Hello all. Welcome back, or just plain welcome if you have never been here before. I haven’t been here in a while myself. This is the first installment of what I will call the CHINA FILE. It is not in chronological order; I cannot figure out how to keep a journal that way. I recently purchased a one-way ticket to China. I arrived December 2nd.
I am not one for Christmas cheer and all the commercialism that surrounds it. It isn’t that I don’t like rituals; I don’t feel the need to have society or institutionalized religion tell me that celebrating with friends is a special affair especially when it all seems to revolve around consumerism. Trimming the tree, for example, is one of my earliest nightmares, or the attitude that it was a sheer hell to be endured has been passed on to me by my father. Thank God my brother feels the same. When I was married and my son was small, we would have a tree trimming party and a dear friend would make the tree happen. He loved the whole thing even down to individual strands of strategically placed tinsel and the little train around the base.. My job was to make great food and very strong clean and dry cocktails. The best Christmas tree ever was one my wife painted on a canvas. She poked holes and inserted colored lights; the background was painted the color of our living room wall, a lovely shade of yellow. It was brilliant; Epiphany came around, you could just unplug it and roll the sucker up. When we finally separated, I wanted that tree, but no dice.
One of the nicest things in China is that they don’t really celebrate Christmas, at least not in the little village outside of Hangzhou where I find myself this holiday season. I don’t hear endless commercials, banners or MUZAK bombarding my senses. The malls are pretty rough here, a cacophony, but not with Santa and the elves at every turn. I am isolated here. In fact, I only just heard about the Connecticut tragedy. My heart breaks when I think about the parents and loved ones. I mean, what do you do with that bicycle, or the figure skates already purchased and hidden away for the celebration? I cannot imagine. It is not okay.
On our street which is a cul-de-sac (we are the last two houses before the tea fields) they don’t hang Christmas lights; they hang ducks, hams, and fish. They do this from early December through February. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. The colors vary from fresh killed yellow or pale white fatty skin on one side and the deep pink and red flesh on the other to the deep golden brown, mahogany even of the final cured duck. They hang from their bills with little “S” hooks through the nostrils. The small dead eyes seem to say, “Father why hast thou forsaken me?”
I have been lucky enough to be introduced to the farmers here and they seem ready to share what they do with me. After all I am never going to be the competition. My brother and his family are enigmatic rock stars here; foreigners who speak Chinese in a rural village with two teenagers and a small child. In order to own a house here you have to have the designation “farmer” on your birth certificate at birth. They are farmers after a fashion, tea farmers mostly, but many know the old ways. It is not too long ago that there was nothing here. Now some of the farmers ride in Porches. I have been doing a lot of cooking and the learning is the key. A China file of food and things I come across. I hope to find the old traditional ways that are disappearing here like in most modernizing societies. I made duck bacon the other day. I salted and smoked it in the smoker I bought for my brother and his family, now my family, for Christmas. Yeah well, I am not a total scrooge, and it helps me play and pass the time as well as share some love and passion which is what food and its preparation has always meant to me.
Merry Christmas or whatever you celebrate in your respective tribes.
Soy Sauce Cured Duck (enough for 20 ducks)
To be done in cool weather Hangzhou early December for example.
20 “S” hooks
3 bamboo poles 8’ long
30 bags soy sauce (about a quart, or a “jin” which is 500 grams)
10 bags rice wine or “Yellow alcohol”
½ lb ginger coarsely sliced
Red chili peppers (Chinese long)
2 heads garlic
5 bags sugar
Kill 20 ducks (hey I did)
Discard blood (I put it into the dogs’ food)
Reserve livers and gizzards for another use
Pluck the ducks (most easily done right away with in a hot water bath)
Split up the middle on the breast side (Be sure to remove anal gland
Chill ducks for 24 hours
Over a wood fire in a large WOK combine all marinade ingredients and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Let cool.
Take the ducks and inspect each carefully. Be sure to remove any feather quill bits and impurities on the ducks. MAKE SURE THE ANAL GLAND HAS BEEN COMPLETELY REMOVED. Rinse the ducks if necessary. Take a chopstick and place it in between the two thighs spreading the duck apart exposing a maximum of the inside flesh. It is essentially a butterfly technique. Note if the chopstick is too long cut a piece off. Insert an “S” hook through nostrils and hang on bamboo poles outside so they air dry. A coat rack on wheels can do the trick nicely too. This makes it easier to take the ducks in for the night safe from the wild dogs and feral cats. They must air dry for two or three days until the moisture has drained from the meat. Do not let it dry for too long or it will be tough.
After three days place the ducks into a large earthenware jar and pour the cooled marinade over the ducks. Cover the jar. Every 24 hours turn the ducks from top to bottom rearranging them. After three days, hang the ducks to air dry for one week to ten days where a breeze can caress them gently. If the outside temperature rises place them in a room and place a fan so the air circulates freely. If it rains get them inside or risk losing the batch. You don’t want to have to kill another twenty ducks do you? After a week they should be dry and ready to eat. Give them as gifts to your friends or to the customers who come and spend from $250 to $500/lb on your Longjing Tea. They should not cure longer than ten days or they will be too salty. Keep in a cool dry place covered in plastic or freeze them. You can eat them cold or heat in a steam bath.