Category Archives: boreal

Red Lanterns & Labrador Tea Roasted Duck

If you like duck and are open to kitchen science experiments, I’m sure this dish will make your taste buds sing. Labrador tea is an exquisite drink with a distinct woodsy-spicy taste. Combined with the cooking juice of a roasted duck in a sauce it helps to tweak the traditional roasted duck dish into an upscale dining experience you and your guests won’t soon forget. Always on the lookout for tasty tricks, I made this combination presuming that Labrador tea flavor will enhance the gamey taste of a duck in an interesting way. OMG, it was a culinary BINGO! 100 percent worth a try weather you are a chef at home or by professional definition. Although the recipe is not Asian, it was inspired by our recent visit to Chinatown.

Chinese New Year is around the corner, it’s high time to stroll down the streets of Chinatown for a festive spirit, great Asian produce and exotic sampling. If you don’t have time for that, let me give you a quick tour (along with the beautiful sound of the winter wind chimes). I’m sure any well-traveled Montrealer knows that there is more than one Chinatown in our city (Central, West and South). I’m talking about the oldest one in downtown Montreal, famous for its historic buildings and Chinese businesses and squared by St. Urbain, Rene Levesque, St. Laurent and Viger. It is not difficult to find: check for the roof-top Chinese pavilions of the Holiday Inn Select Centreville and you got it.
Montreal’s Chinatown is bustling with tourists and all kind of goods at this time of the year. Red lanterns and couplets with good luck sayings emblematic of the approaching renewal are everywhere. Why red and yellow? According to Chinese mythology, Nian, a sea monster, who comes to destroy crops and homes around the time of the Chinese New Year, is afraid of noise, sunshine and the color red.  Hence, the lucky red couplets and lanterns coupled with yellow symbols are placed beside the doors to keep the monster away and welcome good fortune, fame and riches.
The temperature is still in chilly minus twenty, which puts us in the mood to make hugs or have some comfort food.  We make our first stop at Pho Vietnam soup place located next to the famous Foo Dogs entrance into Montreal’s Chinatown. This little hole in the wall has been our favorite spot for a bowl of great piping hot noodle soup for ages (although I do also like more recent Pho Saigon Viet-Nam and Pho X.O.). I can never get enough of their fresh and crisp salad rolls, and their pho itself is simply PHO-NTASTIC!  I’ve heard people complain about how crowded this place is most of the time, but, hey, you are in Chinatown, not in a sleeping quarter. 
Speaking of the sleeping quarters, the spot is surrounded by buildings with some interesting graffiti murals, but the most impressive one is the giant mural on the Old Brewery Mission for homeless people across the street depicting 23 by 24 meters large train. My mind always wonders what was it the artist was trying to say with this mural. Although the official city’s version was ‘to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Expo 67’ (weird), to me it looks like a message saying: ‘You have just arrived to your final destination’… which is ironic considering the designation of the edifice. Is it just me or anyone else had the same association?  
We continue exploring Chinatown strolling through colorful food stalls and checking what’s up and cooking. There’ve been quite a few places newly opened recently and many that I’ve been always curious about, but never visited, like Mongolian Hot Pot, for example. Critic reviews in general are saying that on average, food spots in Montreal’s Chinatown are not as advanced as in Vancouver or Toronto and remind of a good food of the 90’ies, but see, that’s exactly why I like it: the time traveling side of it. 
We watch some people meditating next to the temple. Anyone is welcome to join, but for some reason, the daredevil spirit of adventure or Vipassana yogi is not coming upon us right now.
At some point we take a side street, get lost and talk about Woody Allen’s ‘I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.’ We wonder if we should try these stairs for a mysterious fortune telling session like his ‘Alice’ character. Well, may be some other time…
We know that the main street (rue Saint Urbain) is just a few strides away from us and the aroma of freshly roasted lacquered ducks helps us to find it back  where we get some freshly baked egg tarts, shitake mushrooms and tangerines.

Here is a good Feng shui tip for the Chinese New Year from experts: place five oranges or tangerines around your living space: one in the center and one in each direction (North, South, East and West) for good luck.

Here are some other great Feng shui tips for the 2014 year of the Wooden Horse if you like.

We dive in to sample some wontons and Peking duck specialties and finish our trip in the Chinese supermarket shopping for young duck, sticky rice cakes and red envelopes to prepare for an authentic-like Chinese-style Spring festival.
 Happy 2014 Chinese New Year of the Horse to All!

Few days later, I cook the duck for the family gathering. I know many people are reluctant to roast a duck thinking that it is much more complicated than roasting a chicken, but it is truly as simple. Believe me, the hardest part is to remove it from the packaging.

I’ve selected this particular roasting method long time ago (rummaging around many different roasted duck recipes) because it’s the least complicated and delivers tender, juicy flesh and a crisp thin skin while rendering the fat gradually without excessive smoking or a complicated cleanup later on.

