"The perils of duck hunting are great -- especially for the duck."Walter Cronkite
Reportedly created during the Ming Dynasty, roasted Peking duck is a cornerstone of Beijing cuisine and is considered a national dish of China.
For me, my love affair with Peking duck began approximately 20 years ago during a business dinner at one of New York’s finest Chinese restaurants. Arriving at the table whole, the duck was a rich mahogany color with perfectly crisped skin that immediately begged to be devoured.
The waiter sliced the duck right before our eyes, inviting us to wrap the tender meat and crisp skin in a thin Mandarin pancake along with Hoisin sauce and sliced green onions. The first bite brought a symphony of flavors perfectly melding rich duck with tangy sauce, crunchy skin, and zesty green onion.
Fast forward to my first attempt at replicating the dish at home. After roasting the whole duck for several hours on the grill, the skin was perfectly browned and the meat mouthwateringly juicy. When cut in to, however, the skin was still flabby and full of fat. Intent on perfecting the grilled peking duck dish, I spent several hours researching a variety of tips for obtaining the cracklingly crisp skin that is the hallmark of great Peking duck. Eventually, I settled on a series of techniques that, although time consuming, are well worth the effort.
You begin by gently working your fingers under the skin to separate it from the flesh. Next, blanch the duck with hot water in order to tighten the skin and begin rendering the thick layer of fat beneath it. After blanching, pierce the duck skin all over to help drain off the fat as the duck cooks. Then you glaze the skin with a soy, vinegar, and honey mixture for flavor and extra crispness (the honey helps with crisping). Finally, you dust the duck with a combination of baking powder and salt to help remove excess moisture while the duck air-dries for several hours before roasting.
Recipe: Grill Roasted Peking Duck
Makes. 6 to 8 servings.
Takes. 30 minutes of active prep. 6 to 12 hours refrigeration. Approximately 2 1/4 hours to smoke.
Special tools. Disposable aluminum roasting pan.
Serve with. Pinot Noir or Merlot.
1 whole duck (approximately 5 pounds)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon Morton’s Coarse Kosher Salt per pound of meat
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 scallions, thinly sliced
About the rice vinegar. This is less strong, about 4% acetic acid, than most commercial white vinegars or even cider vinegar, which are often 6% or more. Most good groceries sell it as either plain or seasoned. Get the plain. If you must use white vinegar or cider vinegar, add a couple of tablespoons more water.
About the baking powder. Seasoning duck with a combination of baking powder and salt is a technique inspired by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of SeriousEats.com. The mixture not only helps draw additional moisture from the duck but also raises the pH level, thereby ensuring evenly browned and crispy skin during the roasting process.
About the Mandarin pancakes. Sometimes labeled moo shu pancakes or Chinese pancakes, these small, thin pancakes are available at most international grocery stores. Alternatively, there are countless recipes for home made pancakes including this one from Nigella.com.
About the Hoisin sauce. This thick sweet and salty sauce is a common glaze and dipping sauce in Chinese cuisine. It can be found in the international section of most major grocery stores.
1) Prep. Remove the giblets, neck, and sauce packet from the duck’s cavity.
2) Starting on the cavity side, gently work your fingers under the skin to separate the skin and flesh.
3) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set the duck on a rack in the sink and ladle the hot water over the duck to tighten the skin, flipping it halfway through the process.
4) Prick the skin of the duck all over with the tip of a paring knife or metal skewer to help the fat drain more easily.
5) Combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and honey in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 15 seconds to liquefy the honey. Stir well to combine the ingredients. Brush the mixture all over the duck.
6) Combine the salt and baking powder in a small bowl. Mix well and sprinkle the mixture over the entire duck.
7) Refrigerate the duck uncovered on an elevated rack for at least six hours and up to overnight so that the skin can air dry.
8) Fire up. Place a disposable aluminum roasting pan in the center of the grill’s charcoal grate to avoid flare-ups from dripping duck fat. Arrange hot briquets on both sides of the pan. Adjust the grill vents to bring the temperature to about 325°F. Add 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the charcoal for flavor. If you’re using a gas grill, remove the main cooking grate and place a disposable aluminum pan on one side of the grill directly on top of the burner covers. Replace the main cooking grates and adjust the temperature knobs so that the side containing the aluminum pan (the indirect side) is off and the other side is heated enough to maintain a temperature of approximately 325°F on the indirect side.
9) Cook. Place the duck breast side up directly above the aluminum pan. Set the lid on the grill with the top vent fully open.
10) Allow the duck to roast for approximately 2 1/2 hours until the skin is golden brown and crispy and the internal temperature of the breast has reached 165°F.
11) Serve. Remove the duck from the grill. Wrap the pancakes in a layer of moist paper towels and microwave for 15 seconds to warm them and to make them easier to separate. Thinly slice the duck and serve along with the pancakes, hoisin sauce, and green onion.