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Project Food Blog Challenge 4: How to Look Good Naked – If You’re a Duck

Did that really happen? Did I really make it through to Round 4? Thank you! THANK you EVERYONE for votes and support. I couldn’t have made it this far without you!

The challenge for this round is called Picture Perfect. Project Food blog would like us to use our amazing photographic skills to show you an instructional, step-by-step photo tutorial.

Bugger, thought I. This is where I could really do with my sister Emma’s help. Emma, the professional food and travel photographer, who should be helping me but just can’t drop by today and give me a hand because she’s in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m in Shanghai, PRC. Bugger.

So I called her up this morning and had a very expensive long-distance chat because I thought she might have some really fabulous technical tips for all of us budding food photographers. Like how to make a hunk of raw meat attractive, or more specifically, how to make the ugliest duck in the world look lovely in a photo. She told me I wasn’t really an ugly duck, although I was getting old.
I’m talking about the recipe! I said. Not me! Oh please…….

Here’s what she said:

Emma’s Tips for Technically Great Food Photos (and Fiona’s Reality Check)

1. Photograph in a room with good natural light (No worries, I’ll just move the entire small dark Chinese kitchen to a sunnier part of the house). The light should come from the side and slightly in front of you, so that shadows fall away behind you. 

2. Minimise shadows with a reflector or white drapes (I just made the bed. Now I have to take the sheets off again and hang them up in the living room? Are you serious?)

3. Use a tripod to get a different perspective on the dishes. If you have time, take shots from 3 different heights or angles for maximum interest (Oh yes, I’ll just debone that duck, race around to the other side of the camera and with my greasy dirty hands take 3 different and wildly interesting shots. Sure thing.)

4. If photographing unaided, use manual focus and a self-timer with a 20 second delay – time to position, then to relax. Otherwise, use a remote control held in your mouth. (Easy see? No hands! And can I make it work? No!)

5. Always have clean hands and fingernails. (Are you truly serious? In addition to the cooking, the photography, the styling and the writing, now I have to find time to get a manicure??…)

6. If your hands look too veiny, hold them in the air for 30 seconds, then take the shot (Hilarious! See how any shots I remembered to do this in…

7. Avoid blue plates. It doesn’t look that appetising. (Emma’s view, not mine. I quite like blue plates….)

8. Always give the food left at the end of the shoot to the photographer (Oh! that’s me!)

Anyhow….down to the real photo-tutorial. 

Kylie Kwong is an Australian Chinese chef and author, whose Sydney restaurant, Billy Kwong, is an all-time favourite of mine. Her signature dish is featured today – Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce, an intense sweet-savoury, spicy and tart combination with sour plums and twice cooked duck. It’s fabulous. I’ve served it with Chinese steamed buns from a recipe by David Chang of Momofuku fame. These sweet little steamed breads are very traditional in China’s north, and they’re easy and fun to make.

So today I’m going to teach you how to make both of these dishes, and when we’re done, I will have cooked my first duck at home, ever. Thanks PFB, I’m not afraid any more! I will cook duck! I will deep fry it! I will debone it! I will remember to debone it first and then deep fry it! Here goes….

Crispy Skin Duck with Blood Plum Sauce


  • 1 x 1.5 kg (3 lb) duck
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan pepper and salt
  • 1/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
Sichuan Pepper and Salt
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
Blood Plum Sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 250g ripe blood plums (about 4-6)
  • 2/3 cup fish sauce
  • 6 whole star anise
  • 2 cinnamon quills
  • 1/3 cup lime juice


  • First make the sichuan pepper and salt
  • Dry roast the salt and sichuan pepper in a heavy based saucepan until the peppercorns begin to pop and become aromatic
  • Allow to cool
  • Grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  • Makes 4 tablespoons

  • Rinse duck under cold water.
  • Trim away excess fat from inside and outside the cavity, but keep neck, parson’s nose and winglets intact.
  • Pat dry and rub the skin all over with two tablespoons of Sichuan pepper and salt. 
  • Cover duck and place in refrigerator overnight to marinate.

