A Peking duck dinner is a feast built from a single ingredient. It starts with nibbling on a taco-like snack of the delicately crisp skin tucked inside thin mandarin pancakes with a lick of earthy bean sauce. That's followed by a simple stir-fry featuring the gamey meat with lots of fragrant ginger and scallion. Finally, a rich soup infused by the remaining bones and bits is offered to cleanse the palate.
It's a production that until recently I didn't have the gumption to tackle. I let the pros at Chinese restaurants do the work. But those meals were rarely as regal as those described in books. Though the skin was always crisp, the flesh was sometimes mealy or the pancakes were mass-produced and characterless. When the courses arrived too fast and overlapped, flavors got jumbled up, diminishing the overall experience.
I was never truly satisfied, but making the Chinese classic myself seemed like a culinary deed of derring-do, beyond the reach of mere mortals. Then, around Lunar New Year in February, I decided that I'd had enough with paying for so-so duck dinners and would try to master Peking duck three ways. Home cooking so much fun ...
The first and biggest hurdle was figuring out the duck itself. There's an entire mythology around it. The duck must be whole and has to be eviscerated through a hole in one of the armpits; you have to pump air between the skin and flesh to detach the skin so the fat will drip off during roasting (the key to creating the signature crisp-yet-not-oily skin). The skin needs to be scalded, rubbed with diluted sugar syrup and then dried in chilly, open-air conditions. Finally, the duck needs to be cooked suspended over a live fire, preferably stoked by fragrant jujube wood.
That's a lot to do for one dinner. But it's really worth it !!! I was lucky to over see chinese chefs during my career in south east Asia , and was carefull to observe how they mastered the duck
1 (4- to 5-pound) duck, with head and feet intact
2 tablespoons salt
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon water, divided
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
11/2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon dark (thick) soy sauce, divided
1/4 cup sweet bean sauce or hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1 teaspoon sesame oil, optional
4 or 5 slender green onions, cut crosswise into 3-inch lengths and lengthwise into thin strips
Cucumber strips same size as above
Restaurants that specialize in Peking duck have special ovens and trained staff. Plus, they are always a duck ahead of their diners, meaning there is broth constantly simmering. My workarounds included cooking the duck on a vertical roaster to facilitate even heat circulation, prepping as much in advance as possible, keeping the stir-fry simple and fast, and doctoring up canned chicken broth for the soup.
As it turns out, the pancakes can be refrigerated for days and freeze beautifully for weeks. I realized after several trials that once the duck is roasted, its glossy skin stays crisp for a good hour, allowing me to start the broth, assemble the stir-fry ingredients and even clean up the kitchen a little bit before enjoying a little sun on balcony first .
Sure, I had to run back and forth between the kitchen and table during the set up , but it was worth it. My two companions were as amazed as I was that terrific Peking duck could be made at home in a regular oven with no super-special equipment.
Called bao bing in Mandarin, these thin pancakes are the classic accompaniment to Peking duck. Sandwiching the dough pieces and rolling them out in pairs produces translucent results. Skip the fancy flour and use a moderate gluten flour, such as Gold Medal brand, for toothsome pancakes. For the just-boiled water, bring water to boil, then let it calm down before measuring it out.
13/4 cups (71/2 ounces) flour, plus extra for dusting
Tea spoon of salt
Water and sesame oil
Recipe , photography and creation By:Chef Nicholas Anderson for www.culinaryglobetrotter.com
A signature dish of any good chef holds the potential to captivate the palate and fascinate the imagination. From the selected ingredients to the chef’s culinary zeal, it’s the inspiration that truly makes a signature dish unique and be well-loved by the most discerning guests.Every chef and cook has his or her signature dish. This is the dish, whether sweet or savory, that best represents the person who prepared it.