Peking Duck is a dish that you fall in love with.
World famous from Beijing, crispy roast duck is sliced with a high skin-to-meat ratio and eaten with spring onion (scallions), cucumber, hoisin (or plum) sauce and wrapped in thin Chinese pancakes. Think of it as Chinese duck tacos.
Shared with others, you usually get 2-3 pieces per person as a starter dish. It may be frowned upon to scoff 10 pancakes and call it a meal, but would you judge me if I said I did exactly that twice for this post? Let’s call it “research purposes”.
When dining at Chinese restaurants, my family orders Peking Duck on almost every special occasion. It’s a bit pricey, but it’s a treat. You should see our eyes light up when the dish is brought to the table. Your turn can’t come quick enough. When I introduced Peking Duck to The Koala, he was was a bit peeved that he had gone so long without it. He loved it too.
In 2006, The Koala and I ate visited Beijing and enjoyed some Peking Duck. It was really cool seeing the traditional brick oven that the ducks were roasted in. It was good to try the Peking Duck in Beijing, but I preferred the Peking Duck we have here in New Zealand. Is that terrible to say so? Ours is more seasoned/salted, perhaps in Beijing they prefer to let the natural flavour of the duck shine. I find the seasonings enhance the gamey flavour of the duck but it could be just what I’m used to.
The traditional Peking Duck takes days to prepare. Yes, days.
You pump the skin full of air to separate it from the flesh (helping it to crisp up), then dunk the duck into boiling water so that the skin tightens up again. The duck is then hung by the neck, in front of a fan or outside to dry for a day. It may be marinaded, basted or seasoned before being hung to roast in a big oven. It is a lot of work.
Chinese restaurants used to require a day’s notice for Peking Duck orders, but now that Peking Duck is more popular, they prepare this dish in anticipation of orders. You can rock up to a Chinese restaurant and demand Peking Duck. No more waiting a day for your Peking Duck.
Round One: Whole Duck
With thanks to Saveur Duck, I had a size 18 whole duck to experiment with. I’d never cooked a whole duck before, why not try something insanely difficult? I had my sights set on Peking Duck.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I love cooking (and eating) but I’m a lazy cook. They say if you want something done efficiently, give the task to a lazy person. They will be able to find the easiest, quickest way to do it. That’s me. I wasn’t going to spend days drying and pumping the duck with air. I wasn’t going to build a brick oven. I was going to find all the corners, and cut them.
For Round One, I adapted Jamie Oliver’s already pretty lazy recipe here and combined it with some of traditional methods and spices such as drying the duck and 5-spice powder. The result was great flavour, but no crispiness. My oven wasn’t hot enough. The duck skin was flaccid. Isn’t flaccid the perfect word for disappointing duck skin? Using a whole duck meant that I had little control on where I could direct the heat. I understand now why the ducks are hung inside the oven so that all the skin is exposed to heat.
I carved my duck the traditional Peking Duck way, but Jamie’s recipe makes a duck fit for shredding. I guess shredded meat and crispy slices don’t really work together. My carving skills are elementary (at best) and I felt like I was letting a good amount of duck meat go to waste because I couldn’t cut it close to the bone. Don’t worry, none of the meat went to waste, I’m rather skilled at picking bones clean.
Round Two: Duck breast
After Round One, I regrouped, reassessed and tried again, this time with boneless duck breast. Saveur Duck also do packs of duck breast and these can be found in the frozen or fresh section at various retailers. After reading The Awl’s entertaining post on duck breast, I felt much better about Round Two.
Working with duck breast is so different to a whole duck. Besides being smaller than the whole duck, the skin is only on one side so I had more control on the crispiness, temperature, and colour. Instead of air drying the duck, patting the skin dry could be enough as long as the fat was allowed to render out.
I’d like to say that this time, I nailed it.
Duck breast rules.
This is not a traditional recipe for Peking Duck which I respect takes a lot of time and effort. Authenticity aside, this version tastes pretty amazing, uses just a few ingredients and can be whipped up in one hour rather than spanning days. It has less skin-to-meat ratio than traditional Peking Duck, though some might enjoy this more.
