Peking Duck – The Quintessential Chinese Dish

Beijing is famous for its Great Wall. But it is also well-known for its Peking duck, now regarded the world over as a national dish of China. Everybody who goes to a restaurant featuring authentic Chinese cuisine can be expected to ask if the dish is available. And it always is.

Sliced Peking Duck
Sliced Peking Duck

What is Peking duck? Why does it come to mind automatically when we talk about Chinese cuisine? What is so special about it?

The dish is made of duck which belongs to a special breed – the Pekin duck, scientifically referred to as the Anas platyrhynchos domestica. The duck spends its first forty five days in free-range surroundings. It then goes through the next critical phase, being forced-fed four times daily for the next 15 or so days, until it weighs about 6 kilograms. It is then said to be ready to be cooked.

Peking Duck
Peking Duck

Cooking the Peking duck is an intricate and long-drawn process. It is usually carried out by someone who undergoes training to develop the skills necessary for the process.

How is Peking duck prepared and cooked?

Upon receiving the duck, ideally fresh from the farm, the chef proceeds to slaughter, pluck, eviscerate and rinse it with water meticulously. He then pumps air under the skin to detach the skin from the flesh. He incises the flesh to remove the entrails. He uses briskly-boiling water to soak the duck in prior to hanging it up for air-drying. During this period, the chef brushes the duck with a blend of maltose syrup and a variety of spices to glaze it, and rinses the duck’s insides one more time. Air-drying takes place for at least twenty four hours to make certain that you get the crispy skin that the Peking duck is acclaimed for. After making the duck go through this treatment for a full day, the chef then proceeds to roast the duck until it turns golden brown.

Dried Chili
Dried Chili

There are two options for roasting the duck – closed-oven or a hung-oven. The former is made of bricks and has griddles made of metal. Gaoliang sorghum straw is burned at the oven’s bottom to pre-heat the oven. Right after the fire turns into embers, the duck is put inside the oven to cook ever so slowly through convection-heat.

How do you eat Peking duck in Hong Kong?

People order the Peking duck for the full classic experience of eating the exemplary dish. There are several elements which make the experience a truly memorable one. The duck itself is extraordinary. Its skin is crisp and flavourful while the meat remains succulent. Its flavours are greatly enhanced by some ingredients eaten with it – soft sweet crepes, plum/hoisin sauce or sweet bean paste, spring onion or scallion and cucumber sliced thin.

By tradition the Peking duck is carved in your presence. A waiter trained and skilled in this particular work slices the duck at your table. He does so very skilfully, with an artistry matched by the superiority of the duck he dishes out.

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He first serves you the skin, thin-crisp, for dipping in sweet garlic sauce. Then he serves the meat-slices to be eaten with spring onion and cucumber, all enrobed in pancake brushed with sweet bean sauce or hoisin sauce. You eat this combination by hand, very much like you would a burrito or a small sandwich.

You can have the rest of the duck chopped and made into a flavourful broth, or have it chopped for stir-frying with sweet bean sauce. Or you can request for the leftovers to be packed in a container for you to take home. Make sure that you go to an excellent Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong for a truly impressive Peking duck dining experience.

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