Vietnamese Duck Curry
“Cai Be,” located in the Mekong Delta in the “Tien Giang” Province. Surround by the Mekong River, dotted with Banana, Coconut, Jackfruit and Durian Trees. This is where I spent three lazy days, among the roosters, lizards, three generations of family members and of course food.
It took two buses, two motorbike taxis, one boat and a bicycle to get to my “Mekong Oasis,” but was well worth the journey. Upon my arrival I was first greeted by a very tenacious rooster that gave off the impression of owning the entire property and then by my soft-spoken host, Loan.
Loan and family all reside together on the property. The entire family, from husband, cousins, sisters, brothers and mother assist in maintaining the land, farming the fruit orchard, cleaning the living quarters, supporting the guests, shopping and cooking.
During my three-day visit (I only intended to go for two days, but I loved it so much, I stayed an additional day), several family members escorted and guided me around Cai Be by bicycle.
First for sightseeing around the village, which took about two hours to bicycle through it. And next to the local outdoor market to purchase all the necessary ingredients for my cooking classes. During my market visit, I walked aimlessly through the bustling market stalls, which had everything from live ducks, chickens, snakes, fish, turtles and frogs. All of which could be freshly killed on the premise, per your request. Now that is service.
My designated guide for the given day explained and answered my questions related to what was being sold at the market and what I needed for my recipe. It was kind of food related field trip, which included a Vietnamese vocabulary lesson.
After my market visit Loan invited me as a guest to enjoy a home cooked lunch with her family. Which was a lunch to pay tribute to the memory of her brother who passed away a year prior. During the lunch I had “Cari Vit.” “Cari” is just what it sounds like, curry (curry powder and curry leaves) and “Vit” is duck in Vietnamese.
I had several other dishes during this memorable lunch, but this is the one dish that stood out. And of course, I asked Loan if she would be willing to teach me it, can’t let an opportunity to learn an amazing dish pass me by.
Aside from “Cari Vit,” I also learned an another dish called “Bun Rieu,” which was taught to me by a family member named Chi Hoang Nguyen (pictured below – the one with the big smile). In its most basic form, Bun Rieu is made from a crab stock and pork bone stock. This is the base for this dish, which gives it a very unique flavor.
Chi Hoang Nguyen is a serious professional when it comes to making Bun Rieu. He use to own a Bun Rieu food cart, which he served Bun Rieu for 2 years, to over a thousand hungry customers working at the factory his food cart was set up in front of. That’s a whole lot of Bun Rieu, it was a privilege and honor to learn from such a highly experience professional.
I had Bun Rieu served with “Mam Tom,” which is fermented shrimp paste (Mam means fermented and Tom means shrimp). This flavor doesn’t work for everyone, as first the odor is very pungent, given it is fermented and second the flavor is very strong. Mam Tom is served on the side, so you can take it or leave it.
However, for this blog post, I will just provide the Cari Vit recipe, but just know there will be a future post for “Bun Rieu.” I would like the opportunity to make it a few times on my own, since I now have the foundation and then provide my own version of this recipe.
All recipes I have learned in Vietnam always include the ever popular Knorr Powder and MSG. I’m not an advocate of either of these ingredients, as a result I leave it out. However, it is customary in Vietnamese Cuisine to use both of these ingredients in their food.
Cari Vit uses curry powder, which you can make yourself or buy and fresh curry leaves. You may be able to purchase fresh curry leaves, if not you can find them in the freezer section of in any Indian or Asian Market.
The curry leaves are more for aroma than flavor, so you can leave them out, but if you can purchase them, please do. You can freeze whatever you don’t use and use them for future recipe.
Now lets talk Cari Viet. Again, no actual recipe provided at the time of learning, as a result this is my interpretation, with a few changes. All the ingredients are pretty standard and should be easily accessible, except the fresh or frozen curry leaves.
If you cannot locate Taro Root, substitute Sweet Potatoes. You also need both the milk and cream (sometimes labeled coconut cream, it is thicker than milk) of the coconut. You can also make your own by purchasing freshly grated coconut and making the milk and water from it.
You can buy a whole coconut and break it down, which can be done a day ahead and then proceed with the recipe. The choice is yours.
If you are not a duck lover (ummm, why not, it is delicious) you can substitute chicken (make sure you use bone in) or even goat. I had a similar dish with goat and it was just heavenly, made me want to climb to the top of high a mountain and share my love for the goat and curry combination. But make sure you braise the goat long enough or else you will have a tough goat curry, which happened to me. Not delicious.
Of course this can be made vegetarian, leave out the meat and add additional root vegetables.
I want to thank Loan, Chi Hoang Nguyen and family for making me feel like part of the family during my three day stay in Cai Be. I can guarantee i will definitely return for both the food and the company.
- 4 bone in duck thighs
- 2 tablespoon cooking oil
- ¼ cup shallots, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
- ¼ onion, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass, thinly sliced (only use the white part, about a ⅓ of the stalk)
- 7 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional)
- 1/12 teaspoon curry powder (store bought or homemade)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ¼ cup coconut cream
- 4 cups coconut milk
- 1 small sweet potato, cut into eighths (or taro)
- ¼ cup grapes, halved
- Salt to taste
- Pat the duck breast dry with paper towels. Carve a slit in the skin ⅙″ deep without piercing the meat.
- Place the scored duck thighs skin side down in a cold, dry skillet. Do not add cooking oil. Place the pan over medium-high heat.
- Remove the duck from the pan and set aside.
- Add oil to skillet, over medium heat add ½ the shallots, ½ the garlic, onion and ½ the lemongrass. Sauté until fragrant.
- Add curry leaves, curry powder, sugar and coconut cream. Cook for 3 minutes
- Add seared duck.
- Add the remaining shallots, garlic and lemongrass. Add coconut milk.
- Simmer until duck is tender about 45 minutes to 1 hour. About 20 minutes before duck is done add sweet potatoes and grapes. Salt to taste.
- Serve with vermicelli noodles, rice or a baguette.