Crisp and Tender Roast Duck

All Chinese people love roast duck; its delicious taste is truly irresistible. There are two schools of thought regarding the cooking method of Chinese roast ducks, the Northern method and the Southern method.

The Northern School produces a yellow roast duck, which in fact, is the one Westerners call “Peking Duck” (Beijing duck). The Southern school is the Cantonese Roast duck, which is the one mostly supplied to overseas Chinese restaurants and has been thought by Westerners to be the same as the Peking Duck, but in actual fact is the Cantonese (Guangdong) duck.

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There are two kinds of Beijing (Peking) roast duck: barbecued roast duck and oven baked roast duck. The former uses a higher temperature producing a crispier skinned duck, and the latter uses more even temperature, producing a more tender meat. Barbecued duck is the more popular of the two.

There are two major obstacles to making the barbecued duck at home: the home oven is usually too small to hang the duck in, and second, the barbecued duck needs special slaughtering skills.

Usually, poultry is slaughtered by cutting under the abdomen and removing the intestines, however, the barbecued duck needs a small opening made at the clavicle, and intestines removed a little at a time. Water or soup stock is then poured into the cavity to prevent the meat drying out during cooking.

Ready-to-cook, fresh whole ducks are readily available in the supermarket or Asian grocer. You can produce an authentic Chinese, crispy-skinned and tender roast duck that tastes just like the Chinese barbecued duck, at home in your own oven. When buying the roast duck from a shop it is often greasy and you cannot be sure about how long it has been hanging there. At home, you can enjoy eating a fresh, tender and flavorsome roast duck in your own dining room.

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In this article, I will tell you how to make the ultimate, tempting-to-the-tongue crispy roast duck.
The first step is to prepare the fresh duck. Because the family oven is generally small, when buying your duck try to choose one that is no more than about 1.7 kg.

First, rinse the duck inside and out with water and remove the residual offal and excess fat. Pat the skin dry with paper towel. You will also need to dry the duck’s cavity, paying close attention to making sure the cavity is absolutely dry. This may require a bit of time as liquid exudes from the cavity and may take 3-4 attempts before it is completely dry.

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Drying the cavity helps produce a tastier roast duck, even without a variety of sauces. It is not advisable to use any liquid or creamy seasonings because when the duck is hung they will accumulate in the lower part of the duck. We are going to marinate the duck with these three ingredients:

  • 8 g salt
  • 2 g Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 8 ginger tablets

Place the spice powder and salt into a small pan, on low heat until the fragrance is released.

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With your hands, smear the hot spice and salt mixture all around the inside walls of the duck’s cavity right up to the chest. Avoid getting the mixture on the outside of the skin. Finally, place the ginger inside the cavity.

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Next, using bamboo sticks or toothpicks, ‘stitch’ up the cavity opening. The skin is quite tough, so be careful not to break the sticks or poke your hands. When sewing from the tail of the duck, start with the bamboo stick through the left side of the duck skin and then through the right side of the duck skin, repeating until the opening is closed.

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The third step is to blow up the duck skin! Blowing up the skin is done by blowing air between the flesh and skin, which makes the skin crispier when it is cooked. The best tool for this is a bicycle pump, but we did not have one at home.

My friend tried to use the inflatable mattress air pump but the pressure was too low and not effective. In desperation, My friend suggested blowing with his mouth, but I did not encourage this method. What I did was use a steel ruler to separate the flesh from skin from the neck down along the chest. Be careful not to puncture the skin.

Good separation of the duck skin makes it easy to blow up the skin with the mattress air pump. After the skin is blown up, tie up the neck with cotton string making sure it won’t leak when hung. If you are finding this step difficult, you can skip it.

Prepare a large baking pan or pot, and carefully pour in boiling water. Put the gassed duck into the hot water for 5 seconds only! This time is very critical; if it is too short, you will not achieve the right effect, and too long and oil from the skin will seep out, also losing the right effect.

You will need to move the duck around in the water, flipping it over to make sure the whole duck is dipped into the water. Do not allow water to get into the cavity. Be careful not to burn your hands in the boiling water.

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After dipping the duck skin in the hot water, it must be hung up to dry for 12 hours.

If the room temperature is cool (less than 18 C) then you can leave it hanging in the room. If the weather is warmer, you can hang it in an air-conditioned room, or with a fan (that is not blowing directly on the duck). It must be kept at or below this temperature or it will spoil. Place a pan under the duck.

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The next step is to make the crisp water glaze to brush onto the duck skin. The basic ingredients for this are water + sugar + vinegar. Here is my recipe:

  • 100 ml water
  • ½ teaspoon golden syrup or honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar

Mix in a bowl and heat in the microwave oven for a few seconds to melt together.Roast duck7

At this point, turn on your oven and preheat to 200 C.

Brush the water evenly onto the duck skin. If all the previous steps have been done correctly, the glaze will adhere easily to the duck skin. Apply one coat of glaze, wait 20 minutes and then brush on a second coat, and then again after 10 minutes, so that the duck skin dries between coats.

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Wrap the top of the limbs and the end of the neck with aluminum foil, and place the duck, breast down, on the baking rack inside the baking tray. You can line the bottom of the pan with a layer of aluminum foil to make clean up easier after it is cooked.

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Place the duck into the preheated oven at 200 C and bake for 60-70 minutes.

You will need to check the duck for the last 20 minutes or so and adjust the cooking time depending on the size of the duck and temperature of the oven. When the skin of the duck turns a deep golden yellow it can be taken out.

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Allow cooling in the pan for 5 minutes before serving. You can cut it into smaller pieces and serve accompanied with sauces, onions, and bread, rolled up together.

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I have used a combination of miso sauce, soy sauce, caramel, sesame oil four ingredients, amounts adjusted to taste the way you like it.

Chinese Peking Duck is an iconic traditional Chinese dish that you can easily make yourself at home.

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