I'm finally getting my life back in order after an insane month that left me longing to be a housewife somewhere other than Japan (or at least trying to), and to kick off my rebirth, I had a few friends over for dinner tonight to try a creative twist of an old favorite - Vietnamese Summer Rolls.
As I've written before, these fresh, salad-based wraps are sometimes known as Spring rolls, Summer rolls, or Fresh rolls. One thing they are never known as are Autumn rolls. So, when Stephen of Stephen Cooks suggested that we all make an Autumn-themed dish with duck, pears, nut butter, and ginger for the most recent Paper Chef event, it was only natural for me to try to make Vietnamese Autumn rolls. I used the Paper Chef excuse to cook up something I wouldn't do normally - like roasting a whole duck.
My Paper Chef entry is my take of the Vietnamese rolls as a Autumn version with duck as the meat with pears, endives and watercress as the 'herbs'. My dipping sauce was a soy nut butter-ginger-pear-duck broth dipping sauce instead of the simple peanut sauce.
One thing I'm not that good at doing is knowing what vegetables and what fruits are best at which season. Of course I know strawberries are good in the Spring, tomatoes in the Summer, and hard and/or root vegetables in the Fall, but this seasonality thing is something I am still learning. In my defense, I know all about the seasonality of Japanese fruits, but many of those aren't available here!
Anyway, a quick Google search told me that endives and watercress were in peak season in Autumn, so I went with endives and watercress as my 'Autumn herbs'. But living in the Bay Area, where tomatoes are still ruling the Farmer's Market stalls, I didn't see any of either. I found them in Whole Foods, but that means nothing in terms of seasonality. I hope they qualify as Autumn herbs!
After running around for the whole morning, I started in the kitchen by getting my duck marinade together:
2 cups sake
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup orange juice (squeezed from real oranges - I have them frozen from orange season)
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup plum sauce (found in Asian grocery stores - kind of like a lemonish/plum jelly)
1/8 cup pomegranate molasses
3 lobes grated ginger
Although measurements are approximate, I whisked all of these things together and made sure it was savory-sweet. I then washed and wiped my whole duck and let it soak in the marinade bath for maybe an hour.
In the mean time, I made the sauce:
I washed and boiled the neck and gizzards from the duck, taking away all that yucky stuff that float up - this duck broth was going to be the basis of my dipping sauce today. The combination of the dipping sauce and the salad roll is really what defines these Vietnamese rolls, and I thought that the sauce being made with the same duck 'essence' was the best way to make sure the rolls have the best accompaniment.
While the duck broth was in progress, I grated a humongous multi-lobed ginger (maybe five lobes?) and a peeled pear for the dipping sauce. I didn't know a pear could be so easily grated, but grating the pear released all of the juices very nicely while giving the sauce that necessary consistency. When the duck broth stopped producing all the yucky stuff, I let it simmer for a while (maybe 30 min? I lost track of time crocheting my turtle, inspired by Super Eggplant's Florence. Yes, you will see my turtle when he is fully born...).
I added the ginger and the pear into the duck broth when I could peel myself away from my crocheting project and let it simmer some more. I added some hoisin sauce and soy butter (my nut butter choice) into the duck broth and whisked it together. I probably added about 1/4 cup each, but this is totally a personal choice - please put in as much or as little of either ingredient to make a duck-powered soy nut sauce. This is very, very similar to the peanut sauces that frequently come with Summer rolls in restaurants, except a little thicker (because of the pear and ginger both) and spicier (because of the ginger).
With the sauce finished, I went to roast the duck:
I stuffed the inside of the duck with a pear and an apple (the apple was a generous freebie from the pear vendor at the Farmer's Market today!). I roasted the duck in my oven (which has really no accurate temperature control) with various settings, but I wouldn't trust anything I say about the temperature control. I've come to understand my oven by using my hand as a temperature gauge, so I roasted it until the outside was crispy and the inside moist. It took about another hour or so when it was all said and done.
Assembly of the final product was easy:
I washed the endives and the watercress, and just in time, Anne and the Papa Bear walked in to help me slice and dice the duck after its post-roasting 'resting period'. I peeled and chopped up another pear into thin slivers to wrap inside along with the endives and the watercress.
Final step was wrapping! I wrapped one just to take pictures of it by rolling the endives, watercress, pear slivers, and duck into the rice paper. I sliced the roll in half just for the photo shot and dabbed some soy nut butter-ginger-pear-duck broth dipping sauce on the side.
For the actual dinner, Shan joined the three of us for a wrap-it-yourself feast of Autumn rolls:
And I've got to say - this was a good combination! A success! The spiciness of the watercress inside the roll and the ginger in the dipping sauce complimented the duck very well. The sweetness from the pears, the duck itself, and the dipping sauce gave the spiciness a nicely balanced contrast. The crunchiness of the pears and the endives made the overall effect of the rolls quite refreshing despite the richness from the duck.
I also made a pumpkin-shiitake mushroom couscous (material for another post) to go with the Harvest theme and served the whole meal with a Pumpkin Ale for those of us who imbibe (two out of four).
It was a nice evening with a breeze of Autumn on a Sunday night. Thanks for a wonderful opportunity to get creative, Stephen!
PS: The Papa Bear says, "What the heck is Vietnamese about this dish?!". Ha.