Peking Duck


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!

Peking Duck

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

The sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons sugar

12 scallions
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.

Mandarin Pancakes

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.

61 thoughts on “Peking Duck

    • Hahahaha I know they’re so cute!!! I had one pancake that included the green onion brush, but it was a bit too much for me. I think a few sliced green onions would be better, personally.

  1. Nicely done Mimi. I’ve eaten Peking duck more than once, but never tried to make it. I might just have to give this a go. I love the crisp skin.
    I also remember that Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook set. Was it one of those that was like a book club that you received a new book every few weeks?

    • It might have been like that, I don’t remember. They were around for as long as I was aware of cookbooks. Even as a kid I loved looking at the hardbound version. For that reason, I’ve always wanted to go to Cape Town, and finally in 2020 we’re going to go!

  2. Just gorgeous! I haven’t had Peking duck in ages. This looks completely manageable, and I hope to make it one day. (Actually, so much simpler than I expected!) But first, I need to make my own hoisin sauce (that dreaded garlic is everywhere!).

    • Oh righttt….. I always forget about garlic. Damn. Even in hoisin sauce? What a pain. I’ve never looked at a hoisin recipe. Is that manageable?

    • Probably because, like me, your life got more hectic! Now that the idols are out of the house, there’s no excuse not to make some more involved recipes, something I have to remember myself!!!

  3. Oh man, I totally remember how books used to come in sets like that. Whatever happened to those sets? I’m guessing the internet has something to do with it. Either way, that sounds like an awesome set of cookbooks! I have never made Peking Duck, but you make it look so easy in this recipe! Also, I totally get how cooking styles change once you have a little one in the house. I still love to spend hours on a recipe, but I just don’t get to do that as much anymore. Bread baking is a perfect example of something that’s gone by the wayside…for now.

    • The sets were long published before the internet. In fact I remember reading something by Craig Claiborne who was bemoaning the fact that they’d rushed through writing and publishing the books. He was one of the authors. They had the idea and ran with it, maybe a bit too fast. But I still like them, and it definitely helped my mother and I both international cuisines that we may not have become familiar with otherwise. The “problem” with kids at home is that they want to help you cook, which is great, but I never let them in the kitchen when I was cooking for other people, which made me a bad mom, but ew. Mostly I could get that kind of cooking done when they were in school. That’s one big reason I started the blog, to cook things that I haven’t cooked in a while, to challenge myself occasionally (not fun!), and to also show that home cooking isn’t rocket science!

  4. Great post! I’ve had this dish, but only in restaurants. Never made it myself. Heck, never THOUGHT about making it myself! Now that I see your recipe, though, I’m thinking about making it myself. :-) That’s a great set of cookbooks, BTW — they’re really good.

    • Love those cookbooks. And I definitely stiff refer to them. The beef bourguignon in the provincial French cookbook is one I will always go back to – it’s so good. The duck is easy, but like I said, time consuming. Begin in the morning and you’ll have peking duck for dinner!

    • You are so welcome! Duck is pretty wonderful, but if you have a Chinatown where you live, you probably don’t need to make it!

  5. We love Peking duck. The hard part is roasting it such that the skin is crispy and nicely brown-ed — looks like you did a great job. I haven’t made it in a while as there is a restaurant in Amsterdam that serves the best Peking duck; they even used to have a Michelin star for it. They also serve a soup made from the leftover bones of the duck (a clear broth with sliced mushrooms and scallions).

    • Oh that sounds good. I probably wouldn’t make anything Asian if I had Asian restaurants where I live. Especially Thai, because those fresh ingredients are the most impossible for me to find. Drying out the duck seems to have really helped with the crisping. It’s a great technique.

    • I love those books, and there are some recipes that I won’t even make from other cookbooks because they’re just so good and meaningful to me!

  6. An amazing looking dish! I have always wanted to make Peking duck, but I was also intimidated by the work involved and by the hanging of the duck mostly. But I am so sure it is worth the trouble, so I might actually make it someday.

    • The hanging things does sound and look weird! And I don’t have a cool dry place anywhere in my house, because we’re quite humid here, so I just hung it over my stove. They even suggest using a fan. But the technique works; the skin was wonderfully crispy!

  7. Mimi, I have that entire Time-Life cookbook collection too. Well,all of the books are on a shelf in my parents’ house, but my mom wanted me to have them. And one day when I have the shelf space at my house, I’ll move them over. For now, I think my dad likes having them around. :-) And the duck! Delicious! I will have to carve out time for this recipe and I know it’ll be well worth it, and fun, too. Thank you!

    • It is a fun recipe for friends, because it’s sort of interactive. And it’s so good. I hope you get those books on your own bookshelf one day!

    • Mine weren’t terribly round, but good enough! It’s amazing how good they are just made with flour, water, and sesame seed oil!

  8. I am so delighted that Peking duck “popped into your head”… I have served this at home with a shop bought duck from one of the many Chinese food outlets we enjoy in Sydney….but I see that, where as this is a long process, it is not difficult and I am keen to give it a go. I have a duck in the freezer and this is it’s destiny!

    • Oh, that’s wonderful. Although honestly, I’ve been to your gigantic Chinatown metropolis and would probably shop and eat there if I lived in Sydney. But it is fun to make at home.

  9. Beautiful! I love it. I have never made Peking duck. I can’t wait to give it a try. The crispy skin looks amazing! Yum!

  10. I love dishes like this – a few pretty simple ingredients make some magic! Looks and sounds like time well spent! I’d love to give this a try sometime!

  11. We LOVE duck over here!! I always let mine dry out overnight in the refrigerator, but trying your method/recipe next time. Sometimes I think the best part of roasting a duck is the duck fat at the end. That stuff is liquid gold!

    • Oh definitely! So maybe you weren’t raised on all of the stuff most American kids were raised on either?!! Peking duck is pretty darn good!

  12. Hi Mimi! I love Peking duck but I have never actually made it. But you have just inspired me with your recipe. How amazing that you worked your way through recipes in all those cookbooks of Time-Life Foods of the World. Thanks so much for sharing!!

    • Oh, did I make so many recipes. Those were the years! Interspersed with working and children, but I persisted!

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