Peking Duck

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Complex

  • Serves

    8

    as a three-course meal .

Appears in

In China, the roasting of Peking Duck is so highly regarded that chefs specialize in it, and some restaurants serve only Peking Duck dinners. Ducks are bred and raised especially for this dish: they are force-fed much as the French force-feed geese for foie gras. The birds’ movements are restricted so that their flesh stays tender and juicy. The ducks are roasted in special ovens over a fire of dried jujube date, peach, and pear branches to give the skin and meat a unique fragrance. Then the duck is served in an elaborate, multicourse dinner that often includes special dishes made from the wings, webbed feet, and even the tongues.

Three courses are essential: first, the breast meat and crackling crisp skin are served with scallion brushes, hoisin sauce, and thin pancakes; second, the dark meat is stir-fried with vegetables; and third, a rich duck soup is made by simmering the bones in chicken stock.

The traditional method of making Peking Duck probably originated in the imperial kitchens during the Ming dynasty in the seventeenth century. In China one would not cook Peking Duck at home because a home kitchen simply is not equipped for it. Fortunately, the American oven makes it possible to come very close to the authentic dish.

Of all the elaborate banquet dishes in Chinese cuisine, this is the most glorious. It produces the ultimate duck—super-crisp skin with, all the fat melted off, and meat that is tender and moist. Although it requires a great deal of preparation, much of it can be done well in advance and in easy stages. Because of the time and effort involved, prepare at least two ducks and invite as many guests as you can accommodate. Allow one duck for every four people. It takes little additional time to prepare a second duck.

The first step is to inflate the duck, forcing air between the skin and flesh so that the skin roasts crisp and the fat melts, basting the meat. This requires a duck with its head attached, so that the neck skin can be tied off to keep the duck inflated. In China, a sorghum stalk is used as a tube through which air is blown into the duck. An air compressor or a bicycle pump is much more effective, however. If you don’t have one, or if you cannot obtain a duck with its neck intact, there is an alternate method: massage the duck all over, slowly working the skin away from the fat, taking care not to tear it. The skin won’t be as evenly crisp, but it will be quite acceptable.

The second step is to scald the duck in boiling water, then hang it to dry. The scalded skin dries better. The duck is dried in front of a fan to hasten the process. It is then basted with malt sugar to give it a rich golden color and allowed to dry again before it is finally roasted.

Once the duck is roasted, it is ready for the final preparations: cutting up the breast meat and skin to serve with the pancakes, shredding the dark meat and preparing the vegetables for stir-frying, and putting the bones in a stockpot to make the third and last course, duck soup.

The inflating, scalding, and drying may be done the day before; the pancakes and the scallion brushes may be made in advance, too.

The proportions that follow are for two ducks that will serve eight people.

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Ingredients

  • 2 whole ducks, about 5 to 5½ pounds each, head and neck intact
  • ¼ cup malt sugar or honey dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
  • 16 pancakes
  • 16 Scallion Brushes
  • 1 can hoisin sauce

The Soup

  • Bones from cut-up Peking-roasted ducks
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 pounds celery cabbage (Napa cabbage)
  • 1 tablespoon thin soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons chopped scallion tops for garnish

The Stir-Fry

  • 8 fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cups bean sprouts, plucked at both ends
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
  • Dark meat from 2 Peking-roasted ducks, shredded

Method

Roasting, stir-frying, braising

Inflating the Duck

  1. Pull the fat from the tail end. Discard it, or save it for sautéing or pâtés.

  2. Slip the nozzle of an air compressor or bicycle pump under the neck skin.

  3. Clamp the tail vent shut with the other hand.

  4. S-l-o-w-l-y start to pump air under the skin.

  5. Continue to pump very slowly until the skin stands away from the body. (A duck will take quite a bit of air pressure, but sooner or later it can burst, so stop as soon as the skin is completely separated, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.) Release the tail vent and dry the duck with paper towels.

  6. Skewer the tail vent shut and tie it airtight. Loop another piece of string at the base of the neck; tie the knot, but leave it loosened.

  7. S-l-o-w-l-y reinflate the duck.

  8. When it is inflated, quickly tighten the knot around the neck to make an airtight package. The loose end of the string can be used to hang the duck for drying.

