The Daley Question

Pressed to find classic duck dish

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Madame Wu with guests

This image, from "Madame Wu's Garden: A Pictorial History of a Celebrated Landmark," shows actress Dyan Cannon (left), Wu and Jennifer Grant, Cannon's daughter with Cary Grant. (Image from "Madame Wu's arden: A Pictorial History of a Celebrated Landmark")

"I think if someone used raw almonds they would be disappointed with the results," she said.

You'll have to be the judge of how closely this or any recipe for pressed duck comes to what you remember. I suspect there will be differences, some subtle and some marked, that you will have to deal with when making the dish. Whatever recipe you choose will likely pose challenges for a home cook. Pressed duck requires preliminary steaming, de-boning the bird and a final bath in bubbling oil.

Pressed almond duck with sweet & sour sauce

Makes: 4 servings

A recipe from "Madame Wu's Art of Chinese Cooking." Begin preparing the duck the day before you plan to serve it.

1 4- to 5-pound fresh duck

Water to cover

2 pieces star anise

2 green onions with stems tied around bulb

1 1-inch piece ginger, crushed

2 tablespoons dark Chinese soy sauce

1 teaspoon light (regular) Chinese soy sauce

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 quarts vegetable oil

For the sauce:

1/2 cup white vinegar

3 tablespoons ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 drops red food coloring

2 tablespoons cornstarch blended with 3 tablespoons water

1/4 cup crushed almonds

1Place the duck in a large pot; add water to cover. To the water, add the star anise, green onions, ginger root, soy sauces, salt. Cover, turn to high heat. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, cook duck for 2 hours or until tender. Remove the duck; cool. Skin, debone, shred the duck meat.(Madame Wu adds as an aside here: "If, like many Chinese, you enjoy the skin, leave some of it on as it will produce a crisper texture when deep-fried.")

2Pack the shredded duck into a square cooking pan to a 3/4 inch thickness. Sprinkle cornstarch generously over one side, then turn it over and do the same on the other side until completely coated. Heat water to boiling in the bottom of a steamer. Place the duck in the top section, cover, steam 30 minutes. Remove, cool; refrigerate overnight.

3The next day, take the duck out of the refrigerator, cut into 4 quarters and drain on paper toweling so there will be no moisture to splatter. In a deep-fryer, heat the 2 quarts of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Add the duck quarters, deep-fry for 10 minutes, then remove with slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch squares, place on a serving platter.

4While the duck is deep-frying, prepare the sweet and sour sauce. Mix together the vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, red food coloring. Pour into a skillet; bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch and water blend, cook until the syrup thickens to the desired consistency. Pour the sauce over the duck, sprinkle with crushed almonds, serve immediately.

Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.

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