My most recent delve into the kitchen was to make a Peking Duck from scratch. I was inspired by an article I read in McSweeney’s Lucky Peach Magazine. In it, the classic scene from A Christmas Story was described where the Farkas family, their Christmas turkey having been eaten by the Bumpus’ hounds, retreats to the only restaurant open on Christmas Day, Bo-Ling’s Chop Suey Palace. There they are warmly entertained by the owner and three well-meaning and enthusiasticly singing waiters until their makeshift holiday dinner is brought out. “Chinese turkey” is the name the entree is given, but the dish featured in that iconic scene is Peking Duck.
It is not a quick dish to make, as it takes about a week of preparation, but each step is fairly simple, and the recipe I used spells out each phase with delicious clarity. The recipe detailed in Lucky Peach calls for 2 whole ducks, but my fridge space is limited, so I thought it was safer to start with just one duck to get my bearings.
Ingredients for the Duck, itself:
- 1 roughly 4 lb. duck
- 1 cup Maltose (this is malt sugar, which I was unable to find, but an online authority informed me brown sugar was an acceptable substitute, so I used that, instead)
- 1/4 cup Soy Sauce
Ingredients for the Duck Sausage:
- 1/2 cup of duck leg meat
- 1/4 cup duck fat, cold
- 6 T. pork fatback (salt pork or bacon can be substituted)
- 1/2 t. ground black pepper
- 1/8 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t. ground star anise
- 2-1/2 t. minced garlic
- 1/4 cup Sake, cold (any brand you like)
- 2-1/2 t. salt
- 2-1/2 t. nonfat milk powder
- 2-1/2 t. Curing Salt (This is also called Pink Salt – as the ingredients in the salt mixture aid in keeping the meat’s reddish hue. I wasn’t able to find this locally, but some research informed me that Kosher salt is a great substitue, although the lack of ruby toned meat was a tad disheartening)
Step #1: First, you must remove the wing tips – these make the best wings you’ve ever had, and the single portion makes them even more indulgent. Next remove the legs. After that, I cut off the backbone where it meets the rib cage to result in what is referred to as a “crowned duck” This piece of the carcass can be frozen & used to make yummy soup at a later time. Then remove the meat from the legs, seal it in a handy storage container, and toss it in the freezer to chill.
Step #2: Take all of the ingredients for the sausage and place them in a food processor until a smooth paste forms. When the sausage is mixed to your liking, put the mixture right back into the freezer until it’s time to stuff.
Step #3: The next part of the recipe calls for one large pot of salted boiling water on the stove, and a large vat of ice water close by because the next step involves dunking the bird into the boiling vat for 10 seconds, then plunging it straight into the ice water until it is cool (it only takes a few seconds). Do this two more times, then you’re ready to set the bird on a resting rack over a sheet pan & stuff the breasts.
Step #4: Time to get intimate with this bird. Take your fingers and wiggle them around to create a cavity between the skin and the breast meat. The goal is to make a pocket, so try not to completely separate the skin from the bird. The skin will hold the sausage close to the meat & help to stretch out the skin as it cooks, which will make you drool as you see it tighten and darken as it roasts in the oven. You are sooo going to love this! I used a Ziploc sandwich bag as my piping tool. I scooped the duck sausage mixture into the bag, squeezed the air out, then cut one tip off of the bottom corner of the bag. Direct the tip of your piping bag into the cavity you created under the skin and insert half of the sausage mixture into each side. I ended up with a little more than the bird could handle, so I cooked up the extra into little duck meatballs & had a snack after the bird was prepped. Delicious!
Step #5: Now that your duck is stuffed, we get to paint it with flavor. This is a very basic Teriyaki glaze. Mix the Maltose or Brown Sugar and Soy Sauce in a sauce pan (or a bowl in the microwave for a minute or two), until the sugar melts into the soy sauce. Then, using a pastry or basting brush paint the sugar-soy mix all over the duck. Let it sit for about 15-20 minutes & glaze it again. After this is done, make a space on a shelf in your fridge and leave the duck, UNCOVERED in your fridge for two to five days. For the germ-phobic out there, this is not as scary as it may seem. Allowing the duck to remain open to the air will dry out the skin and the sugar-soy mix will discourage bacterial growth, provided it is not contained. Mr. A is always worried about possible food spoilage, and our other food taking on the flavor of my experiments, so I put a new container of baking soda in my fridge the same day to keep any unpleasant odors from mixing.
Step #6: I was only able to hold myself back for three days before insisting the duck be cooked. You can grill it on a rotisserie, but it was cold here, so I opted for the Oven. I transferred the amber toned duck to a roasting pan with a rack in it and I baked it at 475 degrees for 50 minutes. It started getting a little dark, and I was afraid it would burn from all the sugar , so after 30 minutes, I put a casserole dish full of water on the rack beneath it to humidify the oven (a handy trick my grandmother taught me).
I let the the gorgeous bird rest for about 20 minutes, even thought the recipe only called for 10 minutes, because I have learned the hard way that if you cut into a roasted bird too early, you will end up with a dry, unfortunate mess of a meal, which will leave you disappointed and unsatisfied.
Here is the final plated dish –