they absolutely insisted, then of course I would eat it.” I guess that satisfied them, and soon I boarded a plane with my friends, bound for Toulouse.

I’ll never forget my first taste of cassoulet. We were visiting Carcassonne for the day and my friends and I spent most of it trying to identify locations from “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” “Oh my God! Kevin Costner probably touched this rock!” Our French teacher took us to a small restaurant for lunch and had us try a regional specialty: cassoulet. Of course, she first had to warn us that there would be duck in the cassoulet, but that we should just try it. Again, I had to wonder what the catch was? We always eat duck at home. In fact, my parents tried to get away with serving duck for Thanksgiving once. But my brother and I are traditionalists when it comes to American holidays, and we quickly pulled the plug on that silliness.

I guess ducks aren’t as common in most non-immigrant American households, but offering a legal glass of wine to help wash it down is a way to win over American teenagers. “We love France!” Everyone tried it and most everyone loved it.

There are three regions that claim to make the best cassoulet: Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne. Their rivalry is not unlike the New England versus Manhattan clam chowder debate. (New England clam chowder all the way, baby!) I thought long and hard over which cassoulet to make, having an affinity with both Toulouse and Carcassonne. And Castelnaudary just sounds cool. But one day while walking through a local Hong Kong market, I passed a restaurant with roast ducks hanging in the front window, and the decision was pretty much made for me. I would bring home a whole roast duck and make a Chinese roast duck cassoulet.

Serendipitously, there were enough leftover duck parts for bonus recipes. So I present to you my bastardized version of Duck Three Ways: Roasted Duck Cassoulet, Tofu Duck Soup, and Moo Shu Duck Burritos.

Chinese Roast Duck Cassoulet
(adapted from James Peterson’s Cassoulet recipe in “Cooking”)

4 cups of dried beans — I used haricot lingots (white kidney beans) because they were the only white beans I could find in my local Hong Kong grocery store and the French packaging seemed promising. But had they been available, I would have preferred to use navy beans.
2 carrots, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, cut into 8 large chunks
1 stalk of celery cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Fresh thyme (roughly 1/3 ounce)
Fresh Italian parsley (roughly 2/3 ounce)
Bay leaves (6 leaves)
Leek greens (4 leaves)
1 quart of chicken broth
1 quart of water
1 Chinese roast duck
6 slices of white bread, blended into bread crumbs
1/3 cup of butter, melted

  1. Rinse beans. Then cover the beans with 2 inches of water and soak overnight.
  2. Make a bouquet garni (bundle of herbs) by wrapping the thyme, parsley and bay leaves inside the leek greens and tying the bundle up with kitchen string.
  3. Take the meat and skin off the duck, and reserve. Discard the head and butt, but keep the neck and bones.
  4. In a large stockpot, add beans, carrots, onion, celery, the bouquet garni, and duck neck and bones. Pour in enough chicken broth and water (50/50 mix) to cover everything by 3 or 4 inches. There should be no need to add additional seasonings, as the stock and roast duck bones should be salty enough. Bring to a gentle boil, then cover the pot and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until the beans are soft.
  5. While the beans are cooking, remove the crusts from the bread and cut the bread into cubes. Place cubes into a food processor and blend into crumbs. Push the crumbs through a fine-mesh strainer. Set aside crumbs. 
  6. Shred the duck skin and meat. Reserve 1/3 for the cassoulet. Set aside the remaining 2/3 for the Peking Duck Burrito recipe below. 
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Strain the soup into a large saucepan and reserve. Discard the bones and bouquet garni. 
  8. Gently mix the 1/3 duck skin and meat into the beans and vegetables, and spread in a large baking dish. Add 2 cups of soup. Sprinkle half the bread crumbs and drizzle half the melted butter over everything. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust turns golden. 
  9. Gently fold the crust into the beans. If the beans look dry, add more soup. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs and drizzle the remaining butter over everything. Bake for another 30 minutes until the crust turns golden. 

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Tofu Duck Soup

Extra soup from the cassoulet recipe
1 bag of fried tofu, or 1 box of hard tofu, cut into cubes
Napa cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces

  1. Add tofu and cabbage into soup. There should be no need for additional seasoning, but add salt if necessary.
  2. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer with pot covered for 30 minutes.

Moo Shu Duck

2 tablespoons of cooking oil

1/2 carrot, shredded
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced against the fiber
pinch of salt
Remaining shredded duck skin and meat from cassoulet recipe
1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the carrots until tender. Add the celery and stir-fry until tender. Add a pinch of salt and cook vegetables for another minute or two. 
  2. Mix in the shredded duck skin and meat and 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce. Set aside.

Wrappers

4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups boiling water
sesame oil

  1. Mound the flour in a mixing bowl and scoop out a well in the middle. Pour the boiling water into the well, then mix vigorously with a fork.
  2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until dough is firm.
  3. Set aside the dough in a covered bowl at room temperature for 1 hour.
  4. Briefly knead the dough again.
  5. Pinch off dough and roll into balls roughly the size of golf balls. With lightly oiled hands, flatten the balls into disks about 5 mm thick.
  6. Brush the top of the disks with sesame oil. Then place one disk on top of the other, with the oiled sides facing each other. Roll out the dough to be slightly thinner than the thickness of Mexican tortillas.
  7. Heat a frying pan, lightly sprayed or brushed with sesame oil. Fry the wrappers on medium heat for 30 seconds on each side.
  8. Immediately pull the wrappers apart, making two thin wrappers.
  9. Stack the wrappers one on top of another, with the oiled side facing up.

To serve Moo Shu Duck Burritos

Moo shu duck
Chinese roast duck cassoulet
stir-fried green beans, scallions or other vegetables (optional)
hoisin sauce
Peking duck wrappers

  1. Spread a teaspoon or two of hoisin sauce on the wrapper. Spoon on desired amount of moo shoo duck, cassoulet beans, and any other vegetables or garnishes. Roll up tightly like a burrito and enjoy! 

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