Happy Peking Duck Day!

Today we celebrate one of my favorite dishes. It’s a dish I equate with celebrations because when my family had birthdays and other occasions in a Chinese restaurant, Peking Duck is usually one of the things we order.  Where I currently live, I haven’t found a restaurant that serves Peking Duck like it’s done in Asia, which is a prolonged affair. It has a theatrical flair, unlike the chopped up dish that Chinese takeouts serve.

Peking Duck as the name suggests originates in Beijing (formerly called Peking) and it dates back to the imperial times. The perfect Peking Duck has a deep golden brown skin that is deliciously crispy. The dish became the national dish of China during the middle of the 20th century. In Beijing, the best restaurants to eat Peking Duck is Quanjude and Bianyifang both are centuries-old eating establishments.

A Quanjude chef slicing roasted Peking Duck (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Ducks that are destined to be turned into this sumptuous treat are fattened before they are butchered. One of the secrets to crispy skin is pumping air between the skin and the fat. Then the duck is soaked in boiling water before it’s cooked. The duck can be cooked through two methods: one is in a closed oven and another in hung oven. Before roasting, the duck is glazed with maltose syrup which gives it the luscious brown color.

Traditionally, the finished product is carved at the table and the dish is served in three stages. The chef slices off the skin which is dipped in sugar and garlic sauce and eaten as an appetizer. Oh, I’m salivating at the memory. Then the sliced meat is eaten with Chinese pancakes, kind of like the bread in steamed buns except they’re flat. The proper way to compose this “sandwich” is to spread the pancake with sweet bean sauce, a piece of scallion, cucumber, or pickled radish (or all!). Other sauces like hoisin (fermented bean) or plum sauce can also be used.  Then the pancake is folded or rolled and eaten like a burrito. Or the meat can be chopped and stir fired with sweet bean sauce.Yum! The remaining carcass is taken by the chef and cooked into a broth and served to the diners so no part of the Peking Duck is wasted.

Aaah, I can still remember the sated feeling of eating Peking Duck. I haven’t had it as good as I did in Hong Kong and in Manila. I wish I had the patience to prepare the dish myself. But if you are up to the challenge, I found an excellent recipe from The Food Lab, complete with photos and step-by-step instructions, including slaughtering the duck (if you are up to it!) or choosing and buying the dressed duck. Whatever you choose, whether you try to roast the duck yourself or acquire it Peking Duck from a Chinese restaurant, enjoy this crispy, delicious dish. And if you know of any other to enjoy  Peking Duck, please let me know!


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