Smoked duck stuffed with a mackerel and chestnut filling is a dish that defies cultural boundaries. An exemplar of blended culinary influences, featuring inviting colors and an elegant presentation that serve as a prelude to the complex flavors and textures that await, the dish is an eloquent testament to the cooking style of Mrs. Samaknantapol (Jeep Bunnag, who went by the pen name “the granddaughter of Maae Khruaa Huaa Bpaa”). In the 1930s. Mrs. Jeep Bunnag published her first cookbook. Following in the footsteps of her revered grandmother-in-law, Lady Plean Passakornrawong, she continued to document the art of Siamese cuisine through the treasured books she published and was known for her ability to merge culinary traditions into beautiful and innovative dishes that represent an era.
The rich, dark color of the smoked duck’s skin is visually striking and appetizing, evoking a sense of indulgence and luxury. The smoky flavors that permeate the meat reflect our deep connection to primal cooking techniques, a fascinating juxtaposition to the refined presentation of the dish. When the smoked duck is sliced, its succulent pink meat is revealed, surrounding the golden filling of chestnuts and mackerel.
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Golden in color, the smoked duck filling displays a warm, earthy and yellowish hue that evokes a sense of abundance and richness – a bountiful harvest on lush farmland. The stuffing is made by pounding grilled chestnuts and wok-smoked steamed mackerel meat into a smooth consistency, and then seasoning the mixture with a paste of shallots, garlic, ginger and coriander roots, along with a blend of dry spices including white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and turmeric powder – a spice blend that hints at the essence of commercial curry powder in its most distilled form. The turmeric tint of the filling, combined with the deployment of a ginger-and-garlic-like paste, is reminiscent of Muslim or Indian cuisine. Meanwhile, the presence of coriander roots, garlic and white peppercorns in the flavor base echoes the flavor palette of central Siamese cuisine.
To give the filling a textural element, I like to mix unpounded pieces of mackerel and chestnut into the filling. These pieces provide visual and textural references to the ingredient’s inherent characteristics – the mealy consistency of the chestnut, like that of a baked potato, and the mackerel’s oily and flaky properties. And, as butter complements mashed potatoes, the oily mackerel meat is a lustrous foil to the nuttiness and slight sweetness of the chestnuts. These combinations result in a rich and hearty filling with a pleasant depth of savoriness that harmonizes with the slightly pinkish, and tender yet full-bodied duck meat – without either ingredient being overpowering or overshadowed.
Additionally, the dish seems to unintentionally reflect the merging of the four classical elements: air, earth, fire and water. According to ancient philosophical traditions, these four elements composed all things and beings in the natural world. The air element is represented by the duck, which was raised in the open skies. The fire element comes from the smoking process; the warm spices that give the duck a deep brown hue and infuse the meat with smokiness. The water element is present in the mackerel, which is harvested from the sea, and its moist fattiness contributes to the filling’s creaminess. Finally, the earth element is represented by the nuts and roots in the filling. Although these connections may not be immediately apparent, they add an extra layer of depth and complexity to the dish’s composition.
Once the filling is ready, I use a sharp knife to create a pocket between the skin and flesh of the duck breast. This opening runs lengthwise through the top of the breast; I make sure that the cut is clean as possible and located in the center, and I fill the breasts just enough to achieve a rounded shape. This ensures that the filling is evenly distributed and visually appealing when the duck breasts are sliced and served.
After filling the duck breasts, I lightly rub them with fish sauce and then use a metal hook that stiches the opening and allows them to be easily suspended inside a hot smoker chamber fueled with charcoal.
To smoke the duck breasts, I suspend them on these hooks inside the smoker chamber above the charcoal, allowing the smoke to slowly and evenly infuse the meat. The hot charcoal provides the heat necessary to cook the duck meat, while the smoking mix and longan charcoal contribute to the distinctive smoky flavor and color glaze.
To use a hot charcoal smoker, one starts by placing a layer of charcoal at the bottom of the chamber. The charcoal is then lit and permitted to burn until it reaches a hot, glowing state. Once the charcoal is hot enough, various smoking mixes can be added in order to create smoke with different characteristics.
I use longan wood charcoal as the primary burning material in the smoker chamber. This type of charcoal is commonly used in Thai cuisine and is known for its high calorific value and long burning time, making it perfect for smoking food. When burned, longan charcoal produces little visible smoke and imparts sweet notes to the smoke, enhancing the flavor of the meat.
In addition to charcoal, I occasionally add a smoking mix, which can greatly modify the burning characteristics as well as the flavor, color and aroma imparted to the meat by the smoke. For certain dishes, I may opt to leave out a smoking mix, as the natural flavor of the charcoal and the meat is sufficient in creating a delicious smoky flavor. When I do use a mix, regardless of the type, I always take care not to use too much smoke, as some smoking mixes can turn unpleasant when heated. Instead, I prefer to deploy the smoking mix sparingly, as a supporting smoky flavor, allowing the natural flavor of the charcoal and the meat to shine through.
