Chinese New Year Dinner 2014 – Traditional Dishes & Spice and Herb Salt Crust Duck

Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜發財! 馬年行大運!

Happy New Year! Good luck in the Year of the Horse! 恭喜發財! 馬年行大運! My family and I ended up serving a mix of traditions, so to speak, for our new year dinner. The dessert you see above, is a rich and delectable macadamia shortbread brownie. The buttery, delicately crisp shortbread just melds with the fudgy brownie perfectly that if I left my weight consciousness at the door, I would have eaten the entire batch by myself.

Homemade Nian Gao or New Year Cake ( 年糕)

Of course, we did make and ate the simple traditional sweet of nian gao (my recipe). Chewy and tasty, and symbolically give us a better new year.

Charcuterie platter Spinach salad with pomegranate arils and mandarin oranges
Homemade shu mai topped with salami Homemade shrimp dumplings

We intentionally did a cultural mishmash of things since my parents were open to the idea. I served up a large platter of Fabrique Délices wonderful pâtés and my parents thought it’s a neat idea to top their homemade pork and chive shumai with Fabrique Délices’ salami to give that particular dim sum dish a different level of pork flavor.

The only traditional, required if you may, dish is pan fried dumplings (or known as jiaozi or pot stickers) but we filled it with a mixture of ground pork and shrimp. There was spinach salad topped with Wonderful Almonds to balance things out.

Braised pig's feet (五香猪蹄)

My mother cooked braised pig’s feet (五香猪蹄) flavored with five spice powder amongst a smattering of various spices and sauces. The feet yielded to an incredibly supple, collagenous, and tender pigs’ feet that its meat easily falls off the bone. The symbolic significance for this dish is in, the modern context, one would rake in more fortune.

Homemade taro cake (芋頭糕)

There was my mother’s homemade taro cake (芋頭糕) that she said, it was her mother’s recipe. Though I haven’t written down the recipe, the general directions of this recipe is to have peel the large taro root and dice it to cubes and steam it until fork tender. Cook the diced unsmoked bacon, diced shiitake mushrooms, and dried shrimp in a wok and pour the glutinous rice flour mixture (seasoned with water, salt, black pepper) until it thickens slightly and add the taro root. Divide them into aluminum pans and steam them about 25-30 minutes (or when you carefully insert a small pairing knife in the center of the cake, it comes out clean).

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (佛跳牆)

The Buddha Jumps Over the Wall soup (佛跳牆) is a luxurious soup filled with large dried scallops, fish maw, shiitake mushrooms, lettuce, and fat choy (髮菜). It’s luxurious because of the prices of the first two ingredients and it’s packed with lots of umami. For those who are curious what is fat choy, it’s a black, hair-looking algae that means in Chinese, making a fortune.

Herb and salt crust roast duck The duck revealed from the salt and herb crust

The centerpiece of this dinner was the spice and herb salt crust duck. The beautiful duck is from a local, upstate New York farm Hudson Valley Duck Farm. The recipe is below but what made the flavors intense was the day of marinating it and air drying prior to roasting.

Spice and Herb Salt Crust Duck
1 6-pound duck, cleaned and neck removed, if latter still attached

Dry rub:
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt crust:
1 pound 13 ounces kosher salt
2 ounces (weight) oregano salt (or you can make your oregano salt by having 1.5 ounces salt with 0.5 ounce dried oregano)
1 ounce of dried herbs and spices (I used equal parts dried thyme and smoked paprika)
3 to 4 large egg whites

1. Take the three dry rub ingredients, dump into a small mixing bowl and mix until it’s homogeneous. Set aside. Place the duck in a large pan and pat it dry. Rub the olive oil all over the duck’s body and sprinkle and press on the dry rub mixture all over the duck. Let it hang to dry overnight in your refrigerator (or take a large sheet pan fitted with a rack).

2. Remove the duck about 30 minutes before roasting. Preheat oven to 450°F.

3. Take a large mixing bowl and mix all of the first three salt crust ingredients until it’s blended. On a large roasting pan (that does fit your duck), take about 1 cup worth of the salt mixture to line the bottom, just enough that it would form a 1/2-inch layer. Place the duck on top. Insert instant read thermometer probe into the thickest part of the duck breast.

4. Add the egg whites, one at a time, into the remainder of the salt mixture and mix until it forms a paste. Take that paste and cover the duck entirely of this paste but be careful not to move the thermometer probe. Place the duck into the oven and roast for about 1 hour 15 minutes or until the thermometer reads in the range of 125°F to 130°F. (I took my bird out at 128°F so the breast is slightly cooked more than medium rare but the legs are cooked as well rather than rare). Let it rest for at least 20 minutes.

5. Take a clean mallet or hammer and give the salt crust a whack if it’s still intact. Remove and dispose the salt crust from the duck and slice to serve.

To view more photos of this meal, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE):

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I shoot, eat, and drink. My full time job is a hospital administrator. Moonlighting as a freelance photographer and food and travel writer.