The earliest records of the Chinese cooking Peking Duck go back to the 14th century. They say that in more recent times, Henry Kissinger enjoyed the Peking Duck so much that he went to China a second time. On that trip he set up the historic visit by President Richard Nixon and the rest as they say, is history. Tricky Dickey subsequently suffered severe reputational damage when he tried to suppress the reporting of goings on in the Watergate Building. His good name, like the origins of Peking Duck is now ancient history. My worry is with more recent and personal concerns – my own culinary reputation.
Could I replicate that 700 year old dish to a standard that would satisfy my old friends PB and his wife W? They were due to dine with us and I had only 72 hours to produce Perfect Peking Duck. I know PB a long time. His reputation goes before him. He knows his wine. He knows his food. Most importantly, he know his duck. Was three days enough time for me to get this just right? I did not want my reputation down the sink and my skills being discussed in a parking garage in Washington.
- 1 duck
- 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons of honey
- Kitchen string
- A paint brush
- A garden shed, parking garage or similar cool place.
72 hours to go
Take the duck and place it on a wire rack in the sink. Pour a kettle of boiling water over the duck. Pat it dry inside and out. If you can, gently lift the skin away from the flesh of the duck. This will help it get really crispy later on. Some people do this by blowing air between flesh and skin. Tie the duck by the legs and hang it in a cool place like the parking garage. Mix together the soy and honey. Paint the duck with the mixture. Go about your business.
60 hours to go
Paint the duck with the mixture. Go about your business.
48 hours to go
You are getting the hang of it by now. Do this again at 36, 24 and 12 hours on the countdown. For me, this has involved sneaking out to the shed in my dressing gown just before bed and before my breakfast in the mornings. The end result is sweet crispy skinned duck ready to roast. Stab the bird on the upper side (the side that will be the underside when roasting). This is to release some of the fat as it roasts.
3 hours to go
Prepare the carrot, spring onion and cucumber. Perfect Peking Duck needs perfect presentation. The vegetables need to be cut into uniform slices, matchstick thin and about 8cm (3 inches) long. If you want to b a hero of Woodward and Bernstein proportions make your own pancakes. I buy mine in the Chinese supermarket.
Less than 2 hours to go
Now for the tricky part. Roast the ducks at high heat (220 centigrade) for 10 minutes. Turn it down to 180 and roast for a further 45 minutes. Remove and let them rest for 10 minutes. A baking tray is essential to catch the fat.
Don’t leave it in too long on the higher heat, like I did. Or your duck will come out with a very dark skin indeed. Like mine did, damn it!
While the duck is resting, steam the pancakes to warm them. Warm some plates.
Carve the duck and then cut it up into small pieces, for putting into the pancakes. Spread some Peking Duck sauce on a pancake, add some duck, some crispy skin, some spring onion, carrot and cucumber. Roll it up and enjoy.
Henry Kissinger enjoyed it enough to bring his boss half way around the world for a second helping (or so they say). I’ll bet the chef who cooked his did not blacken the skin. I’ll bet his reputation is intact. Like I said, it’s tricky, Dickey.