Last night I made the most delicious house-customized Beijing Duck dinner! Which is to say that my son George and I shopped for the basic ingredients at Sun Wah BBQ Restaurant on N. Broadway by ordering the Beijing Duck Feast to go. Originally I was planning to get only the actual duck, and bring it home and spend a couple of hours using it as the basis for a delicious three-course dinner, but issues of timing suggested that such a dinner might not end up getting served till ten or eleven at night. And George and I both started to feel that it might be borderline unbearable if such a meal did not include what you get with the Feast when you order it in the restaurant, which is: bao buns, hoisin sauce, and julienned vegetables for making delicious little sandwiches out of the choicest cuts of meat and crispy, orangey skin; and that comforting, warming broth with chunks of wintermelon, to which they add some of the pieces of duck that have remained on your duck carcass after they have expertly carved it at your table; and the aromatic duck fried rice they make out of whatever’s left after that.
There was a semi-agonizing 25-minute drive home locked in a tantalizing smell-capsule with our stomachs growling and our willpower under constant assault. Another kind of person would have set it all out on the kitchen counter and told the family: go ahead, rip it apart with your bare hands, or chopsticks, or fangs, or whatever. But here is the kind of person I am, Diary. I said, “Wait! We must have salad!”
That actually makes me two kinds of person:
1. The kind of person who feels there must always be a vegetable on the dinner table, no matter what, and
2. The kind of person who has a lot of trouble making it through even one entire evening without preparing something from scratch in the kitchen.
Anyway, there was an entire Napa cabbage in the refrigerator, fresh from the Farmer’s Market, as well as some really beautiful carrots, and in my imagination they had already julienned themselves into a delicate Asian slaw, with only one little problem: I needed the dressing to make them fit the rest of the meal.
Diary, it is in exactly this situation that, possibly once or twice a week, I pull out my Joy of Cooking. I know this makes me a dinosaur, because anyone else in this situation in the modern kitchen either pulls out something trendier, like Mark Bittman, or just Googles Asian salad dressing recipes, but my relationship with the Joy of Cooking is one of very deep trust beginning the day I moved into my first adult apartment and was handed this as the one book I would not be able to survive without.
Which is true. It is my experience that there are basically no paralyzing dilemmas in the kitchen from which the Joy of Cooking cannot rescue you. Every single Thanksgiving, when I have forgotten how to calculate the roasting time for the turkey, I find the instructions here. Same with the basics on how to clarify butter and caramelize onions. Marinade for steak–a concept that usually occurs to me only within a hour of when we’re hoping to throw it on the grill? Finger foods for a party, or a fancy cocktail to go with them? Yeah, I have other cookbooks I love and use regularly, but when the pressure’s on and I just want something I’m sure is going to work, this is the book I turn to.
And sure enough, there on page 161, in a recipe for Spicy Chinese Slaw is this super-looking dressing. None of the actual slaw recipe is helpful in this situation, because it calls for kohlrabi, cucumbers, and daikon radish–none of which I have–and also involves at least two hours of vegetable-draining and then marinating. But one glance at the dressing ingredients–all of which I do have–and I know I can get this on the table in ten minutes. I made some minor changes to it, as noted on the recipe card, but it was the basic flavor I was looking for, and that turned out to be just perfect.
So, Diary, our house-customized Beijing Duck Feast included the bao buns, the fried rice, the soup, and one thrown-together but absolutely delicious improvised Joy-inspired Chinese slaw. Mr. Darcy actually said the salad was his favorite part, though that may just have been a bit of gallantry on his part, because that’s the kind of person he is.
And here’s the kind of person George is, Diary: He tried to fight me for the duck carcass. “Hey Mom,” he said, “Can I have the carcass so I can make it into soup tomorrow?”
“Um, ” I said, ” Aren’t you heading out to a party tonight?” It was Saturday, and George is still Saturday Night Fever-age.
“Yeah,” he said, “It’s okay, I already texted ahead to make sure they have a fridge.”
That’s the kind of person he is: a person who, like me, looks at a denuded duck carcass and smells it in a soup pot the next day: yet knows it should be curated in such a way as to avoid potential food-borne illness. A person who is not afraid to show up at a 20-something party on a Saturday night with a duck carcass in Tupperware.
Having raised a kid like that–that, Diary, is a joy I wish every mother could know.