After getting through deep-fried Sichuan duck, I wanted to see if I can make decent Peking duck at home. The elaborate process takes days so I hope you’ll join in the process and see what happens along the way. You’ll either laugh, cry, and/or get hungry.
Where and how to buy a duck? I don't have a live poultry shop near me so I bought my duck at a Chinese market in San Jose, California. Such a grocery store has a high turnover of duck and they are freshly butchered with the head and feet still attached. Don’t be turned off as that is how they traditionally come. Do your best to find an unblemished duck and check the packed date. They are gutted and cleaned already. The price for a 4 1/4 pound duck was just under $11 so it was a deal. Specialty grocers will charge you about $30 for a duck that's been defrosted! It pays to shop ethnic for ingredients such as this one.
I blew up a duck before for the very crispy Sichuan duck but this time I wanted to make sure I did things right. Once home I studied up again on Peking duck cookery. The key to getting crisp skin on Peking duck is apparently to blow air in between the skin and flesh so as to separate them, allowing the fat to melt away during roasting. I have a feeling there are a few other things involved but blowing up the duck was my first step and a major obstacle. How to do it? I wasn’t quite sure. I did a fair amount of research in my cookbook library, and a few of you contributed tips. Tools for blowing up the duck included:
Bamboo tube: Chinese cooks originally used a large bamboo tube and human wind power to blow up the duck but seemed like you'd need very strong lungs. That wasn’t for me.
Air compressor: There’s an informative YouTube video of Ming Tsai’s Peking duck on Iron Chef battle duck. I watched it again and was about to go over to my neighbor’s house to borrow his. However, my problem is that I’m not good with home improvement machinery. Give me a paint brush and I’m okay but no power tools. What if I set the compressor on high and blow the duck into smithereens? I’d have to drive 45 minutes to get another duck!
Bicycle pump: I don’t have one and didn’t think that my friends would lend me theirs. Ducks and tires are not the same to them.
If blowing through a bamboo tube can inflate a duck, how about using the plastic foot pump that came with my exercise balance ball? I pumped up the ball, why not a duck?
[Note that these photos combine my two duck blowing up experiments. The first time I cut off the wing joints and feet and the duck blew up just fine. You have to cut them off with minimal skin tearing to ensure that the duck inflates like a balloon. It's wiser to chop off the appendages after blowing up the duck, which is what I did the second time and prescribe below. If the image of the duck is devoid feet and wingless, pretend that they are there!]
1. I first pulled out the excess fat in the body cavity near the rear opening. Then, following a tip from Eileen Yin Fei Lo in Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, I scrubbed down the duck with table salt, rinsing it well and patting it dry with paper towel. This refreshes the duck.
2. We set the duck, breast side up, on a baking sheet atop a folding table. I sewed up the duck’s abdominal cavity with a bamboo skewer, breaking it to prevent it from getting unwieldy. The duck needs to be more or less sealed for the air to travel well.
4. Then, Rory worked the pump with his foot while I held on to the pump and directed the air flow, first left, then right. The duck inflated, showing some rather interesting 6-pack abs (see top of this post). Who would have thought that ducky was such an athlete?
6. Some air is released once the pump is removed but it remained kinda puffy. I then cut off the first two-joints of the wings and the lower part of the leg, just below the duck’s knees. With fewer dangling appendages, the duck is easier to manipulate.
5. What about the back side? Nothing was happening there. So I flipped over the duck, made another incision near the nape (bottom of the neck), and we blew more air into the back area. Peking duck is all about skin so why not loosen all that we can?
7. Finally, per Eileen's suggestion, I stuck a bamboo chopstick from one wing to the next in order to make the duck spread its arms out. That arrangement facilitates even cooking later on.
Next up: Scalding and giving the duck a tan!
- Step 2: How to scald and give the duck a tan
- Step 3: How to roast the duck
- Chinese steamed rolls (on Asiandumplingtips.com)
- Fragrant and crispy duck recipe (deep-fried Sichuan alternative to Peking duck)
- Fragrant and very crispy duck recipe (another version of the deep-fried Sichuan duck)