My sister, Nicki, and her family are visiting us now. It is their first trip to Asia and they are so excited, about everything! Their enthusiasm is so refreshing. It has been quite a shock to me to realize how jaded we have all become after only 8 months. The boys are particularly disdainful of anything ‘touristy”.
Except, that is, for Peking Duck. We take all our guests for this treat and no one is happier than Hunter and Jack. When I ask what they want me to make for dinner they always say Peking Duck. Sadly I am not skilled enough to make it my self, nor do we have the proper oven.
Roast duck has been around since at least 500AD in China, but it wasn’t until the late Ming Dynasty (1600 ish) that the dish we know and love became an imperial banquet staple. By the Qing Dynasty it was inspiring poetry and a favorite of the upper classes. Quanjude Restaurant in Beijing has been serving Peking Duck since 1864.
While lots of restaurants through out the world offer Peking duck, aficionados say it must come from Beijing. Because of the ducks! These adorable white ducks run around farms for the first 45 days. (Pretty sure these are the ones Chowder barks at every morning). Then they are force fed for the last 15 – 20 days before they are killed.
Air is pumped into the cleaned duck to separate the skin from the underlying layer of fat. This is what makes the skin so crispy! Different restaurants have slightly different techniques, but basically the outside of the duck is coated with a molasses type mixture and the cavity is filled with water. The duck is placed in the oven to steam cook from the inside and slow roast from the outside. They are cooked for about 45 minutes in an oven heated by burning fruitwood. There seems to be lots of debate as to which is the best type of wood with some arguing jujube, gaoliang, peach or pear. Some places use closed brick ovens and in others the ducks are hung from hooks in big open ovens.
The Chinese waste nothing and this is especially true of the duck. While you wait for your duck you can order all sorts of special bits… heart, feet with or without bones, necks, liver, gizzards, and the particular delicacy, duck tongue. I am the only one in our family who tries any… love the liver, not wild about the feet, too chewy!
The duck is served with much pomp and circumstance… a chef in tall white hat and a mask over his face comes out and carefully slices the duck at your table. 108 slices is rumoured to be the optimal number. A perfect piece has both skin and meat and a thin layer of fat. Although they always present a few pieces of pure skin, which you eat first, after dipping it in coarsely ground sugar.