Scalding, Drying, and Roasting the Duck

  1. Hook a chopstick under the wing tips to hold the wings away from the body of the inflated duck. This allows the skin all over the body both to dry and to brown evenly. (Remove the chopstick before roasting, unless you have a Chinese oven.)

  2. Insert a hanging hook in the neck, or hold the duck by its neck string.

  3. Hold the duck over a wok filled with boiling water. Ladle the boiling water over the duck for several minutes to rid it of its scum and scald the skin to make it taut. Hang the duck in a cool, airy place to dry. A pantry or a cooling closet, such as those one finds in old houses, is ideal. The duck may also be hung in front of an electric fan or air conditioner. With a fan, the drying process takes about 1½ to 2 hours; without, about 4 hours. The duck may deflate somewhat, but it will puff up in the oven later as the trapped air heats and expands.

  4. When the duck is thoroughly dry, it feels like parchment. Baste it with malt sugar or honey dissolved in boiling water. Hang it to dry again, for 2 hours if you are using a fan, for 4 hours if not.

  5. Set the duck on a V-rack, breast up, so that it is totally exposed to the oven heat. Follow this roasting timetable for a 5-pound duck:

    • 15 minutes at 450 degrees, breast up
    • 55 minutes at 350 degrees, breast up
    • 20 minutes at 450 degrees, breast up
    • Total roasting time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ideally, every part of the skin should roast crisp, which is why in China the ducks are hung from a pole rather than set on a rack. If you have a commercial-sized convection oven, you might try hanging the duck in it. The result is very close to authentic.

Final Preparations and Serving

The effort it takes to produce the perfect duck demands an elaborate presentation, something that shows why this dish was once served only to emperors. Although every chef has his own favorite presentation, the following one seems to suit the American knack for showmanship without requiring that too much time be spent away from the table.

Well before your guests arrive, make the pancakes and the scallion brushes, put the hoisin sauce on the table, and prepare the soup and the vegetables for stir-frying. As the ducks finish roasting, steam the pancakes so that they will be hot.

The first course should be served hot, while the skin is still crisp and the meat warm. So the first step, illustrated below, is to cut up the skin and the breast meat and send it out to your guests with the hot pancakes and scallion brushes. Before you join them, quickly shred the dark meat for stir-frying so that you don’t have to clean the cleaver and cutting board a second time. Drop the bones into the broth to simmer, then you can join your guests in wrapping a slice of breast meat, a piece of crisp skin, a dab of hoisin, and a scallion brush in a pancake.

When you return to the kitchen, it takes only a couple of minutes to stir-fry the dark meat with the vegetables. By the time that is served, the broth with celery cabbage is ready to finish the meal.

  1. With a cleaver or a sharp paring knife, cut around the entire breast and lift the crisp skin off in one piece. (Notice that all the fat has dissolved.)

  2. Cut the thighs off at the body.

  3. Pull the thigh meat away from the skin.

  4. Remove the thigh skin in one piece.

  5. Scrape the thigh meat off the bone and set it aside for stir-frying. Cut away the drumstick and reserve it for presentation with the breast meat. Add the bones to a pot of simmering chicken broth.

  6. Shred the thigh meat.

  7. Lift the skin away from the back and set it aside.

  8. Bone the breast. First, cut along either side of the central keel bone.

  9. Then pull the breast muscles away, each in one piece. They should come away easily. Add the bones to the broth.

  10. Slice the breast meat at a 45-degree angle into ¾-inch pieces. Keep the pieces aligned.

  11. Pick up the entire sliced breast with the side of the cleaver. Arrange the breast meat in the center of a serving platter. Finish the platter with the drumsticks and the scallion brushes.

  12. Cut the skin down the middle, then crosswise into rectangles about 1 by 2½ inches.

  13. Arrange the pieces around the perimeter of the platter.

  14. When the, bones have simmered for 15 minutes, strain the soup and skim the grease. Add the remaining soup ingredients to the broth, and simmer for 5 minutes before serving it.

  15. stir-fry the vegetables in the oil flavored with garlic until they are just done (about 2 minutes.).

  16. Add the sauce ingredients and the shredded duck just to heat it through. Transfer it to a serving dish.

  17. The Peking Duck dinner should be served in separate courses. Clockwise from top: Peking Duck Soup; pancakes, scallion brushes and hoisin sauce; skin with breast meat; stir-fried thigh meat with vegetables.

  • Suggested Beverage: Well-aged Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux