When you grow up in San Francisco, Chinese New Year celebrations are eagerly awaited each year. The City hosts a parade that thrills adults and children alike. Full of bright colors, dancing lions and dragons, marching bands, firecrackers exploding and beautiful costumes, it couldn’t be any more exciting to a child’s eye.
The San Francisco Chinese New Year celebration began in the 1860s with the influx of people from the Gold Rush days. It is now the largest Asian event in North America, culminating with the parade which is one of the world’s top ten and the largest celebration of its kind outside of Asia. The Golden Dragon, the crowning glory of the event, is over 200 feet long, requires a team of 100 to carry it, and is presented at the end of the parade. It bobs and weaves its way through the streets, moving constantly, coming close enough to scare the little ones before it suddenly pulls back and moves on leaving them laughing in delight.
I remember standing on the street curb, craning to see the beginning of the parade, jumping up and down in excitement. Pretty soon I could hear the drums and knew that it was almost to our location. Then suddenly we were in the middle of it, with my hands over my ears to shut out some of the deafening noise from the drums, my face split with the biggest smile. Even now I smile at the memory.
When you wander through the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown district, you are bombarded with the delicious aromas of food being prepared in restaurant after restaurant. If you weren’t hungry when you walked through the Dragon Gate on Grant Avenue, you will be. When people ask me where they should eat, I always tell them to follow their noses. If it smells good, go in and try it out!
One of my favorite dishes available in virtually every Chinese restaurant in America is Chinese Chicken Salad. I love the crunchiness and combination of flavors. When I was thinking about sharing something with you to celebrate the Chinese New Year, I wanted to take this simple dish to the next level. Immediately I thought of duck and I knew it would be perfect.
The main difference between cooking duck and chicken is that duck is served medium to medium-rare. Anything above that and it will be impossibly tough. There is also a large fat cap on duck that needs to be rendered. The easiest way to do this is to cut through the fat (without cutting into the meat) and cooking it so that the fat melts and the skin crisps.
You can use whatever kind of greens you like, but make sure you keep it nice and crisp. I love Iceberg lettuce, but romaine would also work well. I prefer to use Napa cabbage (the elongated kind) but you can use whatever type is available. Sometimes if I have a lot of lettuce in the refrigerator I make the salad without the cabbage and it is just as yummy.
I like to top mine with sliced almonds for a slightly healthier option, but if you want more traditional toppings, they are easy to make. Buy wonton wrappers (usually sold near the produce section), slice them thinly and flash fry them until golden and crunchy. Sprinkle them over the top of each salad.
This year the Chinese New Year parade will be held in San Francisco on Saturday, February 11th beginning at 5:15pm. If you are in the area I encourage you to attend. It is an incredible experience.
Gung Hay Fat Choy!
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (for gluten free, see Note below)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup Mirin (sweet rice wine)
- 2 tsp five-spice powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp garlic chili sauce, or to taste
- 2 whole boneless duck breasts (you can substitute chicken or pork)
- 1-1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- Pinch ground black pepper
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp Chinese mustard
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup sesame oil
- 2 tbsp Chinese red vinegar
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 4 cups crunchy lettuce, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 cups green cabbage (preferably Napa cabbage), cored and cut into bite sized pieces (you can add some red cabbage for color)
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup very finely sliced celery, optional
- 1/2 cup bean sprouts, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- 2 green onions, tough tops discarded, remaining onions chopped
- 1 tbsp lightly toasted sesame seeds, optional
- Rinse the duck breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Score the fat in a diagonal pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat. Combine the marinade ingredients in a resealable plastic bag and add breasts. Seal bag and make sure duck is thoroughly coated with the mixture. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, flipping the bag occasionally.
- While duck is marinating, make the dressing. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well to blend. Taste and adjust ingredients to your preferences. If made ahead, store in the refrigerator.
- Remove duck from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Discard marinade. Rub duck with the seasonings on all sides.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add duck, skin side down and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until skin is golden and has rendered most of the fat. Using tongs, flip duck pieces and cook the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer duck to cutting board and remove fat from the pan (save it for cooking potatoes or other foods, it is yummy!).
- Slice duck thinly; it will not be cooked all the way through. Place slices back in the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes or until cooked through and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray and set aside to cool.
- In a very large bowl, combine the salad ingredients, tossing to mix them thoroughly. Tighten the lid on the jar of dressing and shake vigorously to create an emulsion. Pour it over the salad and toss until evenly coated.
- To Serve: Divide salad between serving plates. Place some duck slices on the top of each, fanning them in a decorative patter. Garnish with the almonds and green onions and serve. You can pass additional garlic chili sauce at the table if desired.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- To make this gluten-free, replace the soy sauce with Tamari and use GF brands of hoisin and oyster sauces.