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Chinese duck noodle soup is one of those recipes that is simple, refined, and as easy or as hard as you want to make it. It hinges on roast duck, Chinese noodles, and a good broth. Here’s how to make it.
There are many, many versions of duck noodle soup, really all over the world, but mostly in Asia. There are Thai and Vietnamese versions, and many throughout China. This recipe is Cantonese.
Cantonese food is very common in the United States, and it is a bit more restrained and refined than, say, Sichuan food, which tends to be lusty, with big flavors. No one ingredient should jump at you in this recipe. They all should work in harmony.
How to get there?
Obviously you need duck for duck noodle soup. As a hunter, I use whole, fat birds that are not all shot-up. Mallards, pintail, wigeon, wood ducks, and canvasbacks are all good candidates, and if you are feeding a crowd, specklebelly geese work really well.
The key is that the birds need to be reasonably fat, and, of course, plucked. The skin is vital to this recipe.
For non-hunters, the absolute ideal bird would be a hen Muscovy duck. They are not too big, fat but not overly so, and easy to carve. Alas, they are hard to come by. A regular, store-bought Pekin is fine.
But, you will need to do an extra step when cooking a farmed bird: You will need to remove all fat from the body cavity (use it to render duck fat for later!) and you will need to pierce the skin of your bird all over with a toothpick or needle and then boil it for 5 minutes to help render out some fat.
Either way, in China duck is always cooked through. No rare duck for duck noodle soup.
The easiest way to get your duck for this soup is to buy a roast duck from a Chinese market. The second easiest is to use the above modifications to my slow roasted duck recipe. That will do the trick well.
If you want to jazz up the duck even more, do this: Mix salt and ground Sichuan pepper 50-50 and coat the ducks with it well, inside and out. Then let them sit, uncovered, in the fridge for 12 to 48 hours. Two days really works well.
Then, mix 1/4 cup honey with 1 tablespoon vinegar (rice, cider or white), and paint the ducks with that before you do the slow-roasted duck recipe. Paint the birds with the honey mixture again with 10 minutes to go in the roasting time.
What that does is get you a well seasoned, sweet-and-savory duck with lacquered skin — exactly what you are going for.
Duck Noodle Soup Broth
You need broth before you can make duck noodle soup. Use my duck stock recipe to make the broth, adding a 2-inch piece of ginger, sliced, and a couple star anise pods to the mix. Salt it with soy sauce.
I always have duck stock in my pantry because I pressure can it, but chances are you don’t, and you can’t buy it so far as I can tell.
So you either have to carve the Chinese roast duck you bought and make stock from that, or make stock from a previous duck meal. It’s not practical to roast a fresh duck, carve it and then make stock for this duck noodle soup.
Or, you can skip the duck broth and use any good, dark broth. A really good beef stock or venison broth is a good option, as is a mushroom stock.
Remember the broth is a main player in duck noodle soup: It needs to be slurpable.
All duck noodle soups need a green thing. Usually this is pickled mustard greens. I have a great recipe for Chinese pickled mustard greens, and you can absolutely make that and use it.
Or you can buy pickled mustard greens from an Asian market.
Or you can simply blanch mustard or turnip greens and use them. You do want a green with punch, not something like spinach, because the mustardy flavor is one more important element in duck noodle soup.
To blanch mustard greens you boil them in very salty water for 2 minutes, then shock them in a bowl of ice water. Remove when cold, and let them drain in a kitchen towel.
Noodles for the Soup
I prefer to use Chinese wheat noodles, which are different from Italian spaghetti. They are easy to find in the “Ethnic” section of many supermarkets, and will be in every Asian market.
Other options would be ramen noodles, rice noodles (mei fun) or Vietnamese noodles for pho. And while this is not traditional, I really love Japanese soba noodles with roast duck, so do that if you are so inclined.
As a last resort, use vermicelli. It’ll get you close.
Chinese Duck Noodle Soup
- 2 quarts duck stock, or other dark stock like beef
- 3 tablespoons sliced fresh ginger
- 3 star anise pods (optional)
- Soy sauce to taste
- 1 pound Chinese wheat noodles (see above for alternatives)
- 1/2 pound mustard greens
- 1 roast farmed duck, or 2 wild ducks
- 3 green onions, sliced thin
- sesame oil, to taste
- Set the broth in a pot and bring it to a bare simmer. Add the ginger and the star anise if using. Add soy sauce to taste.
- Trim the mustard greens to pieces about 4 to 6 inches long. Remove the thickest part of the stalks.
- Bring another pot of water to a boil, and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Get a bowl of ice water ready. Boil the mustard greens for 2 minutes, then plunge into the ice water to chill. Remove the greens and lay them on a kitchen towel.
- Now boil the noodles in the same pot; usually this takes 5 minutes, but follow the instructions on the package. Move the noodles to the bowl of ice water to stop them cooking. When they are cold, drain off all the water.
- Carve the roast duck. Carve off the breasts, then slice them. Carve off the legs and wings. If using a wild duck, leave them whole. If using a farmed duck or goose, separate the thigh from drumstick of the leg, and the wing at its joints. Pull of the crispy, lacquered skin from the carcass and cut into bite-sized pieces.
- To serve, put noodles in everyone's soup bowl. Arrange some mustard greens on one side. Sprinkle with chopped green onion and drizzle some sesame oil on top. Arrange some duck, skin side up, on the opposite side to the greens. The moment you are ready to serve, ladle in the hot broth, taking care not to serve the pieces of ginger or anise pods.
Keys to Success
- If you can, it really helps a lot to make duck broth. It adds a lot. But homemade or really high quality broths are fine. Remember you will be drinking this broth straight from the bowl, so it ought to be tasty.
- I do recommend the extra, bonus step in the “Duck” section of this recipe if you are roasting your own duck. Even though it requires that 2 day wait in the fridge, that lacquered honey skin is a show-stopper.
- Pickled mustard greens are traditional, and I use them when I have them, but the freshly blanched mustard greens are more vivid and add their mustard bite to the soup. The pickled ones add a fermenty, sour note.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.