In this classic of the Chiu Chow kitchen, a simple dish is made elegant by its master sauce, known by the Chiu Chow as lo soi, or "old water." This preparation is handed down from generation to generation, and in the many Chiu Chow restaurants throughout Hong Kong, it is known as lo soi among the Cantonese as well.
It is one of the great dishes of the Chiu Chow table that begins with a basic stock, and though duck is simmered in the lo soi here, goose or chicken can be cooked the same way. It takes a first cooking with duck or other poultry to create the lo soi. Once it has been made, it goes on and on.
Makes 10 servings
3 cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long
5 eight-star anise
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 whole cho guor
8 pieces licorice root
3-inch-long piece ginger, unpeeled, lightly smashed
4 pieces sand ginger, each 2 inches long, unpeeled, lightly smashed
4 pounds boneless pork butt, in one piece
3 1/2 quarts water
2 1/2 cups double dark soy sauce
1 1/2 cups light soy sauce
1/2 cup Mei Kuei Lu Chiew
1 pound rock sugar or light brown sugar
1 duck, 5 pounds, preferably freshly killed, wings intact and head and feet removed
1. To make the lo soi: Place the cinnamon sticks, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, fennel seeds, cho guor, licorice root, ginger, and sand ginger on a length of cheesecloth, and sew it closed. Wrap the pork in cheesecloth and sew the cloth closed.
2. Place the water, the spice bundle, and the wrapped pork in a large stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium, adjust the lid to leave it slightly cracked, and simmer for 3 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the pork, and reserve for another use.
3. Add the dark and light soy sauces, the chiew , and the sugar to the pot. Turn on the heat to high and bring to a boil uncovered. Stir until all of the ingredients are well blended and the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat. The lo soi is now ready to use. You should have about 3 quarts. Remove the spice bundle and reserve.
4. Place a rack at the bottom of a large pot. Place the duck, breast side up, on the rack. Pour in the lo soi and add the spice bundle. (Because you are cooking the duck in a new lo soi, you need to add the spice bundle to the pot. After you have completed this recipe, however, you should discard the spice bundle.) The liquid should cover the duck completely. Cover the pot, turn the heat on to high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, adjust the lid to leave it slightly cracked, and simmer the duck, turning it several times as it cooks, for 1 3/4 hours. It should be very tender.
5. Turn off the heat and cover the pot. Allow the duck to rest in the liquid for 30 minutes.
6. When the duck is ready, transfer it to a cutting board, cut into bite-sized pieces, and arrange on a heated platter. Reserve the lo soi for future use.
Note: Serve the duck with a simple ginger-vinegar dip. In a small bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons white rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons peeled and grated ginger, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 4 teaspoons water, and a pinch of salt, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Divide among small sauce dishes to serve.
A Note about Lo Soi
Once a chef makes lo soi, it is never removed from its pot because it is always in use. If a chef leaves one restaurant, he takes his lo soi pot with him. Each time some of the lo soi is used to cook a duck or other fowl, whatever liquid remains is added back to the original pot. Simply put, it is an always-replenished master sauce. One Guangzhou chef is said to have used his sauce for fifty years, willing it to a favored assistant on his death.
For the rest of us, lo soi should he stored in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator. Remove it each month, boil it for 5 minutes, then allow it to return to room temperature and refrigerate it again. (If you have cooked a bird in the lo soi at any time during a month, there is no need to boil it.) Cared for this way, it will keep for up to a year. Until the lo soi is used the first time, the spice bundle should remain in the sauce, then it can be discarded. Also, each time you use the sauce, taste it. You may want to replenish spices or add more chiew, soy sauce, or sugar.
For authenticity, I strongly suggest you seek out both sand ginger and cho guor for this sauce. They add immeasurably to its success. Both are available in Chinatown markets. Remember to bring photocopies of the Chinese characters with you to ensure you buy the correct items.
When you make lo soi, you are rewarded with a bonus: the sewn-up cooked pork butt. I suggest slicing it and serving it at room temperature or cooled with the same dip you serve with the duck.
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