Before I start I will give you the short of what I am up to. A few years back ( 6 or 7) I had the idea (cunning plan, or so I thought) to start a cookbook. The subject for this cookbook is going to be solely, utterly and entirely duck. How to handle duck, how to cook duck, what goes with duck, what different duck cooking nations (past and present) do with duck, generally how to braise, steam, roast, pan fry, crisply deep fry etc… duck.
So I dedicated the first few years to my quest of gaining the necessary information, testing of recipes, overseas research trips, writing, taking photos, eating duck in many restaurants, it was tough. But still the book is a few years (6 or 7) away from being anywhere near finished. Things (other cunning plans) just got in the way of progress.
In the meantime I give you this, the book, in very small installments. A page here and there in a very random order.
To return to the title of this post, before reaching Beijing (circa pre-olympics) I had read about a Peking duck restaurant in an original siheyuan (Chinese house surrounding an internal courtyard) in an old hutong (narrow lane ways) area south of Tiananmen square but was not entirely sure how to find it. That is until I started walking in the general direction of where I thought it was and where the hotel reception staff had pointed me. It turned out to be ridiculously easy thanks to the helpful, homemade signage. I can not tell you how excited I was rounding each street corner, following little duck drawings and arrows, and entering the dimly lit restaurant of one of the most famous Peking duck chefs in the world, and feeling like I was personally invited to his house for dinner with the family.
On entering the restaurant you pretty much run smack bang into the wood oven and on looking in the wood oven you pretty much see duck lovers utopia. A chef came out and turned the ducks in the oven then marked what he did on a chalk board. There are more ducks ready to go in the oven and even more in an old meat safe with two regular fans in the top to dry the skin of the ducks ready for roasting.
I arrived early because you need a reservation and I didn’t have one. The staff were sitting in the covered courtyard either pulling the meat off duck feet or peeling the stems of Chinese broccoli. I was seated in one of the side rooms, plastic table cloth, empty wine bottles on shelves, tired burgandy velvet cushions on reproduction antique Chinese chairs, red lanterns, holiday decorations, photos of important guests (ambassador for Greece, ambassador for New Zealand, a “talented vocalist”) I ordered the Peking duck.
My duck is being carved, I saw it come out of the oven. It comes with spring onion, cucumber, hoi sin sauce and transparently thin pancakes. The skin is so deliciously crisp and melt in the mouth, it is quite devine.
Peking duck facts
duck is fattened to about 2.5k in about 7 weeks
duck is blown up like a balloon
duck is coated in maltose
duck is dried for at least 2 hours
duck is filled with boiling water
duck is roasted in special oven for 40 minutes
oven must be fired with wood from either apple, peach or pear trees
the above takes years to perfect
The whole duck is used. After the delicious skin is eaten rolled in the pancakes the meat is made into a stir fry and the bones made into a soup. Other dishes at the Li Qun restaurant made the most of the rest of the duck, boiled salted duck liver, duck webs with mustard sauce, duck gizzard with chilli sauce or black mushrooms, sauteed duck heart with peanuts and chilli, braised duck neck….mmmmm.
Now for the at home, cheating, very easy, ‘not’ peking duck recipe.
Go to a Chinese bbq restaurant and buy a Cantonese roast duck (the ones hanging by their necks in the windows). Ask for it to be left whole. Also while you are in China town buy some pancakes for Peking duck from the freezer of a Chinese supermarket. You will also need a cucumber, bunch of spring onions, bamboo steamer, hoi sin sauce, toasted sesame oil and a sharp carving knife.
Take the bamboo skewer out of the duck and pour the juices from the cavity into a bowl. Slice the skin and a thin layer of meat off the duck in as many small slices as you can. Mix the hoi sin sauce with the sesame oil 4 tblsp sauce to 1 tblsp oil. Add a tblsp of juices from duck and stir well. Slice the cucumber and spring onions into sticks. Put the pancakes into the steamer and steam over boiling water until hot. Serve.
Peking duck noodles
1 tblsp shaoxing
1 tblsp soy sauce
½ tblsp bean sauce
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tblsp peanut oil
1 tblsp finely chopped ginger
4 spring onions, root end and bulk of green removed, sliced on an angle
1 small carrot, peeled and julienned
The meat from a Peking duck, sliced
¼ chinese cabbage, or ½ small one, sliced
Fresh egg noodles, roughly 2 handfuls, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute then refreshed in cold water
½ tsp sesame oil
1 handful of bean sprouts
2 tblsp fresh coriander, chopped
Mix the shaoxing, sauces and sugar together. Heat the oil in a wok, when smoke appears add the ginger and fry 20 seconds. Add the spring onions and fry 10 seconds, add the carrot and keep stirring for about 1 minute. Add the duck then the cabbage and stir, then add the noodles and stir for another minute. Add the sauces, a few turns of white pepper, a pinch of salt, the sesame oil and stir to incorporate. Finally add the bean sprouts and coriander and serve.