Peking duck, sliced for serving
|Literal meaning||"Beijing roast duck"|
Peking duck is a dish from Beijing (Peking) that has been prepared since the imperial era. The meat is characterized by its thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is often eaten with spring onion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings. Sometimes pickled radish is also inside, and other sauces (like hoisin sauce) can be used.
Duck has been roasted in China since the Southern and Northern Dynasties. A variation of roast duck was prepared for the Emperor of China in the Yuan dynasty. The dish, originally named "shāo yāzi" (燒鴨子), was mentioned in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages (飲膳正要) manual in 1330 by Hu Sihui (忽思慧), an inspector of the imperial kitchen. The Peking roast duck that came to be associated with the term was fully developed during the later Ming dynasty, and by then, Peking Duck was one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. The first restaurant specialising in Peking duck, Bianyifang, was established in the Xianyukou, close to Qianmen of Beijing in 1416.
By the Qianlong Period (1736–1796) of the Qing dynasty, the popularity of Peking duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish. For instance, one verse of Dūmén zhúzhīcí, a Beijing local poem was, "Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig". 
In 1864, the Quanjude (全聚德) restaurant was established in Beijing. Yang Quanren (楊全仁), the founder of Quanjude, developed the hung oven to roast ducks. With its innovations and efficient management, the restaurant became well known in China, introducing the Peking duck to the rest of the world.
By the mid-20th century, Peking duck had become a national symbol of China, favored by tourists and diplomats alike. For example, Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State of the United States, met Premier Zhou Enlai in the Great Hall of the People on July 10, 1971, during his first (secret) visit to China. After a round of inconclusive talks in the morning, the delegation was served Peking duck for lunch, which became Kissinger's favourite. The Americans and Chinese issued a joint statement the following day, inviting President Richard Nixon to visit China in 1972. Following Zhou's death in 1976, Kissinger paid another visit to Beijing to savor Peking duck. Peking duck, at the Quanjude in particular, has also been a favorite dish for various political leaders ranging from Cuban Fidel Castro to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Two notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this dish are Quanjude and Bianyifang, both centuries-old establishments which have become household names, each with their own style: Quanjude is known for using the hung oven roasting method, while Bianyifang uses the oldest technique of closed oven roasting.
Raising the duck
|Literal meaning||Beijing Stuffed Duck|
The ducks used to prepare Peking Duck originated in Nanjing. They were small, had black feathers, and lived in the canals around the city linking major waterways. With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area. Often these barges would spill grain into the canals, providing food for the ducks. By the Five Dynasties, the new breed of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers. Nowadays, Peking Duck is prepared from the white feathered Pekin duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica). Newborn ducks are raised in a free range environment for the first 45 days of their lives, and force fed 4 times a day for the next 15–20 days, resulting in ducks that weigh 5–7 kg (11–15 lbs). The force feeding of the ducks led to an alternate name for the animal, Peking Stuffed Duck (simplified Chinese: 北京填鸭; traditional Chinese: 北京填鴨; pinyin: běijīng tián yā).
Cooking the duck
Fattened ducks are slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and rinsed thoroughly with water. Air is pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fat. The duck is then plunged in boiling water for 1 to 5 minutes, and then hung to dry. This will tighten the skin and help the duck to achieve its traditional crispy texture. The duck is then glazed with a layer of potentially spiced and flavored maltose syrup, and the inside is rinsed once more with water. A marinade of traditional flavorings, including soy sauce and five-spice powder, and more maltose, is then applied inside the body cavity. This will flavor the duck during the next step. The duck is then left to dry for between 24 hours and several days in a cool, dry place (or a refrigerator). The drying allows the skin to crisp while roasting. It is then roasted in an oven until the skin turns shiny brown. While roasting, hot water is added to the body cavity as needed to ensure even cooking and tenderness. Some preparations involve the duck being smoked with fruity woods.
Peking duck is originally roasted in a closed oven (Chinese: 焖炉), and Bianyifang is the restaurant that keeps this tradition. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles (Chinese: 箅子; pinyin: bì zi). The oven is preheated by burning Gaoliang sorghum straw (Chinese: 秫秸; pinyin: shú jiē) at the base. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked through the convection of heat within the oven. Controlling the fuel and the temperature is the main skill. In closed-oven style, duck meat is combined well with the fat under the skin, and therefore is juicy and tender.
The open oven (Chinese: 挂炉; literally: 'hung oven') was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty, and adopted by the Quanjude restaurant chain. It is designed to roast up to 20 ducks at the same time with an open fire fueled by hardwood from peach or pear trees. The ducks are hung on hooks above the fire and roasted at a temperature of 270 °C (525 °F) for 30–40 minutes. While the ducks are roasting, the chef may use a pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30-second intervals. In open-oven style, the fat is usually melted during the cooking process, so the skin is crispy, and can be eaten separately as a snack.
Almost every part of a duck can be prepared afterwards. Quanjude Restaurant served their customers the "All Duck Banquet" in which they cooked the bones of ducks with vegetables.
The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the duck skin is served with sugar and garlic sauce as dip. The skin tastes better while remaining warm, but it will cool down fast. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes (simplified Chinese: 春饼; traditional Chinese: 春餅; pinyin: chūn bǐng), spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Several vegetable dishes are provided to accompany the meat, typically cucumber sticks. Some restaurants offer watermelon radish sticks as alternative. The diners spread sauce over the pancake. Traditionally, the pancake is wrapped around the meat and spring onion, then eaten by hand. Cucumber sticks are eaten as refreshment between Peking Duck rolls, but can also be rolled in the pancake. The remaining duck (鸭架) can be cooked in three ways. The traditional way is to be cooked into a broth. The meat together with bones can also be stir-fried with sweet bean sauce, or rapidly sautéed and served with salt and Sichuan pepper (椒鹽). Otherwise, they are packed up to be taken home by the customers.
Whole Peking Ducks can be ordered as takeaways. The ducks can be reheated at home with an oven, grill or boiling oil. When an oven is used, the duck is heated at a temperature of 150 °C (300 °F) for 20 minutes, and then at 160 °C (325 °F) for another 10 minutes. The grilling method involves filling the duck with boiling water before placing it on a griddle, 70 cm (28 in) above the cooking fire. The boiling water is replaced every 3–4 minutes until the duck's skin is piping hot. To reheat the Peking Duck with oil, the duck is sliced into thin pieces and placed in a strainer held over a wok of boiling oil. The duck is then rinsed several times with the oil.
A number of restaurants in Beijing specialise in Peking Duck. Examples include Quanjude, Bianyifang, Changan Yihao (長安一號), Dayali, Beijing Xiaowangfu (北京小王府) and Dadong Kaoyadian (大董烤鴨店). Some restaurants, in particular Quanjude and Bianyifang, have long histories of serving high quality duck that they are now household names, or Lao zihao (老字號), literally "old brand name". In addition, Quanjude has received worldwide recognition, having been named a China Renowned Trademark in 1999.
Crispy aromatic duck
The duck is first marinated with spices, then steamed until tender, and finally deep fried until crispy. The meat has less fat and is drier and crispier compared to that of Peking Duck. Crispy aromatic duck can also be seen in the United States, usually served with buns rather than pancakes.
In Germany, some Asian fusion restaurants also serve crispy aromatic duck (Knusprige Ente), sometimes also labeled as Peking Duck (Peking-Ente, also Pekingente). The duck is marinated with spices and deep-fried, served together with stir-fried vegetables (Wokgemüse) over fried noodles or with rice.
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