Citizens – I am about to give you a duck recipe that you will almost assuredly never make.
To be clear, I will give you a WAY to make it – but to make this authentically without compromise, you will need to wait 3 long years…or up to 11, if you’re truly patient!
Bear with me, you can actually make this recipe in under an hour with my admittedly necessary shortcuts – for those of us living outside a specific region of China, we have no other choice.
However – I will give you the authentic recipe as well for those bold enough to make the real deal! 😀
Preserved lemons are quite rare in Chinese cuisine (unlike North Africa, where they are used with abandon!) and are a speciality of the southern Zhuang minority people in Guangxi province near Nanjing.
The Zhuang people are the largest ethnic minority in China and most live in Guangxi. These preserved lemons feature in their diet and are usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). They feature in duck and fish recipes and can also be served as a relish and they are related to the Vietnamese Chanh muối.
As noted on the blog where I found this recipe, these taste incredibly lemony. Sour, but not unpleasantly so with an additional smoky flavor. The following image shows a preserved lemon that marinated for 11 years!
Preserved lemons are also the essential ingredient in an exceedingly rare recipe from the region, translated from the Chinese as: “Lemon duck is Wuming County’s characteristic dish. The cooking method is to take a slaughtered, cleaned duck and cut it into pieces and stir fry until cooked medium rare then add slivers of pickled chilli pepper, pickled mustard, pickled ginger, pickled lemon, smoked plum, ginger and mashed garlic. Simmer together till the duck is nearly well done, add salted beans, sesame oil and cooked till well done and then remove from pan. Its taste is sour and peppery together, with delicious flavour and is extremely appetising.”
I’ve spent years trying to come up with a recipe – I thankfully found one (the only authentic one in English) and further adjusted it with my preferred brands and several additional ingredients and needed substitutions (all noted and optional).
Using North African preserved lemons to prepare this recipe is of course a compromise, but I’ve done my best to replicate the smoky flavor of Zhuang preserved lemons and I am fully confident this recipe is both authentic in spirit and taste to the original!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 duck (preferred) or use 2 large boneless duck breasts, skin on
2 Preserved lemons – I prefer this brand from Amazon
50g Pickled ginger
8 Pickled Chili peppers – I prefer peppadews, buy them from Amazon here
10 Pickled Chinese scallions (Allium Chinense) 藠头 If unavailable, use 20 pickled onions – I prefer this brand from Amazon
20g Goosefruit (Randia cochinchinensis) 山黄皮 – this is pretty much unavailable in the U.S. – Japanese pickled plums, called Umeboshi, are my recommended replacement. Buy this brand (my favorite) on Amazon here
Half a head of garlic
1 small piece ginger
15ml light soy sauce
10ml dark soy sauce
25ml Shaoxing rice wine (if you can’t find it, use dry sherry instead)
5 ml hot chili paste with garlic (TFG addition to recipe)
10ml oyster sauce
10g heavily sweetened osmanthus tea – buy it from here (original recipe used sugar)
Salt to taste
A touch of sesame oil (TFG addition)
A touch of hickory liquid smoke – I mean REALLY a touch here, too much will ruin the dish! (TFG addition)
Chop duck into bite size pieces (on the bone) or slice into thick pieces if using boneless breasts.
Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the small piece of ginger and 15ml of the cooking wine. Add duck and blanch briefly. Drain and allow to dry.
Slice the pickled ginger, umeboshi and pickled peppers into slivers. Cut the Chinese scallions (or onions) in half. Cut the lemons, remove the flesh then slice the peel into thin slices. Peel the garlic but leave cloves whole.
Heat a dry wok. When medium hot add the duck and allow the fat to render out. Do not add oil unless absolutely necessary.
When the duck has taken on some color, add the pickled ginger, pickled chili peppers, pickled scallions/onions, goosefruit (or umeboshi) and garlic.
Stir fry until the duck is almost cooked through. Add the cooking wine, soy sauces, oyster sauce, hot chili paste, sesame oil, osmanthus tea and salt and continue to fry until the duck is fully cooked. If it’s drying out, add a little water, but the final dish should be fairly dry.
Finally add the preserved lemon and fry for one minute only, I’m told that it is essential not to cook the lemon any longer than a minute as long cooking can turn it bitter and the scent evaporates.
If you dare to try and make the actual Zhuang Preserved Lemons, I salute your challenging spirit and patience! They are actually quite easy to make, they just take a L O N G time to mature.
Here is how they are made:
How to Make Zhuang Preserved Lemons?
By Jo Ma
Zhuang preserved lemons is a kind of common food for the southern Zhuang ethnic minority who live around Nanning Prefecture of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. The Zhuang people like to make it as a relish for eating with congee or congee with corn powder. This relish is a mixture of chopped preserved lemons, red chilli and garlic or ginger slice in soy sauce and peanut oil or sesame oil.
Preserved Lemon Relish
Sometimes the Zhuang people use preserved lemons as an ingredient in cooking. The most famous Zhuang food in Guangxi is Lemon Duck, which is a common home cooked dish in Wuming County, which belongs to Nanning Prefecture.
The following steps show you how to make Zhuang preserved lemons.
Step 1 Shopping
Buy some green lemons.
Step 2 Cleaning
Wash green lemons.
Step 3 Sunning
Leave green lemons under the sunshine till it gets dry.
Step 4 Salting
If you salt 5kg green lemons, mix 0.25kg salt with green lemons. Keep the salted green lemons in a transparent jar. The jar must be well sealed. Leave the jar under the sunshine till the salted green lemons turn yellow. For example, leave it on the balcony. Maybe it will take months to wait for those salted green lemons to turn yellow. Later, get the jar of salted yellow lemons back. Unseal the jar. Then cover 1kg salt over the salted yellow lemons. Seal well the jar again.
Step 5 Preserving
Keep the sealed jar of salted yellow lemons at least 3 years. And the colour of salted yellow lemons will turn brown day by day. It can be dark brown later. The longer you keep preserved lemons, the better taste it is. If you eat it earlier than 2 years, it will taste bitter. After 3 years, it can be unsealed. Please use clean chopsticks to pick it. Don’t use oily chopsticks, or the oil will make preserved lemons go bad. Remember to seal the jar well after picking preserved lemons every time.