I 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.
I 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!
…Which was used in duck risotto with roasted hearts of romaine!
Chinese duck salad with Filipino lumpia!
Duck Dodgers in the Twenty-Fourth and a Half Century!
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
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.