  • Transfer duck to a large steamer basket
  • Place basket over a pan of boiling water and steam, covered with a tight-fitting lid, for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the duck is cooked through (to test, insert a small knife between leg and breast – the juices should run clear)
  • Using tongs, gently remove duck from steamer and place on a tray, breast side up, to drain
  • Allow to cool slightly then transfer to refrigerator to cool further

  • Meanwhile, make the plum sauce.
  • Combine water and sugar in pan and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced.

  • Halve and de-seed plums. Leave skin intact.

  • Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the sugar and water mixture
  • Add the spices and plums
  • Simmer for 2 minutes
  • Remove pan from stove and keep sauce warm while you fry the duck

  • Place cooled duck breast-side up on a cutting board
  • Using a large knife or cleaver cut duck in half lengthways through breastbone and backbone

  • Carefully ease meat away from carcass, leaving thighs, legs and wings intact

  • You should now have two flat duck halves like this
  • Discard the bones

  • Lightly toss duck halves in flour to coat, shaking off any excess

  • Heat vegetable oil in a wok until the surface seems to shimmer slightly
  • Deep-fry duck halves, one at a time, for about 3 minutes, or until well-browned and crispy
  • Don’t forget to wear the best Chinese kitchen invention ever – arm covers to keep you protected from hot oil splashes!
  • Using tongs, carefully remove duck from hot oil

  • Drain duck halves well on kitchen paper
  • Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes

  • With a large knife or cleaver, slice the duck
  • Arrange on a platter and spoon over the hot plum sauce
  • Serve with Chinese steamed buns – gently prise open the buns and place a piece of duck inside, or use it to mop up the delicious rich sauce.

Chinese Steamed Buns


  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon active dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons non-fat milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup pork or vegetable lard at room temperature

(makes 50 buns. Can be frozen for up to 3 months)


  • Combine yeast and water in a mixing bowl
  • Add all other ingredients and mix
  • Knead dough for about 8 minutes
  • Cover dough with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour 15 minutes

  • Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a clean work surface
  • Using a knife or dough scraper, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into 5 equal pieces
  • Gently roll each piece into a log
  • Cut each log into 5 pieces, making 50 pieces total

  • Roll each piece into a ball
  • Cover the armada of little balls with a draping of plastic wrap
  • Allow them to rest and rise for 30 minutes
  • Meanwhile cut out fifty 10cm squares of parchment paper
  • Coat a chopstick with vegetable oil

  • Take a ball of risen dough and squash it flat with he palm of your hand
  • Use a rolling pin to roll it out into a 10cm long oval

  • Lay the oiled chopstick across the middle of the oval and fold the oval over onto itself to form the bun shape

  • Withdraw the chopstick, leaving the bun folded, and put the bun on a square of parchment paper
  • Let the buns rest and rise under a dry tea towel for a further 30-45 minutes 

  • Steam the buns in batches for 10 minutes

  • Buns can be used immediately – just gently pry the two halves apart and fill with succulent pieces of the duck.
  • Can also be frozen and used when needed by defrosting and then briefly steaming

  • Cook’s reward!!

Did you enjoy that fabulous duck? Voting for Challenge 4 opens Tuesday morning and continues through to Friday morning. Thanks to all voters, past, present and future!

You can view my other entries here:

Project Food Blog Challenge 3 – A mahjong lunch in four rounds
Project Food Blog Challenge 2 – The Great Xiaolongbao Experiment
Project Food Blog Challenge 1 – A Food-Filled Life in Shanghai

  • Anonymous

    looking great! love the 'reach for the skies' photo…..good luck…..I'm voting for you! M

  • Fiona

    Thanks m! As you can see it did my veiny hands no good whatever. Can you imagine someone like Gordon Ramsay agreeing to do that for a food stylist??

