Perhaps one of China’s most iconic dishes, Peking Duck is a special treat that can be found in Chinatowns all around the world. Peking is the former name of the China’s capital, which is now known as Beijing, but the name of the dish has remained unchanged. As we’ve recently expanded into China, and it’s one of our favorite dishes at Backyard Travel, we thought we’d cast the spotlight on this tasty treat and investigate its interesting origins.
Peking Duck was originally only the food of Chinese nobility due to the dedication and special preparation the dish requires, and was said to be the favorite of the emperors of the ancient dynasties circa 1330 onwards. Legend has it that the secret recipe and preparation steps for the dish were so closely guarded that it had to be smuggled out of the palace.
Now, China’s national dish is more affordable, but the techniques to prepare the dish remain largely unchanged and painstaking. Before the cooking begins, the prep work involved in creating the perfect Peking is extensive. For the ideal dish, the duck selected should be a young, white feathered bird around 2-2.5kg, which has been reared specifically for the process.
After plucking, the duck is thoroughly cleaned before the unique step of pumping air into the bird to separate the skin from the fat. The duck is then hung to dry out until the roasting process. During the hanging, the duck is glazed with a layer of maltose syrup. The bird is then roasted in a hung oven, which were developed in the imperial kitchens of the Qing Dynasty. These unique ovens are fired by special wood taken from only date, peach or pear trees, which give the roasted ducks a unique aroma and subtle, fruity flavor to the skin.
Once roasted, the delicious duck then goes through the carving process and is served whole on a plate for diners to share. The now-crispy skin, regarded as one of the finest parts of the dish, is often dipped in sugar and garlic sauce before eaten, while the duck meat is traditionally eaten by hand, wrapped in small steamed pancakes with spring onion and sweet bean sauce. As is the way with most Asian cuisine, there’s little or no waste and any remaining part of the bird is then used to make a delicious broth.
So there you have it – that’s the secret of Peking Duck! It also explains why it’s almost impossible to make at home…it’s certainly one of those dishes that (unless you’re a genius in the kitchen and have the relevant equipment) you can only eat in a restaurant! If you’re heading to China soon and would like to know the best places to try Peking Duck, then feel free to get in touch with our local Travel Specialist, based in China, by emailing Wayne Chen.