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Did you know that it takes around 7000 litres of water to raise a single duck on a farm in Beijing? Or that it takes over 15000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef? Bonkers. Don’t read about water footprints. No, actually, do read about water footprints. This from Water Footprint Network:

While average household water use in the UK is around 150 litres per person per day, UK consumption of products from other countries means that each English citizen effectively soaks up a staggering 4,645 litres of the world’s water every day. Even if this massive amount seems important in itself, the critical issue is where this virtual water comes from. In the case of the UK, about 62% of the total national water footprint is accounted for by water from other nations, whereas only 38% is used from domestic water resources. In other words, UK consumption of food and clothing has an impact on rivers and aquifers both globally and in the UK and is inextricably linked to the continuing security and good management of water resources in other parts of the world.

And in case any Americans are reading this:

The water footprint of US Citizens is 2840 cubic meter per year per capita. About 20% of this water footprint is external. The largest external water footprint of US consumption lies in the Yangtze river basin, China.

Scary and thought-provoking stuff. As somebody who cooks a lot, I use a fair amount of water in my own kitchen. I’ll be honest. When I turn on the tap I don’t think a lot about where it comes from. I think even less about the “invisible” water that goes into what I eat, what I wear and everything I touch. I turn the water off when I brush my teeth and shower more than I bath – and feel smug about it. Clearly this is not enough.

I could go on about this for pages, but I’m here to share my recipe for aromatic duck … which takes us right back to the beginning. How did I come across this information? Well, in the absence of any photos of my own cooking, I was looking for some pictures … Google is my friend.

But anyway. The original recipe came from “The Complete Book of Chinese Cooking”, edited by Veronica Sperling and Christine McFadden, although slightly adapted. The steaming really gets the flavours into the meat, and makes it so soft and flaky. I should point out that I use a two-layered steamer that sits on the hob, but you can use a bamboo steamer in a wok or an electric steamer –  whatever you have and whatever works (and whatever will fit the meat that you have!).


  • 1 duck, quartered
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 4 pieces star anise
  • 2 tsp Szechuan red peppercorns
  • 3 or 4 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • Bunch spring onions, sliced into short sections (For some reason I couldn’t find any kind of salad onion here, so I used 2 or 3 shallots.)
  • 1 inch ginger, sliced
  • 6-8 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry


Rub duck pieces with the salt and arrange the star anise, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon on top. Sprinkle with spring onions, ginger and wine and leave to marinate for 3-4 hours.

Arrange the duck, including the spices, in the steamer and cover. (I should point out that I didn’t want to waste the lovely sherry juices so bunged everything that was left in the bowl into the boiling water at the bottom of the steamer.) Leave to do its vaporific duty for 3 or so hours until tender and cooked through. (Remember to keep an eye on the liquid to stop it from boiling dry!)

Remove the duck and leave to cool and dry completely – if the duck isn’t dry and cold, it won’t crisp up once its fried. The recipe says to leave it for at least 5 hours, but I left ours in a cool place overnight and all of the next day in order to dry out as much as possible and the skin still didn’t really go crispy once it was fried … But it depends how crispy you want your skin (and primarily why I titled this ‘Aromatic Duck’ and not ‘Crispy Duck’!). If you’re not overly fussed then it doesn’t matter – as long as the meat is hot all the way through.

We used a domestic deep fat frier. I can’t believe that anybody would use a saucepan full of fat nowadays (although I do know that people do – my mother in law included), and I’m not sure about deep frying in a wok. Anyway, this was heated to its highest setting and, once at temperature, the duck was fried in two batches for around 5-10 minutes.

Once cooked, remove and drain on paper towels. As we were having them with pancakes (you know, strips of cucumber, spring onion and hoi-sin or plum sauce, add duck and roll up) the meat was then shredded with two forks.

As for the amount of meat and portion sizes … Three adults only ate half the meat. Admittedly we also had spring rolls (not home made … sorry …) so it wasn’t our only sustenance for the meal. Consequently we have half left, which will go into dinner tonight: duck hash with cavolo nero. Yes, there will be a ‘recipe’ for that …