Peking Duck Is Not Fast Food

peeking duck Just for the record: I’m not a big fan of duck or goose meat. This is not my recipe and I have not tried making this version of roast duck.
I do from time to time roast a fat duck or goose, but being a lazy old guy, I use a simple glaze made from honey and a small bit of orange zest, balsamic or wine vinegar. I tightly stuff the duck with quartered sweet apples, potato wedges, onion, and celery. This helps to keep the duck from drying out during the roasting process.

roast duck Source The Guardian Word of mouth blog by Tim Hayward for the Guardian.
How to make Peking duck
Making a deliciously crispy, umami-rich peking duck isn’t quick, but it is worth the effort. Are you fan enough to give it a try?

The Chinese have been roasting ducks for centuries, but, like many set-piece specialties, the recipe for peking duck only really became set in stone with the arrival of restaurants for international travellers in the mid 19th century. Large scale banquet dining is an important part of Chinese culture and peking duck, with its long preparation and rituals of service is a popular course at a big celebratory meal.

Most fans of Chinese food are used to “crispy fried duck” where the spiced and slow-roasted meat is shredded and served with pancakes, spring onions, cucumber and hoisin sauce. Though the meat of the peking duck is eaten with the same trimmings the skin is served separately as a first course with a dipping sauce and the carcass is used to make a broth to be served with rice towards the end of the meal.

After glazing the ducks were originally roasted by dangling them in a pot oven, not unlike a tandoor, after the main fuel of aromatic wood had burned out to leave a slow residual heat and the merest hint of fragrant smoke.

The method I’ve outlined in the following recipe replicates most of that process using ordinary domestic kit, though if you have the time, the inclination and the gear, it would be nice to add a brief sojourn in a cold smoker.

Note: From a Chinese grocery, pick up a duck hanging hook if you can find one. It’s just a couple of light butcher’s hooks attached to a metal ring and a handle – you can knock one up yourself out of a coat hanger in 2 minutes – but the real thing is cheap, authentic and makes the job a whole lot easier. While you’re there, pick up a jar of maltose. This is a basic syrup of malt sugar, a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. It looks and adheres like some sort of lethal epoxy but caramelises beautifully and is about a quarter as sweet as either regular sugar syrup or honey.

1. Trim the legs and wings of your duck back to the first joint. Remove any fat from the cavity and check for any remaining feather stubs. Slide your fingers under the skin and loosen all over. You can, if you wish, insert a bicycle pump and blow the skin loose. The only real advantage of this is that it allows you to make weak jokes in a bad Michael Caine voice about “blowing the bloody skin off”. By the time you’ve finished you’ll have a skinny bird with an alarmingly loose covering of skin. You can make up your own joke for this stage.

2. String your duck onto whatever hanging device you’ve arranged and then bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add 150ml white vinegar then take off the boil and plunge the duck in for 10 seconds. Hang the duck back up and allow it to cool for a minute or two. Repeat this process five times.

3. Grind 5g each of salt, star anise, orange peel, ginger, cinnamon, szechuan pepper and a couple of cloves and use to powder the cavity of the duck.

4. Either hang the duck in the blast from a fan or leave it uncovered overnight on a rack in the fridge. This will dry the skin.

5. Melt 200g of maltose in a pan with a little boiling water and stir in 50g each of rice vinegar and dark soy sauce. If you haven’t got maltose use honey or golden syrup and omit all but a teaspoonful of water.

6. Paint a layer of the glaze onto the duck’s skin and allow to dry in the air from the fan. Repeat the process until you’ve built up a substantial, toffee-like coating (again, this can be done in the fridge). Your duck should now look as bronzed and glossy as an ex-governor of California.

7. Put some boiling water in the bottom of the roasting tin and place the duck in a 390 degree(200C) oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 320 degrees(160C). Avoid the temptation to peek for at least the first 10 minutes.

8. After an hour and a half the duck should be perfect. Allow to cool for a little to settle the juices and let the glaze harden. If you want to shred your duck meat, restaurant style, allow it to cool completely, refrigerate overnight and then reheat in a slow oven before shredding the meat with forks.

9. If you want to be a little more authentic – and trust me this version is worth it – serve thin shavings of skin and fat with just the smallest amounts of meat, along with pancakes, plum sauce and spring onions. Save the rest for a stir-fry course later.

The duck skin is much less treacly than the stuff we’re used to in restaurants with surprisingly subtle flavours. Much of the fat will have cooked out but that which remains makes an awesome combination with the umami glaze and the rich dipping sauce.

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4 responses to “Peking Duck Is Not Fast Food

  1. I thought that to make Peking Duck you just put it into a pot and leave the head and neck hanging out from under the lid so it can peek out.


  2. You’re not kidding about non-fast food. This makes me want to search out some really good duck (cooked by someone other than myself!)


  3. Peking Duck was one of my favorite dishes when I visited China.

    It was a short list 🙂

    I did TRY a bite of the pickled wasabi duck feet that came with it (on one occasion), but they just weren’t my cup of tea.


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