The last time I made Peking duck was 35 years ago.I know this because I did some serious cooking between getting married in early 1982, to when my baby arrived in late 1983.
During this time I dove head first into cooking, making my way through The Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook set. I wanted to learn how to cook, and those cookbooks were the only ones I owned, gifted to me by my mother when I got married!
There were 27 cookbooks in that set, with both International and regional American cuisine represented. The first was published in 1968. I still treasure them today.
Growing up, my mother, who was a passionate and crazily talented cook, whipped up International dishes from her set of Foods of the World cookbooks, so I was familiar with a lot of “exotic” ingredients, and fortunately not intimidated by the recipes when I began cooking seriously.
My favorite dish from the Chinese cookbook was Peking duck, served with Mandarin pancakes, hoisin sauce, and green onion “brushes!”
Preparing all of the elements, including the duck and the Mandarin pancakes, was not difficult, but it was time consuming. And I loved it.
Until the baby was born. At that point I continued to cook a lot, but I couldn’t make recipes that took hours of preparation. No more Peking duck!
Fast forward to 2019. Peking duck popped into my head. I have no idea why. So, it’s been so many years since I’d made it, or enjoyed it. Time to fix that!
1 – 5 pound duck
6 cups water
1/4 cup honey
4 slices peeled fresh ginger root, 1″ by 1/8″ each
2 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sugar
Mandarin pancakes, recipe below
Wash the duck under cold water, then pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Tie one end of a 20″ length of cord around the neck skin. If the skin has been cut away, loop the cord under the wings. Suspend the bird from the string in a cool, airy place for 3 hours to dry the skin.
In a 12″ wok or large flameproof casserole, combine 6 cups water, 1/4 cup honey, ginger root and cut scallions, and bring to a boil over high heat.
Holding the duck by its string, lower it into the boiling liquid. With string in one hand and a spoon in the other turn the duck from side to side until all of its skin is moistened with liquid.
Remove the duck and hang it again in the cool place, setting a bowl beneath it to catch any drippings; the duck will dry in 2 to 3 hours. Discard the liquid in the wok.
Make the sauce by combining hoisin sauce, water, sesame seed oil and sugar in a small pan, and stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to its lowest point and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes. Pour into a small bowl, cool and reserve.
To make the scallion brushes, cut scallions down to 3″ lengths and trim off roots. Standing each scallion on end, make four intersecting cuts 1″ deep into its stalk. Repeat at other end. Place scallions in ice water and refrigerate until cut parts curl into brush-like fans.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Untie the duck and cut off any loose neck skin. Place duck, breast side up, on a rack and set in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the bird.
Roast the duck in the middle of the oven for one hour. Then lower the heat to 300 degrees, turn the duck on its breast and roast for 30 minutes longer. Now raise the heat to 375 degrees, return the duck to its original position and roast for a final half hour. Transfer the duck to a carving board.
With a small, sharp knife and your fingers, remove the crisp skin from the breast, sides and back of duck. Cut skin into 2 by 3″ rectangles and arrange them in a single layer on a heated platter.
Cut the wings and drumsticks from the duck, and cut all the meat away from breast and carcass. Slice meat into pieces 2 1/2″ long and 1/2″ wide, and arrange them with the wings and drumsticks on another heated platter.
To serve, place the platters of duck, the heated pancakes, the bowl of sauce, and the scallion brushes in the center of the table.
Traditionally, each guest spreads a pancake flat on his plate, dips a scallion in the sauce and brushes the pancake with it. The scallion is placed in the middle of the pancake with a piece of duck skin and a piece of meat on top. The pancake is folded over the scallion and duck, and tucked under.
One end of the package is then folded over about 1″ to enclose the filling, and the whole rolled into a cylinder that can be picked up with the fingers and eaten.
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
1-2 tablespoons sesame seed oil
Sift flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the center and pour into it 3/4 cup of boiling water. With a wooden spoon, gradually mix flour and water together until a soft dough is formed; on a lightly floured surface, knead it gently for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle about 14″ thick. With a 2 1/2″ cookie cutter cut as many circles of dough as you can.
Knead scraps together, roll out again, and cut more circles.
Arrange circles side by side, brush half of them lightly with sesame seed oil and, sandwich wise, place the unoiled ones on top.
With a rolling pin, flatten each pair into a 6″ circle, rotating the sandwich an inch or so in a clockwise direction as you roll so that the circle keeps its shape, and turning it once to roll both sides. Cover the pancakes with a dry towel.
Set a heavy 8″ skillet over high heat for 30 seconds. Reduce heat to moderate and cook the pancakes, one at a time, in the ungreased pan, turning them over as they puff up and little bubbles appear on the surface.
Regulate the heat so that the pancakes become specked with brown after cooking about 1 minute on each side. As each pancake is finished, gently separate the halves and stack them on a plate.
Serve them at once or wrap them in foil and refrigerate for later use.