Ode to Peking Duck
Duck, how are you so fatty and juicy,
Yet with a skin so crispy?
You taste delicious with green onions and sauce,
Or even by yourself, like a boss!
Okay, okay, I’m done. I won’t torture you anymore with my bad “poetry.” I just felt a sudden need to exalt Peking Duck, ’cause you know what? It’s that good.
For those of you who have never heard of it or had it before, let me give you some background. The dish comes from Beijing and has been prepared since the imperial era (!). The first restaurant to specialize in it was Bianyifang in 1416, which is still operating today. Some more fun Peking Duck trivia is that supposedly Henry Kissinger was served Peking Duck during his first, and secret, visit to China in 1971, it became his favorite, and the next day, the Americans and Chinese released a statement inviting President Richard Nixon to visit China. All of which is to say that some people consider Peking Duck as one of the factors behind the resuming of positive relations between the U.S. and China, but I’ll let you decide that one.
In regards to the preparation, ducks are bred specifically for this dish, and the cooked duck is traditionally carved in front of diners at restaurants, rather than being done in the back or kitchen. The meat is to be eaten in pancakes along with scallions, cucumbers, and sweet bean sauce/hoisin sauce. All of that is exactly how they serve it at Peking Duck House in Chinatown. If you’re like me and have never seen a whole duck carved before, it’s definitely a sight to see.
At Peking Duck House, there are a variety of Peking Duck dinner options for $31 per person with a minimum of four people–basically, you get the duck, appetizers, soup, and entrees. Seeing as it was just the two of us, we ordered the duck itself and that’s it. I actually asked the waiter if that would be okay for two people, and he quickly assured me that it would be fine. What I don’t think he understood was that I meant would that be too much food for two people, but he interpreted as me asking if it would be enough to share. Long story short, there was SO much food and despite stuffing ourselves, we still had plenty leftover. On their website, they say, “this dish is bountiful and best enjoyed among friends and family,” so yeah. Unless you’re planning on taking home leftovers, bring a crew to eat this.
I’m sure there’s some technique for how to properly roll the duck pancake, but I do not know it and do not care. I was way to eager to dig in and started piling up everything in the thin pancakes and eating it like a taco or burrito, the only way I know how. It was really everything that makes duck great–tasty, crispy skin + tender and juicy meat + a good amount of flavorful fat (actually, probably some of the fattiest duck I’ve ever had). Oooh mama! The only thing is that I’ve heard that traditional Peking Duck is served with more skin in proportion to meat and with thinner, smaller wrappers, but at the end of the day, I’m no Peking Duck connoisseur and it was still a very yummy meal.
Before you leave the restaurant, consider asking for the duck carcass to go. Yes, I’m serious! It’s totally okay to ask that here, because they know and understand that it can be used to make soup or broth. Now, I didn’t do this, seeing as my friend and I had some other events and places to be afterwards and I didn’t want to carry around some duck bones with me, but it is a customary practice. And based on how the meat tasted, I’m sure that would make for some very delicious soup.
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