Peking duck part 1

Happy new year, everyone! I haven’t been able to read as many of the great new year/old year posts that everyone is writing lately, because we are moving this week. It’s all a bit sudden, and we have many, many books to pack, not to mention all the other stuff. This is when I realize that i really ought to acquire/keep fewer things.

My mom is still here (poor, long suffering mom), and she was trying to count how many times she has moved in her life. She gave up — it has been that many! (Consequently, she is a real pro. Oh thank you long suffering mom for helping me with this insane move!!) She moved plenty before she got married to my dad, and things just got more interesting after that. The first place they moved to, after meeting in Paris and getting married in Greece, was Nairobi. This was in 1969.

My parents’ landlord was the owner of a bookstore, and my mother said she got a lot of great books from there, many of which we still have and some of which we are packing up this week. One great favorite that she kept with her own collection (now in NYC) was a book called Chinese Gastronomy, by Hsiang Ju Lin. It is out of print under that title, but she bought a copy for me some years ago under its new name, The Art of Chinese Cuisine (same exact book inside). It is a fantastic book, written in a calm and conversational style that is a real pleasure to read. The book is so good, in fact, that the recipes are gravy. But they are very good recipes. And that is the book that my mother has always referred to when she is getting herself psyched up to make Peking duck.  Here is an irresistible little quote, in the lengthy introduction to the Peking duck recipe: “It is very difficult to think of a comparable dish in Western cooking. It most closely resembles a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich in its distinctions between textures and delicate flavors.” I know. Just buy the book.

We made two in one week, and I have to say that it’s not so hard, it’s just that you can’t decide to do it on the spur of the moment. The reason for this is that the duck has to get really dry before you roast it so that the skin will be nice and crispy. To achieve this, you hang the duck for at least a day. We hung ours for two.  First we rubbed the inside of the body cavity with salt and hung it up for a day, then rubbed vodka all over it and hung it all day and that same evening we rubbed it with sugar water (2T sugar + 1T water) and let it hang another 24 hours before roasting it. This is more or less how the book describes it, although the process is shorter in the book. At the end of all that, we ended up with a sort of duck jerky:

dry duck

(To see what it looked like before, I refer you to the post previous to this one. You will notice that duck looks soft and flabby while this one is more wizened. You may also notice that the duck is hanging the wrong side down. This we corrected shortly after the photo was taken!)

Notice how my mom tied the wings to lift them up from the body? We did that on day two, when my mom noticed that the skin wasn’t drying much under the wings. Then you heat your oven to 375 F/180 C and place a tray with some water at the very bottom of the oven and the rack at the middle and roast the duck for about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. We found that we needed to turn it once after an hour, then turn it again about 15 minutes later, so we did it for an hour and a half. And boy does it get brown:

roasted duck

I guess some people like their duck in pancakes, but we like it in steamed buns. I will post that recipe tomorrow and show you what the duck looked like when we ate it!

My parents left Nairobi in 1970, and my mother was terribly sad. She was sure she would never go back, and I suppose it was a perfectly reasonable expectation. But we moved there as a family when I was 8, and we stayed for six years which just goes to show that you can be sure of something and feel it in your bones, but that doesn’t mean it will turn out that way necessarily.

19 thoughts on “Peking duck part 1

  1. You Mum is cool and i loved the contradiction in terms – aquiring less things -(books) you can never have too many books. happy new year!! c

    1. Happy new year! I realised after I wrote this that I encouraged everyone to buy a book right after moaning about having too many. Obviously, I agree with you. No such thing as too many!

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Oooh! What a fantastic book endorsement. Adding The Art of Chinese Cuisine to my list now!

    You duck looks amazing! I don’t think my mother would let me hang it in the house . . . or maybe she would . . . she did leave a brandy-soused turkey out for an entire day before roasting it . . .

    It looks like a super easy way to get a delicious duck too, just needs some advanced planning. Will have to try it in my own home where I have no problems with hanging meat!

    Last night, we made spare ribs strewed with kabocha squash. Tonight or tomorrow will be duck. Can’t wait!

    1. My mother wondered what the neighbours might think about the duck hanging out our window! Brandy soused turkey, now there’s a thought… And I can’t wait to hear what becomes of that duck.

  3. I love Peking Duck. When I lived in Hong Kong, there was a restaurant that had duck after duck after duck hanging in the window ready to buy. It was such a popular place that they even had a little take-away window during lunchtime. I look forward to reading about your steamed buns. Are they like Char Siu Bao?

  4. I applaud both you and your Mother for conquering Peking duck. It’s one of those dishes I never would think to try to make myself. As a result, the Peking duck that I’ve eaten — and enjoyed — is probably nowhere near as good as your homemade version. This post is a reminder that any item on a menu can be made at home … better!
    Good luck with the packing and move. Hang in there!

    1. Thanks, I need it; nothing kills joy like moving. Luckily, Baki seems to have inherited a packing gene from my mom. Plus, he’s such an optimist that he’s looking at the whole thing as an adventure. BTW, I have similar thoughts when I read about some of the things you get up to in the kitchen- at least we can experience these things vicariously.

    1. Thanks — it has been a massive undertaking, but so far so good. I think it takes a certain foolhardiness to attempt a Peking duck, perhaps, but not much aside from advanced planning and patience to succeed at it.

  5. Late to the party, but Happy New Year!

    Your Peking duck looks superb! The last time I had this was in San Francisco in China Town. I remember how much I liked it, but I was about 9 years old so the memory is fuzzy at best. 😉 What a way to start the new year. Moving is a very emotional thing for me and usually takes months of preparation. I can’t even imagine moving ‘suddenly.’ Siobhan, wherever you go I send you blessings for your family and your new home. 🙂

  6. Friends made Peking duck for us. They hung it over the kitchen sink for two days. He used a bicycle tire pump to pump air between the body and skin so it would be crispy. I do remember the end result was delicious as I’m sure yours was.

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