Vietnamese Duck and Egg Noodle Soup (Mi Vit Tiem) borrows heavily from Vietnam’s northern neighbor. Mì vịt tiềm is one of my mom’s favorites, and she is partial to a version made by her friend Mrs. Tan, who, along with her husband, once owned a Chinese barbecue restaurant in San Diego.
Unlike phở, which most Viet home cooks know how to make, mì vịt tiềm is usually left to the pros. The trick is cooking the duck legs until tender (but not mushy), mahogany brown, and deeply seasoned. The traditional approach is to marinate them, flash fry them for color, and then simmer them in the broth. Some cooks even refry the legs right before serving. When my mom finally asked Mrs. Tan for her secret, she divulged that she roasted and then steamed the duck legs, instead of frying and simmering them. Her method evenly colors the duck, seals in the seasonings, preserves the integrity of the meat, and easily removes much of the fat.
I developed this recipe using Mrs. Tan’s method. Traditionally, the duck leg is served whole on the side for diners to attack with chopsticks and spoons. Since that is hard to do, even for a native chopstick user like me, I slice the meat and serve it in the bowl.
If a section of the backbone remains attached to a duck leg, use a boning knife to separate the backbone from the duck leg. At the hip joint, firmly bend the leg away from the backbone to pop the ball of the thighbone from the socket. Cut between the ball and socket to free the leg. Discard the backbone, freeze it, or add it to the simmering broth.