Peking Duck for busy people
Makes 20 Peking Duck sets (Good for 4-6 people as a starter or 2 or 3 people as a meal)
Ingredients for the duck
- 1 duck breast (double breast)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder
Ingredients for the pancakes
- 2 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 cup hot water
- A little oil
- Hoisin sauce
- Spring onion (scallions), sliced (about 20-30 pieces)
- Cucumber, sliced (about 20 pieces)
Preparation for the duck (makes 20 slices)
- Preheat oven to 200°C (390F)
- Take the duck breast and pat dry with a very clean teatowel. If it is a whole breast, cut the breast into 2 halves. Then using a sharp knife, score the duck skin diagonally both ways about 2 cm between cuts. Be careful not to cut the meat underneath. Your duck should have a neat argyle pattern all over the skin.
- In a small bowl, mix the salt, sugar and 5-spice together. Rub most of the seasoning on the duck skin and the rest onto the reverse side.
- Lay the pieces skin side down onto a room temperature cast iron skillet (one with a metal handle). No need for any oil, you’ll see why in a moment. Turn on the heat to medium and once you hear the skin start to sizzle, turn on your timer for 5 minutes. As the duck fat renders out of the skin (thanks to your argyle scoring), carefully tilt the pan and spoon out the fat. Save this fat for culinary delights such as duck fat potatoes or duck fat croutons.
- At 5 minutes, take a peek at the skin and check for crispiness and colour. Continue cooking for another 2 minutes if required, otherwise, flip over and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Remove the duck from the pan and drain all the duck fat out to your reserve container.
- Return the duck to the pan or to a small oven proof dish and place in the oven for 6-8 minutes at 200°C (390F) depending on how pink you like it. The duck in these photos are 8 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Make a cut down the length of each piece 1 thickness in from the edge, then slice this into half. This makes 2 slices. Then with the remaining meat, make 7 cuts on an angle so that you have 8 more slices slices. This makes 10 fairly even pieces (see diagram). Repeat with the other duck breast half. Arrange duck slices on a platter.
Preparation for the pancakes (makes 20 pancakes)
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the hot water and mix. Using your hands, gather up the dough and knead the mixture in the bowl until it forms a into a loose ball. Cover bowl with a teatowel and set aside for half an hour.
- Take the dough out of the bowl and knead on a lightly oiled work surface until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes). Divide the dough in half and then roll each piece into a long roll. Cut into 5 pieces each and roll up into even sized balls. Place these balls back into the bowl and cover with a teatowel. Taking 1 ball at a time, divide into half and flatten each ball into a 5cm wide disk. Place a disk on the work surface and spread a dot of oil over it followed by the second disk. Roll out until about 15cm round.
- Put a skillet on medium heat and spray or add a tiny amount of oil. Cook the double pancake (flipping once) until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from heat and set on a plate. Once cool enough to handle but still very warm, split the double pancake by carefully peeling them apart so that you have 2 thin pancakes. Place split pancakes on a platter.
- Repeat with rest of dough balls. You’ll get a good work station going, roll out dough / flip pancake / split pancake. (Pro tip: Have 2 skillets going at once to cut down on cooking time).
- Place sliced duck, pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and hoisin sauce in platters and bowls the middle of the table and just go for it with your hands. Pancakes and duck are usually served warm to room temperature rather than piping hot.
- For the uninitiated: Take a pancake, add a teaspoon of hoisin sauce, top with cucumber, spring onion and a slice of duck. Fold over like a burrito and enjoy. Repeat until finished.
Tip: You can cook the duck and the pancakes at the same time, or keep one warm while the other cooks.
Please note, all the photos here from Round Two of my Peking Duck experiments (except for the photo of the whole duck).
This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event to encourage bloggers to try new food related things. Corina from Searching for Spice is the host for this month’s event.
If you have a blog and you are eating or cooking something new this month, click below to join. More information here.