Peking Duck, a triumph of natural flavor, emphasizes in particular the crackling skin. The duck is first inflated with air between the skin and meat. This stretches the skin, lifting it from the moisture of the meat, breaking the fat formation, and providing space for the fat to melt and drip out during the roasting. Then the skin is scalded with boiling water; this astringent procedure makes the skin drier and tauter than normal. The duck is then dried with a coating of sugar water so that it acquires a deep, rich coloring and a subtle caramel aroma.
To prevent air from escaping, one needs a duck with the head on, available from Chinatown butchers or a poultry farm. In China, specially grown ducks are used exclusively for this dish. They are kept in individual cages and force-fed so that they grow plump with no development of muscle. But Long Island ducks are excellent substitutes, since they are direct descendants of the Peking species.
At a glance, it seems too complicated and troublesome to make Peking Duck at home. True, it is time consuming, but it is not at all difficult. The air-blowing technique is ingenious, and great fun to do. After all, it is quite an experience to blow air into a duck. Once someone came upon me doing it and cried out in horror: “Good lord! She’s doing a mouth-to-neck resuscitation with a dead duck!”
It should always be served with Chinese pancakes, hoisin sauce over lettuce petals, and scallion frills. Allow 3 pancakes and hoisin petals and about 1 scallion frill for each person when it is the main course, and one pancake for each when the duck is served with many other dishes. You should always have on hand a few extra pancakes, however. As a main course for a sumptuous dinner, Peking Duck serves 4 to 6. As part of a small Chinese banquet, it serves 8 to 12. It goes beautifully with Stir-fried Bean Sprouts and Stir-fried Asparagus.
Have your poultry man or Chinese butcher make the cavity hole as small as possible when he eviscerates the duck. Tell him that you want the neck skin intact with only a tiny slit made about
Rinse the duck and drain. Massage the entire body by rubbing the skin back and forth; this loosens the skin from the meat. Make sure you do not puncture the skin, or you won’t be able to inflate the duck with air.
Insert a large plastic or glass straw or bamboo tube through the neck hole to the tip of the breast area. Loop string over this area, below the hole, and tie loosely (you need this in place for tightening it fast later). Hold your hand over the neck and tube and blow air in until the duck is as taut as a drum, stopping now and then to rub and roll the skin to even out the distribution of air. Ease out the tube and quickly draw the string tight below the hole. Secure with more loops of string if necessary. Then insert a meat hook, or a hook fashioned out of a wire hanger, securely through the neck bone above the string. While the head is always served along with the meat in China so that one may relish the delicious brain and tongue, you may, at this stage, cut it off and discard it.
If you can’t bring yourself to inflate the duck this way, use a clean bicycle, balloon, or football pump with a rubber hose attachment. Insert the hose and inflate the duck as described above.
Bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large, deep pot. Hold the duck by the hook and dip it in and out of the boiling water, turning it from side to side, while you ladle water over the exposed skin. Do this for about 5 minutes until the skin is white and acquires a dull look. Then hang the duck up to dry 6 hours or longer in a draft near a window, over a shower rod, on a back porch, or in a ventilated basement, spreading paper on the floor to catch the drippings.
Combine the malt sugar or honey with
In the meantime, make the Chinese Pancakes according to the recipe and set aside. Reheat them by steaming for about 10 minutes just before serving. Make the Hoisin Sauce Petals and Scallion Frills as follows:
Hoisin Sauce Petals—Cut firm lettuce leaves into petals
If your oven is large and tall, remove all the racks except the topmost one. Cover a large pan with aluminum foil for reflected heat and to catch the drippings, and place it in the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wrap the lower wing tips with aluminum foil and hook the duck vertically over the top rack in the center of the oven over the drip pan and roast it for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil from the wings and roast at 375 degrees for another 15 to 20 minutes until the duck is evenly browned. To prevent the grease from smoking in the drip pan, draw it out with a bulb baster when necessary.
If your oven is not tall enough for hanging a duck, place it on a roasting rack, breast side up, in the foil-lined pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn it breast side down and roast for another 15 minutes. Then turn the duck again, reduce heat to 350 degrees, and roast for 1 hour. Remove the wrappings from the wing tips, turn the heat to 375 degrees, and brown the duck for 15 to 20 minutes, drawing off the grease with a bulb baster when necessary.
Every oven has its own idiosyncrasies, so gauge the timing and temperature by watching the duck rather closely—the idea is to lightly brown the duck at the beginning, then with lower heat to cook it through, and finally, with high heat, to give it a deep brown color.
Remove the duck to a chopping board and have a stack of paper towels ready to wipe away the grease as you cut it. And have a working platter within reach.
Disjoint the wings and drumsticks and place them apart at either end of the serving platter, outlining the form of a whole duck. Then carve away all the skin on the duck with a very thin layer of meat, trying to make the slices as large as possible. Place them on your working platter. Then remove all the meat from the carcass and cut it into pieces about
Let everyone take a pancake, a piece of skin, and a piece of meat, cover with a hoisin petal, fold it up, and eat it as a sandwich, the raw scallion frill inside too. The scallions may also be used as brushes with which to smear the hoisin sauce over the meat if you don’t like to eat lettuce with the duck. Of course, you could also munch on the scallion separately.
Not as crackly as the recipe above, this simplified version, using a 5-pound regular supermarket duck and omitting the air-pumping procedure, is nonetheless a very crisp and delicious duck. Served with all the traditional trimmings, it can be magnanimously accepted as Peking Duck with, as the Chinese say, one eye open and the other closed.
Rinse and drain the duck; remove the fat from the cavity and trim off the excess neck skin. Insert a meat hook, or a fashioned wire hook, through the base of the neck bone. Make sure it’s secure. Then follow through with the scalding, drying, sugar coating, drying, roasting, and carving as outlined in the recipe.
© 1977 Irene Kuo estate. All rights reserved.