FOOD : Spicy and Sweet : Tommy Tang's Duck Dish Suits Western Tastes but Respects Its Asian Roots

TOMMY TANG IS A legend by now, after 12 years of pioneering in the field of Thai-Oriental-Western cuisine. The crispy duck pictured is an example of the innovative intermixture of flavors that please the Western palate while respecting the authenticity of its Southeast Asian roots.

"I love both French duck and Chinese duck, so I decided to combine both ideas," Tang says.

Preserving moisture is an important element in trying to keep the crispy skin from drying. Quick-frying the duck after roasting it produces an extra-crispy skin, which Westerners seem to enjoy. The duck is then served drizzled with Thai-based sweet Honey-Ginger Sauce made with sliced ginger root, plum sauce and honey. Another Western touch is serving the duck deboned and sliced--ideal for holiday appetizers, for a picnic or as an entree.

Tang, who's from a Bangkok family that specialized in making pickles, became executive chef at Chan Dara, one of Los Angeles' first Thai restaurants, when hot and spicy Southeast Asian flavors were hardly known, much less appreciated. His flamboyant culinary style, his eye and nose for innovation and his taste for modifying Thai flavors to suit the Western palate won him a following that is now bi-coastal. Tang's restaurants in both Los Angeles and New York are well known to aficionados of the hot and spicy a la Tang.

Many members of Tang's Bangkok family are working with Tommy at both locations. His father is now raising 60% of the herbs used by the restaurants.

In fact, Tang and his wife, Sandi, have produced a new line of Thai herbs and spices that will fulfill any serious Asian cook's recipe needs, including lemon grass, Thai basil, an all-purpose Thai seasoning, curry paste and fish sauce, black-bean sauce and roasted chili paste. One can obtain them--either with or without viewing a videotape showing Tang himself demonstrating their use--at Tang's restaurants or at L.A.-area Bristol Farm stores. Macy's in San Francisco also carries the line.


THAI DUCK 2 Long Island ducklings, about 5 to 5 1/2-pounds each

Marinade 3 cups oil

Honey-Ginger Sauce

Cut up duck into serving pieces, removing excess fat. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.

Place Marinade into large mixing bowl. Add duck pieces and turn and rub surface of duck pieces to coat well with Marinade. Marinate 3 hours in refrigerator.

Remove duck from Marinade and wipe off excess ingredients. Place duck in baking pan and strain Marinade over duck. Bake at 300 degrees 1 to 1 1/2 hours, basting every 15 minutes with Marinade.

Remove duck from oven and set aside.

Heat oil to 375-400 degrees 2 to 4 minutes. Drop duck pieces in hot oil and cook, a few at a time, 3 to 5 minutes until skin of duck is crispy. Do not overcook. Remove duck with slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess oil. Drizzle with Honey-Ginger Sauce.

Debone duck and cut each piece into slices to serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Marinade cup grated fresh ginger 1/2 cup grated brown onion 1/2 cup thin soy sauce 1 cup water

Combine ginger, onion and soy sauce with water. Mix well. Makes 2 cups. Honey-Ginger Sauce 1 cup honey cup plum sauce cup soy sauce 1/2 cup water pound sliced ginger root

Combine honey, plum sauce, soy sauce, water and ginger root in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Sauce should be syrupy and ready to serve over duck. Makes about 2 cups.

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