I had quite a weekend, in terms of cooking, last weekend. I made a few treats for a dear friend’s bridal shower, and then hosted a dinner party for some old friends.
Let’s tackle the dinner party first. You have to love dinner parties. Either throwing one or attending one. What’s more ubiquitous across cultures than sharing a meal in the home?
My typical dinner party starts with an appetizer, main entree of some sort of meaty dish, with a few sides and then dessert. This time around, I broke my own rule. One friend happened to love my stewed oxtail, another friend loves duck. Also, I still had some of the lovely tuna Dave caught vacuum sealed and frozen, I decided to do an air, land and sea themed dinner.
I had Peking Duck in Beijing, China for the very first time when I was three years old. It was my first trip to the capitol. I vaguely recall taking a really crowded, slow-moving train, standing on top of the Great Wall, running up steps in the Forbidden City and feeling incredibly hot and uncomfortable at the ruins of the Summer Palace. I’d go into detail about each other those spots, but this is a food blog, after all, so let’s focus on the food.
I don’t remember which restaurant I had my first taste of Peking Duck. It kind of doesn’t matter. What matters was my first bite into the soft envelope of slightly sweet wrapper that subtly released so many different textures and flavors were incredible. Later, I had “Beijing Roast Duck” again when we returned home to Tianjin, some 83 miles away. I recall telling someone that the flavor was off and being ridiculed for my snobbery. (That happened a lot.)
It wasn’t until 2008 when I’ve made my home in the US for a few decades, that on a return visit to Beijing that I tasted the real thing again. My husband, Dave, was with me on that trip and his response very much mirrored my own.
Dave was adamant that we recreate that experience at home.
I’ve tried. For several years now. At first, I roasted my ducks (headless from Wegman’s or H-Mart) on a Cuisinart Roaster with Rack like a slab of rump roast.
While the meat was flavorful, I could not recreate the crispy skin that comes with hanging a duck in an open oven so that its fat rendered out, slow roasting the meat, yet leaving the skin as crispy as a potato chip. But I kept trying.
I stuffed it like a turkey:
Dave created a contraption out of string that shall never be mentioned again.
Then we found Chinese groceries that sold the duck with the head on and we fashioned it so that we could hang it by the neck in the oven. Better. Much better!
Once upon a time this meal was only served in the imperial court, to the guy living there, so mentally prepare yourself. This recipe is not for the faint of heart. It takes time and preparation. I recommend studying this recipe until it makes sense. Once you buy the ingredients and start the process, it’ll be too late to turn back.
5-6 stalks of scallions, white part cut off and sliced into slivers.
2 cloves of garlic
1 bamboo skewer
2 slices of ginger
1 cucumber, sliced into slivers
Prep your duck by washing it under running cold water, then let it drain. Pat dry. Remove excess feathers and fat from the bottom
Take half of the 5- spice ( star anise, fennel seed, clove, cinnamon, peppercorn) blend w/ salt, molasses, green portion of the scallion, garlic and ginger. Stuff in the cavity. Use a bamboo stick to sew the cavity up.
Cut off wings and feet. (If you’d like , keep these scrap bits to make duck stock later.)
4. Separate skin by inserting a straw through a small slit cut into the base of the neck and blowing vigorously. The skin should balloon and separate from the body. Flip, cut another slit and blow again.
5. Boil pot full of water with salt, 5 spice ingredients and soy sauce. Hold the duck by its neck over the pot and ladle the hot liquid over duck in a poaching/ basting manner until skin turn amber in color. Be careful as the hot liquid will splatter on you. So wear a shirt
6. Set on a baking rack over a cookie sheet and dry for 5 days in the fridge.
When it’s time to cook the duck, let it rest at room temperature for up to 1 hour. Cooking time takes 2 hours, so prepare by setting your oven racks as far apart as possible. The duck will be hung by the base of its neck using a metal hook from the top rack. Place a roasting pan on the bottom rack to catch all the rendered fat drippings.
Turn the oven to 350 degrees F and roast for two hours. After two hours, turn up the oven to broil on low for 10-15 minutes. This should crisp up the skin, but not burn it. Check often. Be careful removing the duck from the oven as it will be sitting on top of a pan full of scalding hot duck fat. Carefully slide the top and bottom rack out slowly until the duck can be easily removed from the hook. Let the duck rest for 5-10 minutes before carving.
My pancakes are still being perfected, so I won’t share it just yet. However, the dark sauce that goes with the duck can easily be made with what is called a Chinese noodle sauce, honey and a bit of water.