Peking Duck is a roast duck dish, rather than a bird. The bird of similar name is Pekin Duck. It also happens to the duck almost always used for this dish, in China at least.
The full name is of the dish is Peking Roast Duck.
The dish, which originated in north-eastern China, is really about the thin, crispy skin more than the meat. It is usually restaurant made rather than at home because of the large ovens required, and all the accoutrements that have to be prepared as well.
It is one of the very few Chinese dishes where a piece of meat is cooked whole. Still, all slicing is done by the cook for the diner, often in front of the diners, because cutting stuff with knives at a table is still seen as a bit vulgar in Chinese dining.
The breed of duck used is Pekin Duck. It’s referred to as Imperial Peking, because of how it is raised. The birds are allowed to roam free-range for first 45 days of their lives; then then are confined, and force fed four times a day. The confinement ensures that they will grow fat, without developing tough muscle through exercise. Owing to the forced feeding, the ducks are sometimes also called “Peking Stuffed Duck.”
The ducks are slaughtered after 65 days, at which point they will weigh about 11 to 15 pounds (5 to 7 kg.)
To be used to make Peking Duck, the dish, the duck’s head must be left on the carcass. The insides are cleaned out through a hole made under a wing, then the carcass is stitched up again. The carcass is then inflated with air pumped in at the neck end, between the skin and the flesh, so that the skin puffs away somewhat from the body. Puffing out the skin ensures that fat can more easily render off during cooking.
The duck is then plunged in boiling water to scald the skin, then brushed with maltose syrup, then let hang to dry for half a day.
The duck is then hung by its neck on hooks in large ovens and roasted at 270°C (525 °F) for 30–40 minutes. The sugars in the syrup carmelize on the skin during cooking, crisping the skin, and giving it the taste and shiny mahogany colour typical of Peking Duck.
The duck is then served as three separate dishes.
The three serving presentation is known as “duck three ways.”
- First, you are served thin slices of the skin with a bit of the fat underneath, accompanied by a dipping sauce.
- Secondly, you are served duck meat, with steamed flour pancakes called “mu-shi” or a man tou (a steamed bun), plus slivered green onions, hoisin sauce, and plum sauce. You put pieces of meat on the pancake (or in the bun) with a bit of sauce and some green onion, and roll it up to eat it.
- Thirdly, the remainder of the duck meat is served to you in a noodle or stir-fry dish or in a soup.
Alternatively, the skin may be served with the pancakes for the first course, the meat served with vegetables as a second course, and then a celery cabbage soup made from the duck bones as the third and final course.
In China and in Chinatowns, you can also get the roasted duck as takeaway; at home, you’d then supply the additional bits to serve it with.
Another dish, “Crispy aromatic duck” is similar to Peking Duck, but it is duck that is steam cooked first, then deep fried in oil. It is drier and crispier.
Some people like to date Peking Duck to at least the 1200s or 1300s, owing to references to “roast duck” in general, but it’s quite probable that the technique we now identify as Peking Duck didn’t emerge until at least the Ming Dynasty. That being said, it wasn’t until 1864 that a restaurant called Quanjude introduced the “hanging by the neck while roasting” technique, and the restaurant, still in business, claims to have been the place that introduced the three servings (All Duck Banquet, they call it in English.)
The Quanjude restaurant calls their Peking Duck “Quanjude roast duck.”
Nguyen, Andrea. Dine-in duck. Los Angeles Times. 29 July 2010.
Peking duck.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2011. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/448985/Peking-duck
Toussaint-Samat. Maguelonne. A history of food. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. 1994. Page 349.