Almost any well executed “Peking-Style duck” from a reputable Chinese restaurant would trump a home-made version by a mile… Blowing air between skin and meat, “frying” the skin, and all kinds of processes to achieve that perfect balance of crisp skin and juicy tasty meat is the stuff of legends… But this super-easy home version of roast duck with pancakes wasn’t bad at all, and it will probably cost you a fourth of the price of sitting down to dinner in a fancy restaurant. After the recent holidays, we still had a whole duck in the freezer, just waiting to be cooked. So I decided to prepare it “Chinese-style” based on one of the simplest recipes of Nigella Lawson, here. I made a few changes and incorporated other suggestions to the recipe as described below. I kid you not, this was REALLY EASY and it was a real crowd pleaser.
First take a nice fat duck, defrost it if frozen (I did this in the fridge over two days), and rinse and dry it with paper towels inside and out. Remove the neck, gizzards, etc. from the cavity of the duck. I seasoned the duck inside with salt, freshly cracked black pepper and about 1.5 teaspoons of fresh five spice powder. You might also rub some grated ginger inside the cavity of the duck if you like I took an extra step of placing the seasoned duck near an electric fan for nearly an hour presumably to help dry out the skin’s surface (not even sure if that technically works) and for the spices to sink into the meat.
Next, place the duck on a rack in a pan, season with salt on the outside of the duck, and place into a 320F oven for 4 hours or so. Yup, you read that right, 4 hours… Ms. Lawson suggests either cranking up the heat to 450F for 15-20 minutes to brown the skin, or leave it at the lower temperature for up to 1-1.5 hours more. I did the first option. A LOT of duck fat will render out of the bird. Honestly, I actually thought TOO MUCH duck fat rendered out, and the meat a bit on the dryish side, and recommend cutting the cooking time at 320F to say 3 hours the next time, plus the final blast of heat to brown the skin. Then again, the thermostat on our oven might be running high, so just pay attention to the temperature of your oven and keep it relatively low.
Honestly, that’s it. The duck roasts on low heat for hours. The fat renders out, your home or apartment smells heavenly, and you turn the heat up at the end to crisp the skin a bit more and achieve a nice color. Take the duck out and let it rest for a few minutes before taking it to the table with the pancakes, hoisin sauce, shredded cucumber and scallions or green onions.
The skin was nice and crisp, and meat shredded effortlessly. Just use two forks to shred all the duck meat, making the assembly of the pancakes a breeze.
Because we had guests, I gussied up a nice big wooden chopping board (meant to serve lechon or roasts) with the duck at one end, a bowl of hoisin sauce, a bowl of pomegranate arils, some finely ribboned cucumbers and some thinly sliced young leeks or scallions. To get the scallions to curl, just slice thinly, soak in ice water (with ice cubes in it) and drain well before using. For the cucumber, I shredded them on a benriner (a Japanese mandoline) and placed them in paper towels and stored that in the fridge until ready to use.
To assemble a pancake, shmear some hoisin on a pancake, add some duck skin and meat (some folks like to do the first one all skin, then subsequent ones with meat) some shredded cucumber and scallions, roll this up and enjoy! The pomegranates looked like a good idea, and we had one remnant pomegranate in the fridge, but I wouldn’t do that again… they distracted from the classic ingredients and pure pleasure of biting into a pancake filled with duck, veggies and hoisin or plum sauce.
This was pretty darned good. If I had access to good pre-made pancakes, this would have gone from say a 7.5 to say an 8.50, not bad for so little effort at home. I made these on a lark, and had no idea where to buy the chinese style pancakes, so of course I thought I would try and make them ourselves…
Using a recipe also on Nigella Lawson’s site, but not posted by her or her staff, I made a simple dough, rolled that into logs…
…cut them into fairly uniform sized pieces, rolled them in my palms, and tried to roll them out to the suggested 6 inch diameter circles. First of all, it wasn’t so easy to roll them into the desired shape, but I figured even rustic looking pancakes would do fine.
Add sesame oil to one side of a pancake, lay another one on top of it, and cook in a medium hot non-stick pan, turning once when there are little patches of golden brown on the pancakes.
Once they are done, and as soon as you can handle them (they can be quite hot), you need to separate the two sides and lay them out on a plate or serving platter. It was more cumbersome to make the pancakes than it was to cook the duck! So if anyone knows where I can buy these ready made in Manila, please leave me a message below… :)
Ginger, our brown labrador, waited under the dinner table for any scraps to fall her way. Even just a teeny tiny bit of pancake please, thank you. Overall, this dinner was kind of special but was relatively easy to put together. The taste and visual aesthetics of serving the duck were impressive yet do-it-yourself at the same time. I need to tweak this a bit the next time we make it, but we are definitely doing this again soon.