Chinatown

RECIPE: Crispy Cassis Duck

scroll down for these “Chinese” French recipes…

Brie and Avocado Spring Rolls

French Onion Soup Dumplings

Crispy Duck Cassis

It seems that over the course of culinary history, nations east to west, north to south, have all come to apply French techniques of haute cuisine to their native flavors. Think back on the salmon mousse in Japanese restaurants, the asparagus and egg tarts in England that bear an astonishing resemblance to quiche, or the pistachio beurre blanc for that southern catfish near our house in Florida. French culinary techniques are sophisticated and insightful, that they are necessarily applied to all cuisines represented in the United Nations. But today, I’m reversing the usual, and conducting one of my favorite experiments: applying exotic preparations to French ingredients and flavors.

Chinatown is always an adventure. When I was a little girl, although our apartment and Mulberry Street occupied the same small island of Manhattan, going to Chinatown nearly required a passport and a three-hour boarding window. My mother and father and I would get out our old navy blue diesel Mercedes, and I would shimmy onto the perforated tan leather of the backseat, strap myself in, and stick my nose to the window. All the way down the FDR drive, I would stare from left to right, from the dark, coursing waters of the East River and the neon stare of the advertisements on Long Island, back to the gleaming, polished landmarks of the city, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Sutton Place. After a few turns around the narrow, haphazard streets of the Lower East Side, the yank of a parking break, the unclick of a seatbelt, and the definitive bang of an old Mercedes door, we had arrived.

One of the most blessed things about New York is that a twenty minute jaunt down along a riverside highway can take you from the staid life of 90-degree corners on the Upper East Side to the tangled, heady and perfumed, sparking maze of Chinatown. It radiated red. From the curling, flaming dragons that seemed to come alive from the flags that marked the restaurants to the pop of the firecrackers at the Chinese New Year, to my young eyes, I had taken some version of the Orient Express. And the food was just as exotic. Every restaurant had its own flock of ducks, plucked and glazed, roasted and crisped, hanging from the neck from the poultry galleys before the windows. We walked in one cold winter night to the sight of two old Chinese women, seated on both sides of a plate of snails, and with one suck, followed by one spit, they chewed their way through the mountain faster than Far Eastern gun powder. My standard order at the time was baby corn with brown sauce—not very adventurous or very Chinese—and though I found the culinary habits of the place positively barbaric, I prided my young ego on the knowledge that I was adventurous and brave and located somewhere entirely too exotic for words.

I miss having Szechuan Hunan Cottage on York Avenue on speed dial. I miss being able to get the Cold Sesame Noodles and Scallion Pancake for lunch for less than five dollars, and have enough food to tide me over for dinner the next night. I miss Ollie’s green dumpling wrappers and the finger-painted mess of spare ribs. Chinese food is so much a part of a New Yorker’s culinary upbringing, that being away from the takeout mainstays of my childhood has relegated me to ceaseless, gnawing hunger—in my heart and in my stomach.

So, this week, I have created three Chinese-inspired French recipes. The first, Brie and Avocado Spring Rolls, keeps the best part of the spring roll intact: the crispy, crunchy shell. Inside, however, is filled with the creamy, mild combination of brie and avocado, and once fried, the little cigars are dipped in a French take on Chinese mustard: a Dijon and sundried tomato crème fraiche. The second recipes comes from a great restaurant on the Lower East Side called the Stanton Social that serves little “tapas” plates from every walk of cuisine. The French Onion Soup Dumplings show how East, in the form of wonton skins, and West, in the form of Gruyere cheese, can coexist in perfect harmony. And the last, Duck Cassis, is a take on the crispy ducks for which Chinatown is famous, but bathed in a rosemary and black currant glaze, and eaten, to allow for a certain amount of indulgent ignorance, without the neck.

Buckle your seat belt, and stick your nose to the window. We’re going down to Chinatown.

Brie and Avocado Eggrolls

Brie and Avocado Eggrolls

Brie and Avocado Spring Rolls

20 spring roll wrappers

135 grams of brie, cut into matchsticks

1 avocado, cut into matchsticks

Salt

Vegetable oil for frying

2 tablespoons of crème fraiche

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

½ tablespoon of grain mustard

½ tablespoon of sundried tomato paste

  1. Fill a deep pot halfway with vegetable oil, and heat it on medium until it reaches 325 degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, assemble the spring rolls. Use to spring roll wrappers per finished spring roll, lining one simply on top of the other. Fill with avocado and brie, equal parts each, and a sprinkle of salt. Be sure not to overstuff!
  3. To complete the roll, dip your finger in a bowl of water, and wet the edges of the pastry, as though you were licking an envelope to seal it. Then roll it like a burrito, tucking up first the corner nearest you, then the left and right corners in, and finally roll into the familiar cigar shape.
  4. Once you have assembled your rolls, be sure all corners are sealed, and fry them gently in batches until they are crispy and golden, about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Serve with the sauce, made simply by mixing the crème fraiche, mustards, and sundried tomato paste together.

French Onion Soup Dumplings

French Onion Soup Dumplings

French Onion Soup Dumplings

2/3 cup of onions from the bottom of a French onion soup pot (homemade, Whole Foods, a deli, or, if at a loss, try sauteing onions for a long time with instant French Onion Soup mix)

10 store-bought wanton wrappers

4 fresh chopped mint leaves

¾ cup of shredded gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese

1 pat of butter, divided into smaller dots

Snipped chives for garnish

  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. To assemble the dumplings, take a wanton wrapper in your hand and stuff the middle with about a tablespoon of the onions. Dipping your finger in some water or cool soup, moisten all the wanton’s edges, and then twist them together to form a little dumpling package.
  3. Arrange all ten dumplings, knot-side down, in a small gratin dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
  4. Sprinkle the mint on top, followed by a blanket of the gruyere, and finally the parmesan. Next drop the little dots of butter over the top to help the cheese to bubble and brown.
  5. Broil the dumplings for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is entirely melted, golden, and irresistible.
  6. Snip chives over the top, stick a sophisticated toothpick in each, and serve.

BON APP! SIHK FAAHN!

Crispy Cassis Duck
serves 4

Duck CassisIngredients

  • 1 5 ½-pound duck
  • 1 cup of black current jam
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of rosemary

Procedure

  1. Cut little holes in the skin of the duck, not going quite down to the meat.
  2. Place the duck in a deep pot and cover with water and a lid. Boil the duck for 45 minutes, allowing some of the fat to escape from beneath its skin.
  3. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  4. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the jam, butter, garlic, and rosemary together until they become a loose and smooth glaze.
  5. Transfer the duck from the boiling pot to a rack on an oiled roasting pan.
  6. Pat the duck dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and brush with olive oil to get the skin really crispy.
  7. You will roast the duck at 500 degrees for 30 minutes total, but you should baste it with the currant glaze after 20 and 25 minutes. Serve the rest of the glaze as an accompanying sauce.
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