What is Peking duck?
Peking duck is a quintessential Chinese dish of bronzed roast duck with a perfectly crispy skin and deliciously juicy meat. The colour, aroma and flavour are all important for the success of the dish.
Although Peking duck is the dish which Beijing is famous for, it actually comes from Nanjing, a city hundreds of kilometres south of Beijing. In the fifteenth century, the emperor brought a version of the dish, shaoyazi or ‘burning duck’, with him when he settled in Beijing.
For ages Peking duck was exclusive to the emperor’s court, until a servant smuggled out the recipe. The first Peking duck restaurants appeared in Beijing in the sixteenth century. The dish spread to all cities and classes of the population until, in the twentieth century, it became the culinary symbol of China.
At the top of the seven-storey Quanjude restaurant in Beijing, known for its Peking duck roasted over peach wood, the dish even has its own museum.
Did you know?
In China, hundreds of new museums open every year. With museums dedicated to watermelon, socks and concrete, a museum of Peking duck doesn’t seem so unusual!
How to make Peking duck?
If you want to prepare an authentic Peking duck, you need patience. In order to achieve the impossibly crispy skin, the duck needs to be dried in its own time. Preferably in the open air, without the aid of fans or a hair dryer. (If you look for recipes on the Internet, you will actually find these shortcuts!)
White free-range ducks are raised for forty-five days and then fattened for up to another two or three weeks. The slaughtered animal is cleaned and air is pumped into it, so that the skin comes loose from the fat layer underneath. This allows the fat to melt during roasting and prevents the skin from becoming soggy. The duck is rinsed with boiling water, hung to dry, smeared with maltose syrup and hung to dry again, this time until the skin feels dry and begins to look like baking paper. Then, finally, the duck is roasted in a ‘hanging oven’ at about 200 °C.
How to eat
Peking duck is sometimes sliced, but more often shredded and served with thin pancakes, strips of spring onion, cucumber and hoisin sauce. Traditionally, in China, the whole duck is cut at the table.
Just as Peking duck is cooked in its own oven, there are also dishes from India that have their own bell shaped clay oven (the tandoor). For example chicken tandoori and naan (bread).