I wouldn't want you to be confused by the post-ultra-pre-modern decor and sleek matte vibe as you make your way into the Peking Duck House on Mott st in NYC's Chinatown. This simply can't take you away from the fact that the Duck is fabulously authentic and delicious in every way. They re-create, as much as possible, the way the dish was done in its inception in Beijing in 11 A.D. So pay no attention to the nouveau wood paneling, the slick table scapes, the forks on the tables. This is the real deal Duck done right at the Peking Duck House. Even the music is authentic Bette Midler's Beijing hits.
First things first, the very best ducks start by using, well the very best ducks of course! The restaurant sources the ducks, farm raised, from Long Island - minus the attitude. And unlike most long islanders, they are not force fed, and they are indeed free range. The idea being the happier your animal is in its lifetime the better he tastes after the fact. A way of life I can truly believe in. Basically the best life ever with just one bad day. So once they're fat and happy enough they're taken aside and alleviated.
I'm going to pause there. I want you to know that I thought at great lengths about my word choice for this very important step. I just felt it important that my readers (both of you) knew that.
Once on the other side of alleviation the duck is plucked, massaged, melted and blown. So a normal Thursday night in Chinatown.
Let's break that down step by step:
The plucked part is self explanatory.
The massage. This is making room for the air. A few steps later the duck is going to be blown up like a balloon. The massage is separating the meat from the tendon from the ligament and from the bone to make room for the air. The reason you inflate the Duck is so there's no wasted skin. Think about a BBQ chicken wing. Go on, think about it. Underneath the wing is a lot of wasted skin. If the chicken were to have been blown up with air there would be more surface area therefore allowing the wing to be cooked crispy. But before you go off blowing chickens let's get back to our Duck.
The melting. We have to melt out the fat first. The Duck spent months getting fat just to be melted out. This is done for several reasons. One being that if you didn't melt it out, He would be entirely too fatty. Another being that the Chef adds no oil or butter to this dish. Mr. Duck comes to the party with his own. (Don't we all! Some of us more than others). The chef holds the Duck sideways over a pot of steam water, slowly turning Him making sure the fat melts out evenly.
I'm going to pause here once again to tell you that this is the exact same set up they had at my first weight watchers meeting.
The inflation. Brhuuoomph. That's the exact science term that is used to describe the noise made when He's blown up with compressed air. Brhuuoomph.
Now we cover the Duck from His beak to His feet in maltose which is the by-product of making beer. It is germinated wheat barley. The very high sugar content is pulling out any moisture, helping to flavor Him as well acting as a preservative in the process. Obviously this dish predates refrigeration. How awful would it be if refrigeration had been invented 100 years earlier? Pretty damn awful! We would be missing out on some of our best foods. I'll save that thought for another Blert. Oh that's what I'm calling these blogs...Blerts!
So, the Duck is slathered in beer byproduct from His top to bottom (again just a normal Thursday in Chinatown) and hung to dry for 24 hours. Now we're cooking! Literally, now it is time to cook the Duck. First, He's hung on a pole and dipped inside the oven to cook the skin first. The super sweet and sticky maltose hits the fire and it turns that fabulous shiny and golden burnt-orange. Then He's placed back into the oven to roast all the way through.
The Ducks arrival to the table is met with the appropriate oohh's and aahh's. After we give the Chef, who prepared our Duck from start to finish, a nice well-deserved round of applause, he begins the carving. Let's take a moment to acknowledge that watching the master chefs at Peking duck house carve is like watching a virtuoso play the violin. Except the music coming from the chefs instrument isn't playing musical notes. This song is no less sweet but far more juicy. A meat filled symphony if you will, and I will!
The Chef carves the skin first and neatly piles the pieces around the outer edge of the platter. Next the meat is carved and placed onto the center of the same platter forming a mosaic of gold tinted browns and shiny bronzes of Duck meat.
At this point the waitstaff takes over and starts assembling the dish but not before one final round of applause for our chef as he tucks his knife away and heads back to the kitchen.
A mandarin wheat pancake (made from scratch in-house of course) is topped with the best hoisin sauce I've ever had. Seriously! I'm not usually a fan of hoisin sauce as a general rule it's mostly too saccharine sweet for me. But I could drink this hoisin like a martini. The hoisin is also made from scratch and is fermented yellow beans sweetened with dried black plum. Next is the meat and skin then cucumber and scallion and one final piece of skin and another dollop of hoisin and the whole thing wrapped up neatly and devoured intensely.
One final note: As I mentioned, the Duck does come out with the head still intact. So if you can make it through the entire presentation without referencing the end scene from A Christmas Story, then give yourself a well deserved round of applause as well.
Ra ra ra ra.