Is there a dish more universally loved than Peking Duck? If there is I don’t know what it is. This is a dish that the Chinese claim is 700 years old, but one that the West has taken to its collective heart, played around with it a little and claimed it as their own. This dish basically comes in two versions, the aromatic crispy fried and the roasted. The crispy fried is purely a western invention and you won’t find anything similar in China.
If you have the good fortune of eating this dish in China the duck will appear as three different incarnations. First of all the expected slices of duck served with little thin pancakes, hoisin sauce and julienne strips of spring onion and cucumber, then as a soup will arrive made from the carcass and then finally a stir-fried dish with duck meat and usually little pieces of celery and cashew nuts. The duck slices that are served with the pancakes are normally just the crispy skin and little slivers of fat whilst the flesh part is saved for the stir fry later. Not quite what we have come to expect in the West!
Now that Beijing has changed its name why isn’t Peking Duck called Beijing Duck I wonder? Even in Beijing you still order Peking Duck! One of life’s little oddities.
A lot of myths seem to have arisen around this dish and as a result people think that it must be very hard to make. Nonsense I say! It is very easy, a little time consuming I grant, but for a wet afternoon pottering in the kitchen nothing could be better. You do not need bicycle pumps, special secret marinades, you don’t need to leave the duck hanging in front of a fan for hours, all these and more are a load of old cockerel.
You will need:
1 large duck (if frozen, defrost thoroughly and bring to room temperature)
1 lemon (chopped into quarters)
2 litres water
4tbs soy sauce
Spring onions and cucumber, cut into julienne strips
180g plain flour (sieved)
150ml HOT water
Okay here goes:
In a large saucepan put water, lemon, honey and soy sauce and bring to boil. Simmer quite hard for about ten/fifteen minutes.
With a sharp fork stab duck all over (be very firm) really give it a good working over. Place duck on wire rack over a deep baking tray. Ladle very hot honey / lemon liquid over duck, pour liquid back into saucepan, bring back to a hard boil and then repeat process four or five times. What you are doing here is separating the skin from the fat and also slightly rendering the fat so that it will drain away from the bird during the roasting. Also of course you are coating the duck in a slightly sweet sticky mixture that turns a lovely golden colour during cooking.
Leave duck standing for a while so that the skin dries. An hour is enough but longer is better.
Heat oven to 200C/400F, place duck in oven still on wire rack over deep tray (to collect all the yummy duck fat that drains). Roast for about one hour. Cover in foil, leave to stand for about ten minutes and then carve into slices.
Whilst the duck is roasting make the pancakes.
Put the flour into a large bowl and stir the hot water gradually into the flour, mixing all the while with chopsticks or a fork until the water is fully incorporated. Add more water if the mixture seems dry.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it with your hands for about 8 minutes until smooth. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a clean, damp towel and let it rest for about ten minutes. After the resting period, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it again for about 5 minutes, dusting with a little flour if it is sticky.
Once the dough is smooth, form it into a long sausage like roll about 45cm/18 inches long and 1 2.5cm/1 inch in diameter. Take a knife and cut the roll into equal segments, each one should be about the size of a chestnut and out of the roll you should get 18-20 pieces.
Roll each segment into a ball. Take two of the dough balls, dip one side of one ball into the sesame oil and place the oiled side on top of the other ball and sort of squish them together a little. Take a rolling pin, and roll the two balls together into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. It is important to roll double pancakes in this way because the resulting dough will remain moist inside and you will be able to roll them thinner but avoid the risk of overcooking them later.
Heat a skillet or wok over a low-medium heat. Put the double pancake into the wok or pan and cook it until it has dried on one side. Flip it over and cook the other side. They cook pretty quickly so keep an eye on them. The pancakes will bubble a little which is a good thing. Remove from the pan, peel the pancakes apart and set them aside. Repeat this process until all the dough balls have been cooked.
Steam the pancakes (preferably in a bamboo steamer) when you want to reheat them.
As any fule nose to eat this dish you dip duck meat into hoisin sauce and then place on pancake (or use a small spoon to smear some hoisin sauce on the pancake and place duck on top), add a couple of strips of spring onions and cucumber, roll up pancake and wolf down!