Duck curry with rice & veg. (JG Photo/Petty Elliott)

Savoring One of Aceh’s Best-Kept Culinary Secrets: Slow-Cooked Red Duck Curry

JANUARY 25, 2015

Indonesian cuisine is not well known for its duck dishes but there are many iconic duck meals around the region. In Bali, there is bebek betutu — a whole duck slow-roasted for 12 hours with many different herbs and spices.

The traditional cooking technique is interesting. The duck is wrapped in banana leaves and bark before being buried underground and heated from above. These days, it is just as acceptable to roast the duck in an oven.

In Padang, West Sumatra, you will find itiak lado mudo, or duck with green pesto — basically a chili paste made with green chili peppers, fresh root spices, lemongrass, and lime leaves for contemporary sambal ijo.

It has a dry texture, but if prepared properly is delicious.

In East Java you can find Madura fried duck. The duck is braised with many different herbs and spices before being deep-fried.

For this week’s recipe I have sie itek, a duck curry from Aceh.

It’s a traditional dish that is available at small food vendors found all over Aceh. It is very rich in flavor.

There are two varieties of duck curry — red or white. The white curry is similar to opor ayam in Javanese cuisine.

It is very important to cook the duck on low heat for two hours to enjoy super-tender meat with just water — no coconut milk.

Duck contains lots of fat and there is too much oil after cooking. I prefer to discard the oil before adding any coconut milk.

It gives a lighter flavor without losing the impact of the herbs and spices. Enjoy!

Sie itek, Aceh red duck curry

This is the perfect dish for a rainy day. You can serve it with brown rice and sauted French beans and corn kernel with garlic, shallots, lemongrass and lime leaves. Feel free to replace with your favorite vegetables.

Serves 4-6.


• For the duck: 1 whole duck, cut into 6 pieces; salt and black pepper to season; 2 tablespoons lime juice; 1 stick cinnamon; 2 white cardamoms; 2 lemongrass stalks, crushed; 1 pandan leaf, roughly chopped; 100ml tamarind water; 3 star anises; 200ml coconut cream; 100ml water; 2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil.

• For the spices: 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds; half teaspoon whole cloves; half teaspoon whole black peppercorns; half teaspoon cumin, half teaspoon fennel; 4 candlenuts.

• For the chili paste: 10 large dried red chili peppers; 3cm fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped; 50gr shallots, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped.


•Prepare the tamarind water: soak 30gr of tamarind paste in 150ml water for 10 minutes. Mix well and strain. Set aside.

•Prepare the chili paste: soak the dried chili peppers in hot water until soft. Roast the dried spices in a pan without oil for 3 to 4 minutes, then grind and set aside.

•Remove the chili peppers from the water and finely chop and grind together with the shallots, garlic and ginger. Set aside.

•Clean the 6 pieces of duck. Season with salt, black pepper and lime juice. Set aside.

•Heat a frying pan and add the oil. Add the chili paste and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the dried spices and mix well.

•Add the duck and mix well before adding the tamarind water and bringing to a simmer.

•Add the lemongrass and lime leaves. Season with salt and black pepper and cook on low heat for 2 hours.

•After 2 hours the duck meat should be very tender. Keep or discard the duck fat, depending on your preference.

•Add coconut milk and water (if necessary). Taste the seasoning. Add black pepper or a touch of salt to taste.

•Serve immediately with hot steamed rice and freshly cooked vegetables.