Peking duck for New Year's
I want to learn how to make Peking Duck for this year's New Year's celebration. All of my Chinese friends tell me I'm crazy to try it but beyond that, no one has any hints or tips. Do any of you hounds have some tips that you can pass along?
Be sure to read the recipe thoroughly before starting. Don't try to read the recipe the day you are going to make it becuase you will be a day too late. Peking Duck was one of my first adventures in home Chinese cooking as a young married. We were getting together with friends who had been marrried the week after we were married. It was to be a joint effort joint anniversary dinner and I was doing the duck. I got the duck out and the recipe out the morning of the dinner and eventually got to the point where it needed to be hung and dried. Oops! I ended up blow-drying that duck with a hair dryer. It took a long time. Dinner eventually got on the table and though the duck was not the best Peking duck we'd ever had the episode did not scare me off either and it certaily made me to be sure to read a recipe in advance and plan ahead!
I *just* did my Peking Duck dress rehearsal dinner on Saturday night! I've tried a lot of Americanized recipes, but decided this would be the year to do the classic preparation. In addition to making sure that you work the recipe at least once before serving to guests, look out for the following...
1. You absolutely, positively cannot make traditional Peking Duck without a WHOLE duck to work with. By this I mean that you need the head still on the duck, or there's no way to effectively pump in the air and have the skin form the "seal" to make it separate.
2. You'll want a bike or other pump that's got a pretty big volume of air to pump in, otherwise there won't be consistently high enough pressure to separate the skin.
3. This bit about pumping air into the duck to separate the skin IS THE KEY to getting the crisp texture you want. After you've salted and rinsed the duck, you have to tie it off below the slit in the neck and insert the "pin" nozzle from the pump. Do not trim any other part of the bird before this point, or you won't get the inflation you need. Keep your hand firmly around the insertion point of the nozzle to keep the deal tight.
4. Allow enough drying time after the scald (at least an hour) and glaze (at least another 7 hours) before roasting. A fan is especially helpful if you live somewhere it rains a lot this time of year (like L.A.). Like the skin inflating bit, the drying time is the other major determinant of how crisp your skin will be.
5. Keep a very close eye on the duck as it roasts, and turn it frequently. Make sure you roast directly on the rack with a water-filled roasting pan below to catch the fat.
6. Just before you put the duck in to roast, lightly pierce the shoulders and haunches (this is where the largest fat stores are) with a filet knife to help that fat render out during roasting.
7. Make sure there's someone around to help you clean up and stay sane.
Which recipe are you going to use as a guide? I use a black and decker air compressor to "blow" up the duck and separate the skin. A bicycle pump will also work but then it becomes a two person operation. A kitchen towel is very handy/necessary to get a good seal around the cavity and the neck when inflating the duck - the skin is slippery and you'll have a hard time keeping it closed/sealed as you inflate.( Even with a skewer to close the cavity.) The water under the rack while roasting is important not only to catch the fat but to keep the fat from hitting a dry, hot pan and making a smoky mess. This is definitely doable - give it a go. Will have more feedback when I find out what basic recipe you're using. Ken Hom has reasonable recipes for this....Chinese Cookery or Foolproof Chinese Cookery or one of his first books: Chinese Technique.
One other trick is to boil a huge pot of water with malt sugar, ginger, star anise and green onions. Use brown sugar if can't find malt sugar. Baste the duck with the boiling water for 10 min. The duck has to be above the boiling water. After this is done, you can hang dry with a fan.