Cooking Peking Duck and keeping my reputation intact. It’s tricky, Dickey.

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.

Here’s what you will need for the duck:

  • 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.

After 3 days hanging and painting, the duck is perfect and ready to roast.

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!

It looked burnt but it wasn’t, I promise. The soy and honey made the skin go very dark indeed.

While the duck is resting, steam the pancakes to warm them. Warm some plates.

It took three days to get the duck prepared. It took less than ten minutes to see it disappear.

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.

This is a true classic Chinese dish. Maybe I am mad spending three days getting it ready. Maybe not….

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.

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Latest comments
  • Beautiful duck. I think you’ve kept your reputation intact.

  • Yum! I’m not sure I’d have the patience to make this dish, but I’m sure the effort was well worth the final result. 🙂

  • Takes me 3 days to make a bread, I understand. So, there is a reason for all these Chinese restaurants to hang their ducks all over! I thought it was a form of advertisement, but apparently it’s part of the cooking process!

  • Seriously good duck even if it does look like Daffy. Also agree the pancakes are a step to far to make your own

  • Well done, looks fantastic!

  • Well done, looks fantastic!

  • I admire your patience! I’ve been experimenting with Peking Duck over the last couple of months only I cheat with a hairdryer. I counter this by making my own pancakes (which is actually quite easy). Hoping to post my recipe soon – more testing needed first though.

    • Keep me posted. If I were to be open about it I am not impressed with the very dark colour. This even though the duck was perfectly cooked. The pancakes interest me. Please include them in the post….

  • Conor, it looks amazing. The darker the “crust” the yummier! Just ask a BBQer.

  • Well done! The Peking Duck is a dish that requires so much effort and patience that most Chinese families just go out to eat it at the restaurant. Your dish looks great – right down to the uniform pieces of vegetables 🙂

  • So, what was the verdict from your friends? BTW, just say the duck went to a tanning palor before getting roasted. 🙂

    • Thankfully, they enjoyed it. It really was quite good. I love the thought opening a sun bed to reveal of a couple of rows of duck. Brilliant.

  • This looks great! Unfortunately where I live hanging a bird, even seasoned, will draw unwanted critters!

  • That looks really good – and you have encouraged me not to do my cheat version which basically just involves roasting it, I will try the hanging and painting – thank you.

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