  • Three of Three

    Did I really say all those things?! Hope my food stylist friends aren't dissing me right now. eek. I actually really do dislike blue plates but it is very personal.
    Love the shoot. Very professional and looks totally doable and seriously delicious too! I'm going to get Roger the Duck King on to trying that one and I'll just watch and savour it!
    Good luck! x

  • Fiona

    Roger would LOVE this recipe because it takes practically all weekend AND it involves deep frying. So his thing.
    Thanks for the the tips – and you DID really say all that stuff, especially abut the blue plates x

  • Jules

    That looks and sounds fabulous!
    My tip for veiny hands would be to cook naked so that photos would be full of such interesting lumps & bumps that noone would notice your hands. Possibly there are workplace health & safety issues, however.
    You've got my vote! xx

  • Anonymous

    Fiona this made me smile and made my mouth water! Good luck and you have my vote
    Fiona T x x

  • Amelia PS

    adorable. This looks INSANELY delicious. well done!!! voted.

  • croquecamille

    Holy cow, who knew deboning a duck could look so easy? Great job, you know I'm voting for you again!

  • Flotch

    The name for your post is hilarious. All the best!

  • Savory Sweet Living

    I'm impressed that you not only made the duck and the sauce but made the steamed buns from scratch. I appreciate the effort you put into it as this dish takes a long time to make but the result I'm sure was rewarding. Great post, love the pictures and you got my vote. Good luck!

  • Mariko

    This is wonderful. I love your pictures with you in them. Thanks for the photo tips too!

  • Anonymous

    Fiona you amaze me!! You made it look effortless and totally delicious! Saw your hubby at Simpatico the other night…it was quite funny because I saw him but didn't want to say hello because I know he has a twin brother. Anyway lovely Matt came over so I realised it was your hubby and then his brother came in and I realised I never would have mixed them up. Felt a bit silly, but Matt is supposed to be in Shanghai with you!!

    Love Liz P.S. Of course I voted for you!!

  • Sippity Sup

    I think you a ready for the video challenge Ms. Stewart!

  • Fiona

    They both (the terrible twins, that is) snuck back to Aus for a business meeting, which was why I was stuck finding tips on how to photograph this whole thing solo! I am considering asking him to bring back my KitchenAid in his hand luggage as punishment…what do you reckon?
    F x

  • adventuresomekitchen

    Fabulous post! Way to face your duck fears in the kitchen! It looks heavenly! So I have to ask- in the pics with just your hands- did you really have the remote in your mouth?!? Too Funny!!! Good luck in round 4!

  • riceandwheat

    As usual, you've outdone yourself, Fiona – what a great set of recipes fit for a fabulous party! I love your new photo setup too. It almost looks like you're on TV! πŸ™‚ Good luck this round!

  • Anonymous

    Fiona – what a great write up! No wonder you made it into the 4th round. I LOVE the "Cook's Reward" photo! It looks heavenly biting into that steamed bun!!! You look like you are in heaven. Way to go girl. Amanda. X

  • shaz

    Yay Fiona, I am SO glad you made it to round 4!! Absolutely LOVE this post, and all the effort you went to, to get the great pics. (And it's funny to see that "Good morning" towel, he he, my parents always have stacks of them around). Of course it goes without saying I'm voting for you (hmmm…wonder if they'd let me bet on PFB at the TAB?)

  • Anonymous


    You are a legend! Wow, what an adventure you are having! Fantastic. Well done – When you get back to Aus, I think you will have to give medicine the β€˜flick’ and open up your own restaurant! I love hearing all your news. Take care and good luck for the next round. Will have to vote for you again of course.

    X Karyn

  • Anonymous

    You are amazing.
    Love the duck
    Vote 1 for Fiona
    xx Suz

  • Anonymous

    Hi Fiona

    I am in awe! You are a champion! What a fabulous job you have done with your blog – I am so not biased,yours is the best one there … you deserve to win!

    Keep up the good work, you are fabulous!

    Keeping my fingers crossed (not that you need it!)

    Lots of love, Nicola x

  • Anonymous

    Good work Fiona. Is that an induction wok β€œburner” I see in the photos.



  • Fiona

    Yes Dad,
    That is an induction wok burner. It's a beauty, and only $35 too! I bought it at the local plastic bucket and mop shop, just the place to find an induction cooker.

  • Whitney

    holy duck. that is amazing!

