Ginger Duck

Ginger duck hot pot is very popular winter meal here  in Taiwan. It’s made with plenty of rice wine and medicinal herbs, so it’s a warming meal that will brace your health against the ill-effects of winter’s cold and rain. It’s also shockingly cheap: if we aren’t making pigs of ourselves (an occupational hazard), we can eat for about US$10 a person, including an obligatory Taiwan beer or two.

Delicious ginger duck

Although our mothers used to assure us when we were children that all the alcohol magically boiled off when they added wine or spirits to a dish, in fact that’s not the case. Ginger duck hot pot is made with a lot of rice wine, and legend has it that there’s enough booze in the soup to get you a DUI if you get pulled over after dinner. But then again Taiwan’s legal limit is so low that it’s effectively a zero-tolerance policy, so that might be part of it.

I will say that because this meal is so salty, satisfying, and a bit alcoholic, it’s my favorite hangover meal.

The kitchen at our local restaurant

I’ve had ginger duck a number of times in restaurants, but the only English recipe I found for it was from Taiwan Duck. I have been a big fan of that site since I first found it in the US, when I was homesick for the Taiwanese food I’d gotten so used to. She prepares the ginger duck like a meaty, medicinal soup, but I want to show you how to make it like the hot pot meal we so enjoy and hopefully you can make it at home. 

The herbs are cooked in water to make a tonic broth, then the duck is cooked with a heavy dose of ginger. Then you put it all in a pot with a lot of rice wine and let it cook and brew as long as you’d like. 

Important note if you’re freaking out about finding astralagus root and the like: Take the list, which includes the Chinese translation of the herbs’ names, to a Chinese grocery store or pharmacist in your nearest Chinatown. If that’s not a possibility, you can buy packs of Chinese herbal soup ingredients online. Don’t worry about having the exact herbs in the exact quantities as many of the soups contain the same basic ingredients and we aren’t exactly practicing Chinese traditional medicine here. If you don’t want to do that, just make the hot pot base with duck, sesame oil, and ginger and it will still be great.

Our ginger duck experiences

That’s how the ginger duck hot pot soup is made and it’s served with big pieces of duck meat, still on the bone. (A waitress at our favorite place told us she wouldn’t put any feet or heads in our pot because she knew foreigners didn’t like that. What a thoughtful woman!) I t’s served in a clay pot that registers as quintessentially Chinese with it’s bulbous shape, tiny handles and iconic red label.

The meal setup

Unlike regular hot pot, this duck hot pot is a little bit less “anything goes.” All the places we’ve been have pretty standard items on their menus. You can order extra duck meat and organs, meatballs, cabbage, enoki mushrooms, thick slices of king oyster mushrooms, cubes of firm tofu, and spongy tofu skin for the hot pot. 

Delicious noodle side dish

Longevity noodles, or mian xian, are a conventional side dish, served doused in sesame oil and dried shallots. They are so simple, but so delicious. Don’t be surprised if you have to make a second round of noodles for everyone as the muted, comforting taste offers a really satisfying counterbalance to the strong flavors of the soup and the sauces.

Dipping sauces

As with most other varieties of hot pot, the dipping sauces really bolster this dish. Our favorite is a salty, funky mix of spicy fermented bean curd and rice wine that makes a very salty, very addicting sauce. Soy sauce with some rice vinegar and minced chili peppers is also provided, but I don’t like it nearly as much. Taiwan Duck suggests serving her's with Chinese pepper-salt powder, and I can’t see how that wouldn’t be awesome. 

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