It was a dark and stormy night and we were badly in need of a Chinese dinner fix.
Ah ha…there’s a Chinese restaurant we’ve been anxious to try, so off we went. How delighted we were to find that their specialty is Peking Duck. How disappointed we were to be presented with a just ok duck, little round puffy things that posed as Mandarin pancakes into which we could barely stuff anything, let alone roll them in the traditional fashion. Adding insult to injury these things appeared to be store bought. Missing were the thin cucumber slices that always accompany Peking Duck and instead pickled carrots found their way onto the dish.
As we lamented our plight, Oli talked about when in China he discovered and fell in love with Peking Duck. He marveled at the way it’s deboned and sliced at your table with one huge knife. He promised himself that at least once in his life he would accomplish this spectacular dish. Our fate was sealed. This was to be our next project, right down to making our own Mandarin pancakes and hoisin sauce.
Next stop was the Asian market where one whole 6-pound duck, scallions, cucumber, ginger, sesame oil and black bean paste got tossed into the shopping cart. We had the rest of the ingredients at home.
Peking Duck is not a complicated dish to make. The shiny, mahogany, crisp skin is considered the prime delicacy. To accomplish this we first washed the duck. Then let it air dry for 5 hours. Next we glazed the duck with a boiling hot mixture of sherry, ginger, honey, unseasoned rice vinegar and cornstarch. To ensure that crisp skin, we let it rest for 30 minutes and glazed it twice more each time with a 30 minute break. Then we left it to dry overnight
About an hour before we popped the duck into the oven we started making the Mandarin pancakes. You cook these babies by twos. They are brushed with sesame oil then sandwiched together and cooked in a skillet. It’s fun to simply peel them apart when done.
Our hoisin sauce was rich, thick, slightly spicy and sweet. It’s a recipe you can tweak to your liking. Slicing up the cucumber and scallions was all that was left to do. Easy peasy.
The end result? Just what our taste buds longed for. We painted our crepe-like Mandarin pancakes with our tangy, home-made hoisin sauce, then layered crispy duck skin, tender succulent meat, cool cucumber sticks and a mild biting scallion or two in the middle, then rolled the bottom up, tucked in the edges and rolled until we had Peking Duck as it should be.For the Duck
1 6-pound whole duck
7 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup sweet sherry
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons thick honey
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- Clean the duck under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and hang it in a cool draft free place for at least 5 hours. No place to hang it? Place it on a rack over a roasting pan.
- Dissolve cornstarch in 1 cup of the water. Bring rest of the water to a boil in a medium pot. Add sherry, ginger, honey and vinegar. Whisk in the dissolved cornstarch. Boil for 2-3 minutes.
- Place duck over a large bowl or pan to catch the sherry mixture as you ladle it over the duck. Make sure you cover the entire duck. Reserve the left over sherry mixture. 30 minutes later repeat the process and reserve the mixture. 30 minutes later do it one more time. Leave duck to air dry overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 F
- Place the duck on a wire rack over a roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
- Reduce oven temperature to 300 F and roast 40 minutes or until well colored and cooked through.
- Remove from oven, cover with aluminum foil and let rest about 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon black bean paste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons thick honey
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 whole star anise
Chinese hot sauce to taste
- Mix soy sauce, peanut butter, black bean paste, garlic, honey, vinegar, sesame oil, star anise and hot sauce in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cook and stir until thickened. Remove star anise.
- Bring to room temperature before serving
8 scallions, washed and thinly sliced into 2 to 3-inch strips
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch sticks
Mandarin pancakes (makes 20-24)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
- Mix flour, water and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment until combined and crumbly.
- Dump it onto a clean work surface and knead for a minute or two until well combined into a smooth dough. Cover dough with a damp cloth for about 30 minutes.
- On a clean work surface without flour, roll dough out to about a 15-inch log . Use a sharp knife to slice 20 to 24 even size rounds from the log.
- Gently flatten the rounds just a bit then lightly brush the top of each round with sesame oil. Stack 2 rounds together, oiled side together. You will have about 10-12 stacks.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll each stack into about a 6-inch diameter round. Dust off all of the flour.
- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add a pancake and cook until lightly colored on both sides.
- Remove from skillet and peel the 2 pancakes apart.
- Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and keep warm.
Now as they say in Chinese: chī hao hē hao!
Eat well and drink well!