Peking duck is — or was — somewhat of a mystery to me. I’ve had it a few times at restaurants that have served somewhat disappointing versions with flabby skin and so-so texture.
So, what I learned is this: Peking duck gets its coloring from a mixture of soy and maltose. Much of the seasoning is simply the result of salting — essentially dry brining. Salting — rather than brining — also ensures more crisp skin. Finally, the duck is typically hung over wood fires. Imagine the rendered fat drippings burning on the hot coals and mixing with the wood smoke to add even more flavor and color. Swoon.
So, we don’t have that setup here. A few hours of research and three ducks later, here’s a recipe that anyone can do at home.
There are two ways to cook this bird. The first uses the same method as beer can chicken. Situating the duck vertically with the opening facing down will help the rendered fat to release from between the meat and skin, allowing the skin to get more crisp.
The second option is to simply roast the duck horizontally — just as you would typically roast a chicken. Situate it breast down on the middle rack of the oven. After 30 minutes, give the duck a 1/4 turn so that a leg is positioned at the top. Roast for 30 minutes and turn the duck 1/2 turn so that the opposite leg is positioned at the top. For the final 30 minutes, roast the duck breast side up.
The goals for either method is to render the fat completely and to deeply brown the skin. Depending on your oven, this may take less than 2 hours or slightly more than two hours. It may even require modifying the temperature a bit.
If the duck is brown, but the fat hasn’t rendered as much as you like, lower the oven temperature to 250 – 275 and cook for a bit longer. If the fat has rendered, but the skin needs more browning, increase the oven temperature to 375-400 and, checking frequently and turning as necessary.
Tip: If the family isn’t too fond of duck, try the recipe with a whole chicken fryer instead!
- 1 4- to 6-pound duck
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 empty, tall beer can
- 1 recipe Mandarin pancakes or 1 package of small flour tortillas
- 1 cucumber, deseeded and julienned
- 8 scallions, sliced lengthwise (white and light green parts only)
- 1/4 cup hoisin
- Place a wire rack inside a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Dry the duck -- inside and out -- with paper towels. Place the duck on the wire rack.
- Insert fingers between the breast meat and the skin and gently separate the skin from the meat, working. Use this same process to separate the skin from the meat on the thighs.
- Combine honey, soy sauce, and rice wine in a small bowl and microwave to 15-20 seconds. Stir the mixture until the mixture is completely blended.
- Spoon the honey/soy mixture over the entire surface of the duck. Sprinkle salt evenly over the entire surface of the duck. Place the duck back on the wire rack, breast side up. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 36-48 hours until surface is completely dry and leathery in appearance.
- Adjust rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 350°F.
- Fill beer can with water. Stand duck vertically atop beer can and place on wire rack set in lined baking sheet.
- Roast for 30 minutes and rotate 1/2 turn to encourage even browning. Roast for another 30 minutes.
- After this first hour, gauge the browning process. The duck should be a deep mahogany color. Also, the fat needs to be fully rendered. So if, after the first hour of roasting, the duck is getting too brown, reduce the oven temperature to 275 for another 45 - 60 minutes, allowing all of the fat to fully render.
- If the top is doing fine as-is, simply rotate the duck a third time and roast for an additional 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 for a final 30 minutes, allowing all of the fat to fully render.
- Carefully remove duck from beer can. Oven-proof gloves are immensely helpful at this point. I've also used dish towels to help in the process. Once, I even had to enlist the help of a second person to hold the can while I lifted the duck.
- Transfer the duck to a cutting board. Allow to rest 15 minutes before carving.
- Spread pancake (or tortilla) with hoisin. Fill with cucumber and scallion. Top with a few thin slices of duck.