"Gourmandism is an act of judgement, by which we prefer things which have a pleasant taste to those which lack this quality." – Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Peking Duck

Beijing duck, also called “South furnace duck”, originated from the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Yong Le’s reign. It has nearly 600 years of history and chefs are trained to roast the ducks using the traditional method – 焖炉烤鸭 (stew stove duck, translated literally).

The newly hatched ducklings are free to to feed around the farm for one and a half months. After which, they are fed once every 6 hours, 4 times per day and night for six months. The ducks grow to 5 pounds within 60 days and are said to have the best quality meat at that moment.

Before roasting, the slaughtered ducks are washed and cleaned with their innards removed. Then air is pumped in between the skin and the meat, separating the two layers. Maltose syrup is then glazed onto the duck’s skin and air-dried. Then hot water is poured over the duck and a “water bag” is kept inside the duck’s cavity throughout the roasting process.

The temperature of the furnace is kept high at first, then low. This makes the skin crispy and tender meat. A good roasted duck should have shiny and crispy red skin, tender meat, with the correct amount of fats and melt in the mouth.

Cutting and slicing the duck is a difficult skill. Every duck should be cut into 108 to 120 slices of meat and skin (with 80% of the slices with skin attached). Each slice should be of about the same thickness and size. After slicing, the duck skeletal structure should be neat and clean.

You are supposed to eat with sliced onions, cucumber and their specially concocted sweet sauce. You spread out a piece of pancake, spread a layer of sweet sauce, garnish with onion and cucmber and then finally top it up with a slice of duck. Roll up the pancake and savour it! The crispy skin, the fragrant layer of fat and tender meat just melt smoothly in your mouth. You will crave for more skin and tender duck meat. Some places will also serve it with lotus leaf bun or a plain bun (荷叶饼或空心芝麻烧饼), the latter being shown in the photograph below.

How do you judge whether the duck was roasted well? The skin says it all. A well-roasted duck’s skin is crispy and breaks off upon biting. If you find yourself biting into a piece of skin that does not tear off and you have to keep gnawing on it, that is not of high standards.

Cutting up the duck


Slices of duck meat with crispy skin

The "pancake" (空心芝麻烧饼), sweet sauce and garnishings

The bones stir-fried in pepper and salt (椒盐)

Upon entering the restaurant, you see chefs roasting the ducks, standing and sweating outside the furnace. Each duck is roasted manually, with the chefs turning and pulling in and out a long metal skewer with the duck at the end. You even get a certificate stating the duck number of which they have sold.

You can choose to cook the bones in pepper and salt or make them into duck soup. Never miss out these good restaurants if you’re in Beijing.

Restaurant name: 便宜坊烤鸭 (Beijing BianYiFang Roast Duck Group Co., Ltd)
Address: various locations listed on their website
Website: http://www.bianyifang.com/
Photographs above are taken in 便宜坊.

A more popular known place for tourists to have duck is at 全聚德. They serve good ducks too, but at a higher price.

Restaurant: 全聚德 (China QuanJuDe Group Co., Ltd)
Address: various locations listed on their website (But we prefer the branch at 前门)
Website: http://www.quanjude.com.cn/main.php

“Traditional Peking duck starts with a specially bred duck force-fed for some days to yield a thick subcutaneous fat layer. It is dispatched, plucked and clean.

A pump is inserted into a slit in its neck and air is blown under the skin to force it to separate from the meat as far around the duck as possible, assisted by some massaging. Its wingtips are cut off and the innards removed through an incision in one armpit. The duck is then quickly scaled with boiling water to tighten its skin, then air-dried for several hours. Next, it is glazed with a sweet solution of maltose and other seasonings, and air-dried again. Just before cooking, the duck’s body cavity is filled with hot water and spices, and its rectum plugged with a piece of wood. Then, haning vertically, it is roasted for up to an hour in a brick oven over burning fruit-tree wood, during which it is carefully turned to encourage even browning. Finally, the plug and internal juices are removed, and the bronzed, shiny duck is whisked away to be carved tableside, while the skin is still hot and crisp.”

– Adapted from Lifestyle (The Sunday Times) June 27, 2010

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