I’m in what could be fairly characterized as a COVID lockdown/rainy season/away from home-induced rut, and when that happens all the ghosts of past regrets like to come up and haunt me when I least expect them. To drive those ghosts away, I have been doing a lot of yoga, reading mystery novels and even cooking — something I have had to force myself to do every day because I have been enveloped in a depression masking as a lazy stupor.
One of the dishes I’ve put my hand to is this duck larb, rustled up after a family friend sent what I can conservatively estimate as 10 Chinese-style roast ducks to our doorstep in Phuket. The meat was finely hand-chopped (good, mindless work that also helps with any latent aggression) and the skin lifted from the carcass and re-crisped in smoking hot oil along with dried chilies and a handful of torn magrood lime leaves. The meat was tossed in an Isaan-style larb dressing and mixed in with toasted, pulverized rice kernels and the crispy bits at the last minute. It was heaven with a big bamboo basket of sticky rice, the juicy leaves of fresh gem lettuce, and a handful of sawtooth coriander (when did we start calling it culantro?).
Behold, the recipe below. Of course, if you haven’t picked up an extra roast duck from your friendly local duck purveyor, you can still thaw out a couple of duck legs from the freezer, peel off the skin to crisp in hot oil later, and mince the nice tasty meat to your satisfaction.
Duck Larb (for 4-6 people)
- 500 g Chinese-style roast duck, skin removed and meat finely chopped
- 6 Tbsps water
- 2 Tbsps fish sauce
- 2 tsps salt
- 2-3 Tbsps dried chili powder (or more, if you like it spicy)
- 6 shallots, sliced thinly
- 2-3 Tbsps toasted rice kernels, ground to a powder
- 5-6 kaffir/magrood lime leaves, torn
- Handful of dried chilies
- Unscented cooking oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- Fresh vegetables to go with your larb (cucumbers, mint leaves, coriander leaves, lettuce leaves)
- Steamed or sticky rice
- First, make your toasted rice powder, which is probably the most complicated part of this recipe. In a flat nonstick pan, pour an even layer of white rice kernels (the better to control the heat) over medium-high heat. When the rice starts turning golden and the smell reaches your nostrils, turn the heat down to medium-low and shake the pan a bit. Continue shaking/tossing the kernels to get them as evenly golden-brown as possible. They should be the color of a salad bowl from Ikea. After about 6-9 minutes (this really depends on the heat of your stove and how good you are at tossing the kernels in the pan), you should be finished. Let the kernels rest for a few minutes. Then grind your kernels in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder or, if you’re really in a pinch, on a cutting board with the bottom of a clean pan.
- In a clean saucepan, heat over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles. Add your 6 Tbsps of water and add your duck immediately after. Shuffle it around in the pan; even if the meat sticks, the juices will eventually come out and help the bits on their journey to the land of the cooked. This should take about 3-5 minutes.
- In another pan, heat an inch of cooking oil over high heat. Crisp your torn lime leaves, working quickly and set to drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Do the same with the dried chilies.
- Transfer duck and juices to a bowl and add shallots and rice powder.
- Add salt and fish sauce, tasting as you go.
- Add dried chili powder and taste to see if you want more.
- Add lime juice and taste.
- Mix in deep-fried lime leaves and dried chilies and serve immediately.