I feel like there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the preparation of Peking duck.
At most good Chinese restaurants you have to order it at least a day ahead if there’s any hope of getting it on your table. This has to do with the fact that there is a very narrow bridge of time in which the duck can be enjoyed as intended–that is, with supremely crispy skin and liquid fat.
So Chinese restaurants aren’t trying to annoy you when they ask exactly what time you will be enjoying your duck, they’re trying to protect your eating experience, which I think is great. No self-respecting Chinese cook would ever leave Peking duck just sitting around. In fact my mother had this spasm of annoyance with me when I interrupted her process to take these pictures. So if the photographs are not up to their usual standard, blame the perfectionism of an exquisite cook.
We’re not claiming to be Peking duck experts at my house, but it always turns out pretty damn good. My mother will pick up a whole duck at a Chinese barbecue (we get ours at the Sam Woo Chinese BBQ restaurants in Los Angeles.) Wherever there’s a good population of Chinese people, there will be a good Chinese barbecue, and they will have whole ducks. The skin will not be crispy, so put it in the oven at 375 for about an hour until it crackles when you touch it. Crank the heat up to 400 if 375 doesn’t cut it.
And then the accoutrements… Steamed buns, hoisin sauce, and green onions. Or you could just eat the duck by itself, which is really quite yummy.
These pictures were taken at the end of summer before I left for school. My whole family got together and the spread was pretty remarkable…it included all my favorite Chinese foods. Spicy fish stew:
And whole shrimp, Shanghai-style, with ginger, green onions, and soy sauce:
I have to say that as a cook, I’m intimidated by every one of these recipes. Yes, even the cucumbers. Because you have to spend a lifetime cooking these dishes to get them right, to strike the perfect flavor balance. My mother and my aunt never measure, so trying to get direction from them is out of the question. The best I can do is watch and eat and enjoy and try to learn. When I do, I’ll be sure to let you in on the secret.