  • Ann Pan

    Nihao Fiona

    When are you auditioning for masterchef? Looking at those knife skills, I am pleased that you didn't choose to become a surgeon.
    If there is a video round, I look forward to you getting your other sister's tips on good filming techniques!!

    Tip 1: hire a good cameraman.

    Well done and I voted for you!

  • Daily Spud

    Well done Fiona! I am wondering if I will ever remember to hold my veiny hands in the air for 30 seconds while trying to conduct a one-woman photo shoot that involves me cooking at the same time (er, no, I don't think so :D)

  • jen cheung

    Excellent post – you got my vote for this! Good luck πŸ™‚ Feel free to hop over to leave a comment πŸ™‚

    Have a wonderful day!
    jen @

  • Anonymous

    Hi mum
    I definitely voted for you!
    Love Bella :)!!!!!!!

  • life, in recipes

    What a great post – and thanks to your sister for all the great tips (and you for posting them). That duck looks a-mazing. Voting!

  • zmm

    Wow.. I love duck, and you took such nice photos of them.
    I'm voting for you..
    I'll probably come back for your duck recipe.
    Good luck.

  • Food, she thought.

    It seems that everyone these days is doing the Momofuku bun. I am so glad you modeled a more traditional bun!

  • girlichef

    Oh wow…that's awesome! I loved your tuturial…and what I wouldn't give for one of those gorgeous buns. Very nice…off to vote πŸ™‚

  • Charmaine @ Speakeasy Kitchen

    Excellent post, Fiona. You've got my vote!

  • Isabelle

    Beautiful post! We just made smoked duck for our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, so I know how hard it can be to get that perfectly crispy skin… looks like you nailed it, though.
    I may have to try my hand at making your steamed buns so that we can eat the leftover duck in style. πŸ™‚

  • Jun Belen

    Well done! I love your photographs and I love the Good Morning towels! I grew up with those!! They're truly asian πŸ™‚ Wonderfully done!

  • Bree

    Hi Fiona!

    Jane put me onto your blog and I am super impressed.
    You are hilarious and I never realised what a brilliant cook you were!

    Good luck with the competition – you've got my vote!

    Hope the girls are well, say hi to Matt for me!

    Bree πŸ™‚

  • Jeanne

    I love the photography tips! I learned some tricks that I will probably never use (what do I do if my camera's self timer is only 2 seconds and I don't have a remote thingy?). The duck looks incredibly tasty, especially that plum sauce! You definitely have a vote from me!

  • Lick My Spoon

    I don't see anything wrong with your photography, I really like the consistent angle. Your final shot of the duck truly is a perfect picture.

    Good luck this week, voting for you!

  • Anncoo

    Excellent post! Voted you πŸ™‚

  • Fiona

    Thanks everyone! You're all brilliant, fantastic, great and wonderful!

  • edible

    OMG, I'm BOOKMARKING this. The first post with actual tips which I sorely need for my OWN blog lol! Beautiful duck, and beautiful job on the post! Thank you! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    REALLY enjoyed your photos and your humor!! You have a vote from me!

    My own post is a romp through croissant making that's filled with humor, exhaustion, and a little bit of popstar glamor. Come see if you'd like πŸ™‚

  • Heena @ Tiffin Tales

    You should see my camera when I'm done – smears of flour, chocolate, and other things I can't even identify! Loved your writing style. My vote's in. Good luck!

  • Danielle

    Great tutorial, and I love the (let's be real here) quips. Good luck in round 4!

  • Anonymous

    We all think you're brilliant Fiona! I, too, would think you in the wrong profession if I didn't know you were equally as impressive as a doctor. Saw Catherine last night – of course she's concerned about the risks posed by such overachievement in life.
    Haven't had time to look at too many of the other blogs but I'm yet to find an equal in my mind.
    A xx
    Let the Tobins know we're thoroughly enjoying their wine!!

  • Fiona’sMum

    Another fantastic masterpiece! Sorry you inherited my veiny hands, but they are a sign of a hard-working practical person. Glad you got to eat the spoils of your creations. Well done again.

  • Harish

    Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

    Wok Duck Cookers