Peking duck

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: easy

‘… As kids we remember on Saturday night the house would fill with the scents of Chinese cooking. This was the start of WDC.’

Pete
'Dad's cooking has it's origins amongst the dusty old Chinese cook books he bought in the 80's...'

What you need

1 whole Chinese roast duck

Rice (75g per person)

Choy sum or pak choy (2 or 3 pieces of each per person)

Oyster sauce

Chiu Chow Chilli Oil

Duck sauce (see duck sauce)

Soy sauce



Dad's Recipe Tales

The secret of eating in a Chinese restaurant

After a day out in London with the family, we will usually wander up Shaftsbury Avenue to find a small unassuming Chinese restaurant we know. This place is consistently busy with Chinese customers – a good sign of quality.

On arrival, irrespective of the ground floor seating status, we’re ushered downstairs. The basement of this restaurant is a virtue of necessity: an impossibly small space which has been miraculously transformed into a functioning dining room. This feat has been achieved by scaling-down every aspect of its design and structure. For taller, larger people, such as myself, it can feel like a Gulliver’s Travels film set. To everyone’s amusement, I stoop to the table and then attempt to squeeze into the miniature booths. This well-worn routine always gets the meal off to a good start.

We’re given an over-sized ‘English’ menu; the type which goes on for several pages listing hundreds of numbered dishes. From this menu can be ordered any one of the ubiquitous takeaway-style mixtures of miscellaneous vegetables, noodles and meats in various thickened sauces (all very good). But in the past I noticed that the locals were given a smaller ‘Chinese’ menu (in Chinese) and ordered food that appeared less complicated. The dishes featured more singular ingredients; platters of whole deep fried fish or crispy noodles; individual plates of green vegetables; or simply cooked (and un-sauced) dishes of prawns, roast pork or duck. It looked like normal meat-and-two-veg family eating.

Keen to learn more about the different menu protocols, I respond by trying to negotiate a similar ‘Chinese’ offering with the waitress. The ensuing arm-waving, gestures and charades are extremely protracted, very awkward and painfully embarrassing. I’ve finally learned that there is a limit to the range of food that can be ordered using hand signals and have now lowered my expectations. Nevertheless, I continue to order ‘off-menu’ whenever we’re in a Chinese restaurant.

The aim is always the same – it doesn’t have a number – just a bowl of plain rice; either a dish of roast duck, or roast pork; or a plate of pak choy or choy sum. If my communication skills are going well I might try to order the crispy noodles.

How Dad Cooked It

Peeking roast duck is best left to the professionals. I have made it at home. It takes a long time and is delicious. But it will be impossible to replicate the quality of a commercial Chinese roast duck. Most normal households will not have the required equipment, conditions or raw materials: air pumps for separating skin from carcasses and unique clay wood-burning ovens; convenient windy hanging spaces for air drying over several days without the risk of attack by passing flies, dogs and cats; ducks fed on a rich diet of maize, sorghum, barley and soybeans; or the malt sugar…

  1. If you are still determined (as I once was), then follow Ken Hom’s simplified version from his book, Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery. Bathe the duck by spooning over a boiling mixture of lemon, honey, soy sauce and rice wine. Do this for quite a while, until the skin is completely coated and the shrinks from heat of the liquid. Hang to dry in front of a fan for 6 hours or more and then roast in a very hot oven for 15 minutes – and then at a cooler temperature, for just over an hour, until the duck is cooked and fat rendered. Make a sauce from the drippings using chicken stock.
  2. OR go to Chinatown and buy a roast duck. Make sure you get your pot of sauce. (See duck sauce.) While you are there buy choy sum – not yet available in supermarkets. You may be able to negotiate a roast duck from a Chinese takeaway or a Chinese restaurant offering takeaway. Chinese or oriental grocers may sell roast duck. The larger out-of-town stores certainly do. If they do not have fresh roasted ducks they probably will have frozen roast duck. These are boned and excellent value. They also taste authentic.
  3. Re-heat your duck gently. Make your own duck sauce (see duck sauce).
  4. Cook the rice according to the instructions. Steam the vegetables until tender, add a little oyster sauce over the cooked vegetables.
  5. Serve the duck, rice and vegetables with soy sauce or duck sauce.
  6. For a lick of heat serve with Chiu Chow Chilli Oil.

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