Common smoking mixes:
- Jasmine rice with fresh tea leaves – a delicate and subtle aroma with a hint of floral and herbal notes. The smoke is nutty, earthy and vegetal to sweet and foral, depending on the type of tea used.
- Jasmine rice, orange peels, cinnamon and raw cane sugar – sweet and nutty notes, with hints of bitter and spicy caramel.
- Jasmine rice, grated coconut, coriander seeds and cane sugar – Grated coconut, especially if unsqueezed, produces a thick, white smoke that can become rich and heavy if overused, imparting a distinctive smoky character to food. The aroma is nutty, with hints of citrus from the coriander seeds and a bitter sweetness from the caramelized cane sugar.
The dish is garnished with a drizzle of both a bright red, sour-sweet chili-vinegar sauce and with thickened salted coconut cream – a sweet and creamy topping with a dynamic, tangy and spicy edge.
Mrs. Jeeb Bunnag recommends serving the stuffed duck with an array of fresh side dishes, including thinly sliced ginger, yellow onions, shallots, crisp cucumbers and crisp lettuce leaves. These ingredients contribute an assortment of textures and colors to the dish and provide a light and refreshing accompaniment to the smoky and savory flavors of the meat.
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- duck breast (อกเป็ด)
For the filling:
- 1/2 tablespoon ginger (ขิง) sliced thinly
- 1/2 tablespoon Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1/2 tablespoon shallots (หอมแดง)
- 3 tablespoons Thai chestnuts (ลูกเกาลัด) grilled or boiled
- 4 tablespoons steamed mackerel (ปลาทูนึ่ง)
- 2 teaspoons coriander roots (รากผักชี) scraped, washed and chopped
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns (พริกไทย) (S1) roasted and ground
- 1 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (malet phak chee) (เมล็ดผักชี) (S2) roasted and ground
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds (malet yeeraa) (เมล็ดยี่หร่า) (S3) roasted and ground
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder (ผงขมิ้น)
For the smoking mix:
- 1/2 cup uncooked jasmine rice (ข้าวหอมมะลิ)
- 1 cinnamon stick (อบเชย) (S8)
- 1 star anise (โป๊ยกั๊ก) (S9)
- 1 raw cane sugar (น้ำอ้อย)
- salted thick coconut cream (หัวกะทิเข้มข้น)
- fresh vegetables (ผักสด)
- ginger (ขิง)
- yellow onion (หอมใหญ่)
- shallots (หอมแดง)
- cucumber (แตงกวา)
- lettuce leaves (ผักกาดหอม)
For the chili-vinegar sauce:
- 2 pieces fresh red long chili (phrik chee fa) (พริกชี้ฟ้าแดง)
- 3 cloves Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (น้ำส้มสายชูหมักจากข้าว)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
Prepare the filling:
- An overview of the filling ingredients. (spices not included)
- Begin by pounding sea salt, freshly roasted white peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle until finely ground.
- Add sliced ginger, chopped coriander roots, Thai garlic and shallots to the mortar and pound until the mixture becomes smooth.
- Next, add grilled or boiled Thai chestnuts and mackerel meat to the mortar, and pound until they have a smooth consistency. Reserve some chunks of mackerel and chestnuts for later.
- Add turmeric powder to the mortar and mix until the paste achieves the desired color. Adjust the seasoning with sea salt as needed.
- Mix the paste with the pounded chestnuts and mackerel meat. This will provide a smoother consistency to the filling.
- Finally, mix in some unpounded pieces of mackerel and chestnut to give the filling a textural element.
- Set aside the filling until ready to use.
Prepare the duck breasts:
- Make a cut on the top side of each duck breast with a sharp knife, to create a pocket between the skin and flesh. The cut should run lengthwise through the top of the breast and should be as clean and equal as possible to ensure that the filling spreads nicely.
- Fill the duck breasts with the prepared filling; the filling should be evenly distributed, and the duck breasts should have a rounded shape.
- Rub the skin of the duck breast with fish sauce.
- Using a metal hook, stitch the duck breast opening.
- Set aside the filled duck breasts until ready to smoke.
Prepare the smoker:
- Start by placing a layer of charcoal at the bottom of the smoker chamber.
- Light the charcoal and allow it to burn until it reaches a hot, glowing state.
- Mix jasmine rice, orange peels, cinnamon and raw cane sugar in an aluminum foil packet or in banana leaves and add it to the smoker chamber.
- Hang the duck breasts inside the smoker chamber above the charcoal, allowing the smoke to infuse the meat slowly and evenly.
- Smoke the duck breasts until fully cooked and tender. The smoking time can vary depending on the temperature and the size of the duck breasts.
- Once the duck breasts are fully smoked to a medium doneness, remove them from the smoker and let them rest for a few minutes before slicing.
Prepare the fresh chili vinegar sauce:
- Start by pounding fresh red long chilies in a mortar and pestle to a smooth consistency.
- In a saucepan, combine the fresh chili paste with granulated sugar, distilled vinegar and salt.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, brightens and becomes shiny.
- Remove from heat and let the sauce cool before serving with the smoked duck.
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