Something You Should Eat: Peking Duck

January 26, 2010

I've always love the ceremony and procedure involved with ordering and then devouring an order of Peking Duck. The ducks are typically air-dried, to keep the skin crisp, while also being submerged in a dark, sweet concoction of soy, vinegar and Chinese spices, before being roasted in a large, vertical oven. This allows the fat to drip off and keep that exterior from becoming too flabby.

dolinsky 01

Most Chinese restaurants serve the duck in two or three courses.

Round 1: A skilled server wheels out a cart to show your table the whole duck, then summarily slices off thin wedges of skin and meat onto a platter - they will also serve some pickled daikon radish or carrot alongside, perhaps a little scallion, a small bowl of sweet hoisin sauce and a few thin, moo shu pancakes to wrap everything up into. The game plan is to schmear some hoisin onto the pancake, place the duck skin/meat onto it, then top it off with some scallion or crunchy vegetable, before wrapping up the package, burrito-style.

Round 2: The duck carcass is returned to the kitchen, where it's scraped of all meat and skin; those bits and pieces are then tossed in a wok with chopped vegetables to make a fried rice of sorts.

The final course involves dunking that remaining carcass of bones into a pot of water, and making a clear soup (round 3) to aid digestion.

dolinsky 02

One of the reasons I love the version at the newly re-opened Sun Wah BBQ in Uptown so much (not only because the ducks are expertly-prepared) is because instead of the flimsy pancakes, they use the Taiwanese gua bao, a kind of soft, puffy bun that is shaped like a coaster on steroids, split in half. When you schmear on the hoisin, place the duck meat and skin onto it and then top it off with the pickled daikon and carrot. You have what is quite possibly the most delicious duck sandwich in town. The bao has been used for years by David Chang at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, where he uses pork belly instead of duck. I could easily pop three or four of these sandwiches into my mouth in one sitting.