Ducking Around in the Kitchen

marx-1I regret that Peking changed its name to Beijing. My life is full of regrets. The most recent one is betting a bottle of Fernet Branca on the outcome of this year’s NCAA tourney. (My overconfidence has never recovered from the occasion, a couple of years back, when I correctly guessed the finalists, the winner, and the exact point spread. Gambling and winning can be just as detrimental as gambling and losing.) “Beijing Duck” just doesn’t have the same romantic ring.

Peking duck is one of China’s national foods. It is so good it was responsible for re-establishing relations between the United States and China in the 1970s when Kissinger insisted Nixon had to travel to China to taste it. It’s an interesting preparation, combining very few simple ingredients and an amazingly elaborate method. In a nutshell, here is the process:

1) Inflate the skin of the duck with a bamboo tube or bicycle pump to separate the skin from the fat.

2) Hang up the duck and scald it all over with boiling water to close the pores.

3) Let the duck dry in a warm drafty place for a few hours.

4) Make a marinade of honey, soy sauce, lemon and Shaoxing wine, and repeatedly baste the duck while it dries for up to several days.

5) Slow-roast the duck hanging upright in a tall oven over a fire of Gaolin wood.

Eating it can be just as elaborate, with the entire meal being based around different stages of the duck. First the skin is eaten dipped in garlic sauce, then the meat is stir fried or served in thin pancakes with green onions and plum sauce, and then a broth of the bones and fat finishes the meal. I love duck for this reason: one duck feeds Leslie and I for days.

Duck 008I attempted Peking Duck for the first time last weekend, and boy was it fun to hang up a duck and scald it with water and then dry it for hours in front of an electric fan while basting it. I always believe food should be both entertainment and nutrition. If you want to try it yourself, Andrea Nguyen has an excellent breakdown on her website Viet World Kitchen, and while I was a little less dedicated, I followed much the same process. Since neither Andrea or I have a tall brick wood fired oven, we both just roasted our duck on a roasting rack over a roasting pan to catch the drippings (absolutely essential when it comes to a fatty bird like duck).

Then we ate some of the duck with Chinese pancakes, green onions and plum sauce as described above. This is by far and away our favourite way to eat duck, no matter how it is cooked. I took photos, but they sucked, so I’m not going to put you off by showing them.

The days that followed contained many joyful variations on duck, such as:

Duck stir fry!

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Duck stock!

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…Which was used in duck risotto with roasted hearts of romaine!

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Chinese duck salad with Filipino lumpia!

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Duck Dodgers in the Twenty-Fourth and a Half Century!

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The Chinese duck salad was a new one on us, and really a hit. The recipe is from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, in his book “The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines.”

Chinese Duck Salad

1/2 lb cooked boneless duck meat

3/4 lb bean sprouts

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander

DRESSING:

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

2 tb light soy sauce

2 tb sesame oil (it seems like a lot, but it isn’t)

1/2 tsp sugar

freshly ground black pepper

torn lettuce for base

Place the salad ingredients in a bowl. Mix the dressing separately and toss with the salad. Serve over shredded lettuce.

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10 comments to Ducking Around in the Kitchen

  • your brother-in-laws girlfriend

    1) Lumpia is automatically Filipino. You can just say Lumpia, and everyone will know its Filipino. I’d know because I’m Filipino.
    2) Did you make the Lumpia correctly? Lets compare recipes.
    3) Would you like to know the secret to Chicken Adobo?
    :-D

  • war pig

    Outstanding. I admire your perseverance. I have never had the time or the nerve to try to make real Peking Duck. I have tasted it in Hong Kong but have not attempted its cooking myself. How long did it take to fully dry before the fan and how to tell when it is ready to move on to roasting? I have a vertical roaster for my gas grill, I wonder if that would substitute for the tall oven, especially if I used pecan wood chips as a smoke source?

    I am about turkey the way you were about the duck. I am like Darren McGavin in “Christmas Story” when it comes to turkey. I end up boiling down the bones for stock as you did to make delicious turkey soup or to use in other dishes, and enjoy turkey stew, turkey salad, turkey a la king, turkey sandwiches, etc.

    Did you save any of the drip fat? I have heard it is especially useful in kosher or Jewish cooking. I have wanted to try latkes cooked in duck fat.

  • Hey Muzhik, I accidentally deleted your comment with some spam. You were talking about the scene in Shogun where Blackthorne hangs up a duck to age until its tail feathers fall off. I remember that scene. Then his gardener cuts it down and commits suicide.

    @Warpig: I dried it for about three hours after basting, and I decided it was done when it was no longer sticky to the touch (and also I was getting hungry). Andrea Nguyen dries hers for about 40 hours in the refrigerator, which I think is closer to the real deal. I think a vertical roaster with wood chips would be perfect. I wish I had a yard.

    I have saved duck fat before to make confit, but then I forgot about the confit in the back of my refrigerator and had to throw it out and haven’t repeated the experiment.

    @ My brother in law’s girlfriend: good point, it’s redundant. I think I said ‘Filipino lumpia’ specifically to give people a reference point, since I had no idea what lumpia were until a year or to ago.

    And any adobo recipes will definitely be tested by me. Did you like my squid adobo post?

  • your brother-in-laws girlfriend

    Let me correct myself, American Filipino lol. When my dad cooks he usually cookes lumpia, puto, and either chicken or pork adobo because im scared of squid

  • We eat chicken adobo regularly, but I would love to hear your recipe.

  • Muzhik

    @Daniel, re: Shogun, not quite. The gardener cut it down, and the translator explained that she did it because it was rotting. (It was my first exposure to the concept that “finely aged beef” means that you let it rot without letting it rot TOO much.) The gardener called for a sword so she could kill herself, but Blackthorne stopped her. I remember he broke down because he couldn’t understand why she would kill herself over a goose (yes, you really are living among an alien race); and she looked very confused because she couldn’t understand why her lord was crying (yes, your lord really is an alien gaijin who doesn’t know the first thing about civilized behavior.)

  • war pig

    I knew a Frenchman in the service. He said his mom would kill and gut a chicken and hang it by the neck with twine in the basement, then give it a tug every day. When it was “ripe” enough so that the head came off when she tugged, it was ready to cook. I was afraid to ask what she then did with the head.

    A bit too gamey for me, thanks. I am of the opinion that, with the exception of prosciutto and other cured meats, flesh tastes best when cooked closest to harvest (or else fresh frozen). I have tried “aged” beef and found it to be tender, but not as good to my taste. Now, the Peking duck, since it is only in the fridge for 40 hours, would be okay, but I would still prefer fresh duck.

  • Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the ‘rotten but not too rotten’ idea… maybe if I was a game hunter I’d feel differently. Curing and preserving, however, I can get behind.

  • war pig

    My grandmothers would can anything that stood still for more than 5 minutes. They canned corn, jellies, fruits, veggies and all that, plus meats, and even fish.

    The family also smoked a lot of meats, especially ham and bacon and various homemade sausages.

  • Smoking is one thing I would most like to try, but it will have to wait. I did just buy a meat grinder, though.