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Beat the buffet rush, and cook at home with friends

[Home Cooking] Duck in a sauce of yuja cha and omija extract gives you that turkey, orange and cranberry taste without paying through the nose.

Dec 24,2009
Even if you don’t have an oven, cooking your duck in a pan makes for a wonderful Christmas dinner. By Joe McPherson
It’s Christmas Eve, and there’s the traditional expat rush to find overpriced turkey buffets, a few souls getting turned away for lack of reservations. I’m surprised no one has opened a full-time turkey restaurant here, considering the obscene gouging people are willing to accept, as if the birds are dipped in gold.

But it’s all hype over nostalgia. A while back I interviewed Koreans on their fondest Chuseok food memories. I got a few puzzled responses from people who said they just ate the foods because they were traditional, not because they enjoyed them. Seeing family was more important.

This makes the expat turkey hunt a comical event. Does anyone truly like the big bird that much? Or do people just do it because they are grasping for any connection to home they can in a monolithic food culture resistant to diversity? I have seen many the expat shake with giddy anticipation waiting in line for some white meat only to find themselves underwhelmed.

What’s missing is family and friends. Even if we don’t have the former here, we have the latter: friends who share the common experience of living in Korea. That’s why the best way to celebrate the season is to meet up for a home-cooked meal. It’s easy. Even better, there are leftovers.

That’s why, this week, I won’t be discussing where to overspend on a turkey dinner. Instead, we’ll be making something even better at home.

When you can’t get your hands on a turkey, buy a duck. Ducks, or “Chinese turkey” to fans of the movie “Christmas Story,” are also traditional Christmas feasts. The Korean ori have become more common at local butchers, usually at just 10,000 won a bird. If you or a friend has an oven you’re in for a treat. Make sure the butcher doesn’t hack it to pieces if you want to roast it whole - ducks are prepped differently at different butchers. Then, at home, rinse Donald down and remove any quills or blemishes. Cut off the neck and pull out any naughty bits, as well as excess fat. The neck you can use for stock or render for fat. Dry the duck, then rub the outside and under the skin with salt and pepper. Put a few tangerine slices under the skin and in the cavity, and tie the legs together with some cotton string. Carefully pour a kettle of boiling water over it in the sink - this helps crisp the skin. Finally, roast the duck breast side down on a rack in an oven heated to 180 degrees Celsius (355 Fahrenheit). Make sure to put a pan underneath to collect the ample fat drippings.

Cooking time will vary. After an hour and a half, poke a skewer into the thickest part. If the juices run clear, it’s ready. Duck is better undercooked than overcooked.

If you don’t have an oven, cut the duck up, rub with salt and pepper, dredge in flour and saute in a pan with minimal oil.

With either method, reserve the fat. I usually keep it in a jar in the refrigerator.

When the duck is finished cooking, let it rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so the juices don’t spew like lava when you cut into it.

It’s time to sauce. Get yourself a jar of yuja cha, the yuzu tea that looks like orange marmalade and some omija extract, which tastes similar to cranberries. Pour a tablespoon of the fat into a pan and add a tablespoon of flour. Cook until the flour starts smelling nutty, then add half cup of yuja cha, a tablespoon of omija extract and a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger. Cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly, until it starts bubbling. Add some salt and pepper to taste, and you end up with a “cranberry-orange” glaze without buying any cranberries or oranges.

Take some more of that duck fat and put about a centimeter of it in a pan. Thinly slice some potatoes and let them sit in some chilled water for at least 30 minutes to leach out some of the excess starch. Fry the potatoes in the duck fat and season with salt and pepper. Decadence like this you won’t find on any hotel buffet table, and it also works with Korean sweet potatoes.

While you and your friends are waiting for the duck to cook, treat yourselves to some mulled wine. Pour two bottles of red wine into a pot, add a chunk of big Korean cinnamon (kaepi), which you can find in the Chinese medicine section at supermarkets. Throw in a spoonful of that yuja cha, some grated ginger and half a cup of sugar. Stir thoroughly and heat slowly on a simmer for 15 to 30 minutes.

Pour the mulled wine into mugs. Take a seat, put on some jazzy Christmas tunes and toast to a great season. Life doesn’t get much better than this.


By Joe McPherson Contributing Writer [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

*Joe McPherson is the creator of the ZenKimchi Korean Food Journal at zenkimchi.com.



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