Ducks for Dummies

Like IKEA for cooking, Secret Ingredient, a DIY cooking service in Hong Kong, comes up with gourmet recipes for you to replicate at home by delivering carefully marked ingredients and an instruction manual. But no guy with a power drill.

It comes in handy when you want to impress somebody but don’t have time to chop, skin or marinate, let alone follow that original recipe. It’s also good if you’re lazy or don’t trust yourself in the kitchen.

A friend of mine said this was failsafe (although I’m sure someone’s fucked it up once or twice, not for lack of detailed instructions).

I ordered my kit a day early online – Asian duck wraps with coriander and ginger rice, with a side of light mango salad – for four people (me, me, Joe, Joe. … Kidding, his mom was supposed to be there but was feeling under the weather), and it was delivered the evening of my little dinner. The website ( said the recipe got rave reviews. Prices for servings of two run up to around HK$150 and HK$500 for four.

It was delivered quite promptly by a Middle Eastern-looking guy with several thick gold rings on his fingers, which I found stereotype-defying and funny.

Inside were several carefully labeled paper bags and plastic containers and an impressive instruction card. But if you don’t know your alphabet, then you’re screwed.

I had about 40 minutes to prepare to everything, which was more than enough time. The manual tells you the exact chronology (like, start the rice while the duck breasts are cooking), how high or low the fire needs to be, and the like.

The key here is not to freeze the ingredients overnight because they’re meant to be cooked on the day itself.

Granted, the folks at Secret Ingredient don’t really give everything away – and that’s the fun. They don’t tell you, for example, what exactly is in that marinade that the thick duck breasts are swimming in inside that vacuum-packed bag. Freshly ground pepper is obvious. But what else?

Nor do they tell you the exact proportions of sauces in the ginger-garlic-chili glaze (if those are the main components at all. I detected some sesame oil).

Anyway, here were the steps. Put duck breasts, skin side down, in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Watch it leak oil like it’s an incontinent car. Let it cook for two minutes.

Then turn the heat down and let it cook for another 10 minutes. Then spoon some of that glaze on the skin, place a lid over the pan and cook for another 8 minutes.

I don’t know what I did wrong but the skin wasn’t all that crispy.

As for the rice, which was less of a success owing to the disproportioned water-to-rice-grain ratio, you cook it a bit like high-speed risotto. Stir-fry some garlic in a couple of tablespoons of canola oil for 30 seconds then add the rice and thrash around the pan for two minutes.

Then add the chicken broth plus three more cups of water. Add in some coriander.

Serve in a bowl with love. Which Joe failed to notice.

I packed a big mound of rice on the bowl then used a strip of cardboard to wrap around it and mold into a heart shape.

The light mango salad is even more of a cinch. The pre-packaged cucumber and radish slices suggested they had gone through a processor of some sort (unless Secret Ingredient hires slicing ninjas).

Just unwrap the plastic and toss, and you’ve got your side salad. (But what’s in the lime vinaigrette apart from the usual suspects?)

And toss.

Finally my guy with the power drill comes over, bit late, just when the table is set and had been cooling for about 20 minutes. Which was the exact time it took him to wolf down three duck wraps, sprinkled with chopped-up spring onion and drizzled with the rest of that garlic-chili-ginger glaze.

In the spirit of sharing and promotions, if you’re feeling particularly proud of what you’ve accomplished, you’re encouraged to post your dishes on #secretingredienthk, tweet @secretingredientHK or hit them up on Facebook.

I sent over this: * * A giant rubber duck visited the HK harbor that day, as part of an artist’s idea of a goodwill gesture.

Is trying Secret Ingredient worth it — the satisfaction on your guest’s face as he thinks, “Man, what an extra creative dish she made for me today” and the guilt you feel as you burn the cardboard evidence of your sin and stress-snack on the leftover duck skin at 3am, thinking, oh my god I’m such a fake, I’m definitely going to culinary hell?

I’d say yes, on occasion. That way, you don’t have any (you saw this coming. come on.) quack-ups.


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