Peking Duck, the crowning jewel of Chinese cuisine, is a culinary masterpiece that has dazzled palates for centuries. This iconic dish, renowned for its crispy skin, succulent meat and delicate flavours combines culture, custom and culinary artistry.
The roots of Peking Duck can be traced back to ancient China, where it was first savoured as a sumptuous imperial delicacy. Its origins are thought to date to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), where the dish was served at the imperial court, primarily in the capital city of Dadu, known today as Beijing. Legend has it that Peking was once reserved exclusively for the emperor’s table!
Over time, Peking Duck became closely associated with the Ming Dynasty, as its preparation and presentation style began to resemble the dish we know today.
The technique of preparing Peking Duck is as intricate as it is time-honoured. It begins with selecting the finest ducks, known as Pekin ducks in the United States, which are bred to be larger, meatier, and tender. The duck is then air-dried, a meticulous process that can take several days. The air-drying process is vital for achieving the coveted crispy skin; one of the dish’s defining features.
The next stage involves seasoning. A blend of ingredients, often including sugar, salt, and various spices, is applied and the duck is then left to dry further, allowing the flavours to infuse the meat and skin.
When ready, the duck is roasted in a special oven at a precise temperature. What sets the cooking apart is the use of fruitwood in the roasting process. This imparts a unique, smoky flavour to the duck, elevating its taste to a level of sophistication.
The presentation of Peking Duck is an art form in itself. The duck is traditionally carved tableside by a skilled chef. The goal is to create thin, delicate slices of meat with a layer of crispy skin, a true visual and gustatory delight.
Peking Duck is usually served with thin pancakes, often referred to as lotus leaf buns, along with condiments like hoisin sauce, thinly sliced scallions, and julienned cucumbers. The diner assembles these components into a delightful duck-filled bundle, creating a harmonious blend of sweet, savoury, and crispy elements.