“There’s nothing I can do to stop you,” Rory said when I laid out my plan to make Peking duck, which entailed borrowing a neighbor’s air compressor to detach the skin and fat. When I brought my duck home from the Chinese market, I realized that I couldn’t figure out where I should stick the pump. The recipe instructions in Eileen Yin-Fei Low’s Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking did not give me enough guidance. The duck was casting a gentle gaze at me in the fridge, and I had to figure out what to do with the dear bird.
I perused my Chinese cookbooks to discover a Sichuan preparation of crispy duck, which Fuchsia Dunlop says is the duck that most Chinese restaurants abroad actually serve. What I've enjoyed hasn't been roasted, but deep fried! Maybe that's why they get the duck to the table relatively quickly.My friend Carl Chu, a Chinese food expert and author of the Chinese Food Finder series , verified Fuchsia’s claim by saying that Peking duck at most Chinese restaurants are mostly made in advance and then deep-fried to refresh and serve. So I gave up on using the air compressor pump (Rory was relieved) and embarked on a weekend of Sichuan duck.
The result is this fragrant and crispy duck recipe, which is pretty easy to prepare, with exception to the last minute deep-frying. It’s not for novice cooks but you don’t have to be a master duck chef to do it either. Just be organized and have a friend assist. I served the duck on Saturday night with steamed Chinese rolls (the kind you’d serve with braised pork belly) and hoisin sauce. Rory and I made little succulent sandwiches.
Truth be told, I have never cooked a whole duck. I would have liked for the skin to be little crisper and have to tinker with the deep-frying next time. I’ll report back to you. However, this Sichuan fragrant and crispy duck recipe calls for an aromatic salty seasoning, long marinade and steaming that ensures super flavorful and tender flesh – among the best that I’ve ever had. It’s as good as duck confit. Seriously.
During steaming, a lot of the fat cooks out, which you can save for another use. The other bonus is a super concentrated stock that’s practically a hard gelatin – perfect for Shanghai soup dumplings, a noodle soup, or sauce. So I’ve not mastered Peking duck but I’ve got Sichuan duck and it’s pretty darn good. (Update on 1/18/10: See the Fragrant and Very Crispy Duck recipe for slight tweaks)
Fragrant and Crispy Duck
(Xiang Su Quan Ya)
Purchase Sichuan peppercorns at Chinese markets and specialty grocers. Asian markets have great prices on whole duck. Select one that is fresh and not frozen or thawed.
Makes 1 duck, enough for 4 as a main course
1 duck, about 4 pounds, with head and feet on
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 star anise (8 robust points)
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
5 quarter slices fresh, unpeeled ginger, lightly smashed with the broad side of a knife
2 whole scallions, cut into 3-inch lengths and lightly smashed with the broad side of a knife
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for deep frying
12 to 16 medium Chinese Steamed Rolls
1/4 cup hoisin sauce diluted with 1/4 cup water
Season and Marinate
1. Use your hand to remove the excess fat near the tail and discard. Then cut off the feet, tail, and neck (and thus the head). Then cut off the wing so that all that remains attached to the body is the duck drummette. Save these parts for soup stock.
2. Toast the salt, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, and cloves until fragrant and beginning to smoke. Let cool, then transfer to a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Add the Chinese 5-spice and process to a powder. You should have 1/4 cup.
3. Remove the duck from the refrigerator, if necessary, and return it to room temperature. Prepare a large pot of water for steaming. Find a bowl to fit into the steamer tray; make sure there’s about a 1-inch space between the edge of the bowl and the steamer tray wall.
Drain any liquid that’s accumulated in the pan. Then rub the duck inside and out with the rice wine. Put 3 slices of the ginger and about 2/3 of the scallion inside the duck. Put the duck, breast side up, in the bowl you selected for steaming. Then put the remaining ginger and scallion atop the duck. Put the bowl inside the steamer tray.
Meanwhile replenish the water in the pot, if you haven’t had to already. Carefully lift the bowl from the steamer tray and pour out the liquid into another bowl. This stuff is fabulously rich and there’s valuable duck fat. Do not discard it. Let it cool and refrigerate to separate the fat from the stock. Save it for other uses.
Put the bowl and duck back into the steamer tray and steam for another hour. There should be very little liquid that accumulates now. Once cooked and tender, let the duck cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
Air Dry and Deep-Fry
5. Careful slide the duck out of the bowl onto a roasting or cake rack placed on a baking sheet. Let the duck dry to the touch, 2 to 3 hours; put a fan on the duck to speed up the process. You can leave it out up to 8 hours.
6. To fry the duck, have a skimmer and ladle ready, and a baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towel. Rub the soy sauce all over the outside of the duck to impart a nice color. Then dust the duck with the flour, working 1 side at a time. Pat the flour and blow off excess flour. Set the duck aside.
8. Meanwhile, simmer the diluted hoisin sauce in a small saucepan for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small serving bowl and set at the table. Warm the steamed buns and have them ready for the tables.
9. When the oil is sufficiently hot, dip the skimmer into the oil to prevent sticking, then put the duck on the skimmer, breast side up. Carefully lower the duck into the oil, which will gush up with bubbles to surround the duck. Immediately ladle oil on top to evenly cook. Keep ladling on the oil and fry for about 3 minutes, until the duck is a nutty brown. Carefully turn the duck over (have a friend steady the wok, if necessary), and fry for 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove the duck from the oil and drain on paper towel.
10. To further crisp, raise the oil temperature to 400F and then refry the duck in the same manner for 15 to 20 seconds per side, until it takes on a deep mahogany brown color. Drain on paper towel (use new ones if the old ones got too greasy). Blot any excess oil away.
11. To serve, cut up the duck with the bones intact, or cut the flesh and skin off the bones. Serve with the warm buns and hoisin sauce. Invite guests to make duck sandwiches by stuffing some duck and skin into the buns and slathering on a bit of hoisin sauce.
You can boil the leftover bones, carcass and skin bits for a light broth. Leftovers are terrific and you can reheat the duck in a toaster oven. Or make terrific fried rice or stir-fries with shredded duck meat and strips of skin.
Have any tips for making crispy Chinese duck? Or do you have insights on Peking duck or Sichuan fragrant crispy duck? Share your thoughts!