Thu May 31, 2018
I'm not really sure why I don't cook duck more often. In many ways, it reigns supreme over other poultry—it's definitely more flavorful and fattier than your chicken and turkey mainstays, which are huge plusses in my book. I guess the fact that it's not normally out with the standard birds, tucked away often in the freezer section, makes it kind of out of sight and out of mind. When I was considering making ssams—essentially Korean lettuce wraps—for a Meawave recently, duck did jump right up there as a great idea for a meat filling, and I'm glad it did because this smoked duck ssam was really amazing.
Duck came to the forefront of my mind because I'm familiar with the duck ssam served at Momofuku Ssam Bar. While recipes for their version exist out there on the interwebs, I decided to make own recipe that was based off the process I learned when cooking peking duck. This began with separating the skin/fat from the breast meat, using the end of a wooden spoon to reach the areas my fingers couldn't.
For peking duck, the next step was coating the birds with a maltose-soy mixture, and I decided to use something similar here, just altered a little to have a bit more of a Korean flavor profile. For this slather, I used honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper.
After brushing on the sauce, I coated the entire duck with a salt and baking powder mixture. This not only helps with seasoning, but the baking powder is a nice little trick to help get a crispier skin that browns better.
Then the ever important air-drying step took place in my fridge—I still can't bring myself to dry out a duck for days outside of a refrigerator. At a minimum, you likely will need 12 hours of resting for the skin to become dry and leathery, which is important for getting a good crispness while cooking, but I've found at least a full 24 hours is best.
When the drying part was almost finished, and I was going to be cooking soon, I made the two sauces for the ssam. These both did come directly from Momofuku since I didn't think I could really improve on them. The first was a ginger-scallion sauce, which has an excellent sharp ginger bite with a strong fresh and onion-y flavor.
The second sauce was literally just pureed kimchi. This was a little special though because I used my homemade kimchi, which I started out with grilled cabbage and then fermented for a month. This created an extra sour flavor and I thought the intensity of this kimchi would be a great match up with the super flavorful duck and ginger-scallion sauce.
Right before grilling, I poured boiling water over the ducks, which I had rested in my sink on a wire rack. This simulated the boiling process of peking duck, which firms up the skin prior to roasting.
I was now over a day into the process and my ducks looked like this. The exterior had a great light brown hue and a very dry, tight texture that I knew was going to make for some excellent skin in the end.
I did change up my cooking process to mixed results—where I cooked my peking ducks over medium heat, I decided to put these on the rotisserie over high heat, with a wood chunk thrown on the fire for a bonus smoky flavor. This was all well and good at first, but the skin began darkening really fast.
So fast in fact that the rear section of the birds blackened by the time the breast meat had registered my target temp of 135°F. So all the work drying out the skin was a little too good for a high heat application, where the lack of moisture led to extremely fast cooking of the exterior. I adjusted the final recipe to use a less intense heat, so hopefully you'll end up with a more perfect looking specimen than I did here.
Too dark or not, this duck was incredible. The seasoning and drying process led to crisp and delicious skin—the main attraction with duck for me. The meat was also juicy and tender with a faint smokiness that complimented the natural taste of the meat. It was certainly robust enough to be made into wraps that paired with the strong bite of the ginger-scallion sauce and intense sourness, earthiness, and heat of the kimchi. When eaten altogether in a lettuce wrap, there was also an added fresh component that made all the heavy flavors not really taste heavy at all, making it easy to have one wrap after another, which I'm sure is what you'll be doing if you try this recipe out at home.
Smoked Duck Ssam
Ginger-scallion sauce and kimchi puree adapted from Momfuku.
- Prep Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 12 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 12 Hours 50 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Duck
- 1 whole duck, about 4 pounds
- 1/3 cup honey
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- For the Ginger-scallion Sauce
- 2 bunches scallions, thinly sliced (white and greens)
- 1/2 cup minced fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil
- 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- For the Kimchi Puree
- 1 cup kimchi
- 1 chunk of light smoking wood, such as cherry or apple
- 1 head of bibb lettuce, separated into individual leaves, rinsed and dried
- To make the duck: Pat duck dry with paper towels. Insert fingers or dull end of a wooden spoon between breasts and skin and slowly separate the two, being careful not to tear skin. In a small bow, mix together honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Brush mixture onto duck and rub over entire surface, coating all exposed skin. Combine salt and baking powder in small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over all surfaces of duck. Place duck on a wire rack set in a sheet pan and refrigerate, uncovered, 12 to 36 hours until surface is dry with a leathery appearance.
- To make the ginger-scallion sauce: In a large bowl, combine the scallions, ginger, oil, and sherry vinegar. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to a serving dish.
- To make the kimchi puree: Place kimchi in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until kimchi is finely chopped. Transfer to a serving dish.
- Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large stockpot. Place duck on wire rack set in sink. Pour half of boiling water over top surface of duck, making sure to cover skin evenly. Flip duck and pour remaining boiling water over second side. Allow duck to dry 5 minutes.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on either side of the charcoal grate and place a foil pan between the two piles of coals. Cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Place wood chunk on top of coals. Run spit of rotisserie through middle of duck and secure ends with rotisserie forks. Place on the rotisserie, cover, and cook at medium-high heat until skin has crisped and breast meat registers 135°F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Remove duck from grill and spit, transfer to a cutting board, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Remove breasts from the bones and slice into 1/2-inch strips. Remove legs and thighs and slice meat from the bone. Plate duck meat along with lettuce on a large serving platter. Serve immediately with ginger-scallion sauce and kimchi puree.