Contemporary Asian cooking presents traditional ingredients in smart new ways. An example from Singapore is a sophisticated duck salad that combines Cantonese-style roast duck with an eye-pleasing pattern of mango, honeydew and cucumber slices. Chopped roasted peanuts, sesame seeds and cilantro leaves are scattered over the top, and a spicy dressing is showered over the salad at the table.
The recipe comes from Violet Oon, who often acts as an international spokesperson on Singaporean cuisine. In Singapore, she conducts cooking demonstrations and publishes the Food Paper, a compendium of restaurant reviews, recipes and general food news. Oon recently organized a Singaporean dinner for a food-and-wine tasting held in Aspen, Colo. She also prepared the salad for a dinner held in Los Angeles.
Visiting markets here, Oon located most of the ingredients required for her native Straits Chinese cookery. Also known as peranakan or nonya food, this style resulted from the mixing of Chinese and Malay cultures in the historic Straits Settlements--Penang, Malacca and Singapore.
The salad calls for a Chinese-style roasted duck. These can be purchased at Chinatown delis, either whole or in the half portion required by the recipe. One could also substitute a home-roasted duck, or even poached chicken meat.
For the duck marinade, Oon uses "cooked oil"--oil that has been previously used to fry shallots. Oon says this removes any raw flavor from the oils. (Crisp, fried shallot shreds are a common topping for nonya dishes.)
Ideal for warm weather, the salad is easy to make and requires little last-minute work. The duck meat can be placed in its marinade well in advance of serving. The dressing, which is based on such flavorful components as Chinese chili sauce, plum sauce and sesame oil, also can be prepared ahead of time.
ROAST DUCK, MELON AND MANGO SALAD
1/2 Chinese roasted duck
1 tablespoon cooked oil (oil that has previously been used for frying shallots or mild onions)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
5 ounces honeydew
1 firm pear
1 semi-firm mango
3 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted peanuts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Leaves from several sprigs cilantro
Remove flesh from roasted duck and cut into fine strips. Marinate in mixture of cooked oil, sugar, light soy sauce and oyster sauce. Peel honeydew, pear, cucumber and mango and discard seeds. Cut in fine strips.
Arrange fruit and cucumber strips in pattern on round serving platter, alternating colors. Place duck in center. Top salad with peanuts, sesame seeds and cilantro leaves. Chill. Pour Spicy Sauce over salad at table and toss. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons catsup
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese plum sauce
Combine water, catsup, sugar, chili sauce, sesame oil, salt and cornstarch. Heat oil in wok, add sauce and stir until thickened. Stir in plum sauce and remove from heat. Chill.