San choi bao - also known as lettuce cups or wraps - can be made with a variety of ingredients. Restaurant versions of this dish usually make it with pigeon - which is a waste of an expensive ingredient, since you can't really taste the bird, and anyway, I suspect that most chefs supplement a tiny amount of the pigeon with a larger quantity of minced pork.
I make this dish with roast duck bought from a siu mei (Chinese roast meat) shop. Buy half a duck - don't let the vendor cut it up, and be sure he gives you a small container of the flavourful duck drippings (not to be mistaken for the sweet plum sauce they also give you, but which is not needed for this dish).
You’ll be testing your knife skills with this dish – it’s essential that everything be hand-cut, and to a small size. If you use a food processor, or if the ingredients are cut too large, the dish will be coarse, rather than delicate. After all the ingredients are prepared, it takes about 10 minutes to cook the dish.
Don't use canned bamboo shoots or water chestnuts for this dish because it won't be nearly as delicious. You can sometimes find frozen bamboo shoots in packets, and peeled, fresh water chestnuts in the refrigerated part of the vegetable section of supermarkets.
Remove the skin from the duck, then cut the skin into strips about 2cm long and 5mm wide (⅞in x ¼in). Pull the meat from the duck (use the bones to make broth for another dish). Cut the meat into 5mm (¼in) dice.
If the bamboo shoot is unpeeled, remove the tough leaves and fibrous parts so only the tender flesh remains – you should have about 250g. Cut the bamboo shoot into 5mm (¼in) dice. Bring a pot of medium-sized pot of water to the boil, add the bamboo shoot and simmer for five minutes, then drain.
Use a small knife to peel the water chestnuts, then rinse them thoroughly. Cut the water chestnuts and straw mushrooms into 5mm (¼in) dice. Slice the Chinese celery and banana chillies into 5mm (¼in) pieces. Lay all the ingredients in separate piles on a plate.
Pour the duck juices into a bowl and add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and salt.
Heat a large, unoiled wok (or large skillet) over a medium flame, add the pine nuts and stir constantly until they are lightly toasted, about three minutes. Watch them carefully because they burn easily. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl.
Pour oil to a depth of about 6cm (2⅓in) into the wok (or use wide, deep pan and add oil to the depth of about 5cm [2in]). Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). Add half of the rice noodles – they will puff up immediately. Lift them out of the oil and drain on paper towels before frying the remaining rice noodles and draining them the same way.
Pour off almost all the oil from the wok (the oil can be reused for other dishes). Heat the wok (or a large skillet) over a medium-high flame and add the strips of duck skin. Cook, stirring frequently, until the duck skin has darkened slightly and most of the fat has rendered off. Drain the duck skin on paper towels. Pour off most of the oil from the wok or skillet (don’t mix this oil – which has duck fat – with the oil used to fry the rice vermicelli).
Place the wok or skillet (no need to wash) over a high flame and when it’s hot, add the bamboo shoots and stir-fry for about a minute. Add the water chestnuts and mushrooms and stir-fry for another minute, then mix in the Chinese celery and banana chillies and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the duck meat and stir-fry for a minute, or until the meat is hot, then stir in the duck-juices mixture. Simmer for about a minute, stirring often, until most of the ingredients are lightly coated with the sauce. Mix in most of the pine nuts, then transfer the ingredients to a serving platter.
Lightly crush the fried vermicelli and scatter over and around the duck mixture, along with the fried duck skin and the remaining pine nuts. Let each diner scoop the mixture into the lettuce cups and add a little hoisin sauce, if they like.