In addition to seasoning, the process takes three major cooking steps: browning the duck at 400 F; baking it at 350 F; roasting it at 350 F for the crisp skin. Voila! You may choose to stuff or not stuff the bird, it will be delicious anyways, although, I tend to put one chopped apple, celery stalk, small onion and a slice of ginger into the cavity to add a layer of taste and help produce more coking juice.  I don’t scald the young duck with boiling water, but suggest do it with the mature one for a crispier skin. I don’t blow up a duck either, but agree that it’s an important part of the cooking method for a Peking duck recipe.
Here are some great tips to roast the duck:

*  Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking.
*  Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick (and scald the mature duck with boiling water) for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process.
*  Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).

Keeping the cooking juice and separating fat from it (see in the below recipe) are important. As a result you will have a flavorful liquid to use in a sauce/gravy; and at least 100 g of pure duck fat which makes a wonderful swap for cooking oil or baking grease. The price of the store bought duck fat is around $8 to $10 per 100 g, so BAM! you got yourself a rebate of almost $10 off your duck purchase. That’s cool, no?
As usually, the devil is in detail, which is the Labrador tea mixed with the duck cooking juice (separated from fat). The result is simply unbelievable: rustic, yet sophisticated. This sauce is simple and fast to make: strain the duck cooking liquid upon roasting, cool it in a fridge to easily scoop the fat in about 15 minutes – that’s it. I am giving the detailed instructions in the recipe below.
For many Labrador tea is a drink still to be discovered. A pure boreal delight, it is aromatic and soothing with ‘rather agreeable fragrance, between turpentine and strawberries’ (according to Henry David Thoreau). Once I first tried it I could not stop brewing it. I got over my initial excitement though after I learned that Labrador tea should be handled with care (not more than a few cups per day). You can learn more about Labrador tea here.

Tips for Brewing Labrador Tea:

Crash a small handful of Labrador tea leaves in mortar or with your fingers. Add the leaves to two cups of boiling water, simmer for 1 minute and then steep for 10 minutes without the lid. Filter into cups and enjoy as is or with some honey.

Serve the roasted duck with some steamed rice, homemade kimchi and Labrador tea sauce on a side. Enjoy.
Have a great one!
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ROASTED DUCK WITH LABRADOR TEA SAUCE
Yields: 4 to 6 portions
Roasted Duck:
1 young duck
¾ cup mix of 1 apple, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 thin slice of ginger, chopped (for optional stuffing)
salt and pepper to taste
2 toothpicks to seal the cavity
Labrador Tea Sauce
1 handful of Labrador tea leaves, crushed for brewing
2 cups water
1 cup duck cooking juice, fat removed
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 20 ml of cold water (optional)
1 tbsp brandy (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Instructions:
For the Roasted Duck
Thaw the duck in the refrigerator overnight if it’s frozen. Remove packaging and any giblets in the cavity of the duck. Wash the duck thoroughly under cold running water and pat dry with paper towel. Season the duck generously with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff the cavity of the duck with the mix of apples, celery and onion if you wish. Seal the cavity with a toothpick/s weather you use the stuffing or not to prevent the breasts from overcooking. Prick the duck’s skin in several places with a toothpick for a crispy kin and to ensure a good fat rendering during the roasting process. Air dry duck in the fridge to make sure the duck is very cold before roasting as it will help to avoid overcooking the breast meat (by rendering fat from under the skin longer).
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the duck in a roasting pan and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes on each side (turning once, to finish with the breast side up). Remove the roasting pan, cover it with foil and/or lid. Lower the oven temperature to 350 F and return the covered duck to the oven for 1.5 hours (make it 2-2.5 hours in case of the mature/age-unknown duck). Remove the lid/foil and finish cooking uncovered for 30 minutes, basting with dripping juice every 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil before carving. Serve with Labrador tea sauce and steamed rice & veggies on a side.
To Separate Fat from Cooking Juice
Remove the duck carefully to the cutting board and pour the cooking juices through a strainer into a small bowl to recuperate fat and juices. Cover and refrigerate until firm. The fat will separate to the top and solidify and the juices will jellify. Scoop the fat with a spoon into a container and reserve for further use in the fridge (confit, sauté, pancakes, French toast, veggies, etc.) Duck fat is very heat stable and makes a good alternative to cooking oil or lard. The separated cooking juice can be used right away or kept in a freezer for the future use to enhance sauces, soups and stews.
For the Labrador Tea Sauce
Add two cups of boiling water to a handful of crushed Labrador tea leaves, bring back to boil for 1 minute uncovered, turn of the heat and steep for 10 minutes. Filter and set aside to be mixed with the duck cooking juice.
Mix the duck cooking juice (separated from fat) with Labrador tea in a small pot, while bringing the mix to boil. Add brandy, mix and simmer for a few minutes (2-5) to slightly thicken and/or add the cornstarch dissolved in cold water to thicken the sauce more.