Shopping in my favorite specialty market recently, I stumbled upon an Asian foodie's grail: crispy whole Chinese-style duck. I enjoy relying on serendipity to deliver such delicacies into my path, and my prized possession rode in my lap on the way home, the way one cradles fresh eggs or delicate produce. My husband and I invited friends to a modest spread of handmade herbed crepes, shredded vegetables and glorious condiments to accompany our good find.
Despite voracious appetites and the exceptional quality of the bird, we still had quite a bit of duck left at the end of the night, as well as a pile of vegetables. I routinely compost kitchen scraps because I hate to waste food, particularly animal products—a certain responsibility is forged when you've looked your meal in the eye—so I began formulating a plan for the next day's supper over the remains of our feast.
Stripping a poultry carcass or scrounging from your serving dishes hardly sounds glamorous, but some of the most satisfying meals I create at home revolve around reinventing last night's supper. The next time you serve roast chicken or luck into a deeply flavorful Chinese-style duck, consider maximizing your yield by transforming your leftovers into a "stone soup" in the style of the Jade Empire. Think of this less as a recipe and more of a launch platform to economical, eco-conscious luxe leftovers.
Reduce: Take (or make) stock
Homemade stock is culinary gold, but it has an undeservedly bad reputation for being difficult and fussy. If you have a slow cooker, stock becomes a breeze. Once you amass a few quarts of frozen home-brewed bouillon, you'll affectionately begin to think of your chest freezer as Fort Knox.
Place the bones of your bird (including the neck and head) into your slow cooker. Add a quartered onion, some garlic cloves, and a cup of white or rice wine. Add whatever aromatics and vegetables you have on hand in your kitchen (I used fennel stalks, star anise, Thai peppers and a piece of ginger) and fill the slow cooker with enough hot water to cover the ingredients by at least an inch.
Simmer stock for at least 12 hours or as long as two days, replenishing the water as it boils off. When the bones crumble with minimal effort, strain the stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander. Salt to taste.
Use within two days, or freeze into amounts suitable for your cooking needs. Frozen stock will be viable for three months.
Reuse: Clean your plate
No matter how carefully I plan a dinner party, I usually end up with an excess of condiments. In this case, I was left with a few handfuls of shredded scallions and red bell pepper, as well as a hoisin sauce and a bit of Meyer lemon marmalade. I combined the remaining condiments, and wrapped the vegetables in a paper towel before returning them to the fridge. I roughly chopped the remnants of duck meat for soup, and cut the skin (itself a highly valued condiment) into strips to be pan-fried until crispy.
When you're clearing the table from a meal, take a hard look at what's left, and use your gut. Think with your stomach! I could have easily mixed the duck, sauces and shredded vegetables to create a wrap sandwich, or tossed it with a few handfuls of peppery greens for a different take on the now-ubiquitous Asian chicken salad, but like the heart, the stomach knows what it wants, and it wanted Chinese noodle soup.
Recycle: Soup's on
This soup comes together quickly, which is a grand thing for a weeknight supper. I steeped rice noodles from my pantry in boiling duck stock, but any prepared noodles (even spaghetti or ramen) will do. Crisp the duck skin in a frying pan and place on a serving plate if you're feeling generous, though I won't blame you if you keep it all as a chef's spoil-of-war.
Wilt Chinese cabbage or a salad green like spinach or arugula in the duck fat. Move noodles to individual bowls, and drizzle a few spoonfuls of hoisin over the noodles. Stack ingredients in this order for maximum beauty: greens, duck, stock to cover and shredded vegetables.
Bring Chinese soy sauce and sriracha (a chili-garlic concoction often called rooster sauce by those too timid to mispronounce sriracha with authority) to the table to allow each person to adjust the heat and saltiness to their taste. Serve with a wide spoon, chopsticks, and a sense of fiscal and culinary pride.
If you're omnivorous and have never experienced the glory of crispy Chinese duck, it's a treat. It's very easy to assemble at home with homemade pancakes (or even warm soft tortillas), scallions, cucumber and basic knife skills. You can pre-order the ducks for special occasions, or call ahead to ensure availability: Van Hung Asian Market, 587 Highway 51, Suite P, Ridgeland, 601-856-9638.