Saturday, April 14, 2012

Peking Duck at the World-Renowned QuanJude Restaurant

How many times have you seen "Peking Duck" on the menu at your favorite Chinese restaurant, and wondered what made Peking Duck different from any other duck you might happen to order?  I've always noticed that at the better Chinese restaurants, Peking Duck is only sold on certain days, and you have to order in advance.  I never understood why, until I had my first taste of it in Beijing, China.
Peking Duck, or as it is now known, Beijing Duck, is a national food of China.  The famous dish originated in Beijing and has been served since imperial times.   Our host took great pride in bringing us to Quanjude, a restaurant established in 1864, and one of two most notable restaurants in Beijing that specialized in Beijing Roast Duck.
Roasted Beijing Duck is a delightful example of one of the most sophisticated arts of Chinese Cuisine. The final result is unbelieveable, the details of how it is prepared....well, it's a little more than I wanted to know.  So I'll get to that later.

Most meals with foreigners in China begin with a drink, and tonight's dinner was no different.  We all ordered the local (and by the way, the national beer) Tsing Tao. (Pardon my spelling if I got that wrong.)
We all drank our first glass of beer.  It had been a long day of work and we were glad to be in out of the cold, after a short walk and a cab ride from the trade show to the restaurant.  We had settled into an easy group of dinner companions, sometimes our Chinese hosts talked amongst themselves, sometimes they included us, sometimes the two Americans chatted alone.  The second beers arrived and our host ordered for the table.  Platters of vegetables, to be followed by the amazing, world-renowned Beijing Duck.  I wondered if it would come with it's own bodyguard.
The first dish arrived.  It was lima beans and white fish.  Notice the dish is placed on a clear glass surface.  That's a lazy susan.  The plates of food were placed on the lazy susan and then each guest took a portion with their chopsticks and placed it on their own plate.  Some of our hosts chose to eat directly from the group dish.  Double-dipping is an accepted practice in China.  You just accept it and move on.

I didn't care for this dish too much.  Have never been a fan of lima beans and the white fish was bland to the point of no flavor.  Add to that the slippery roundness of the beans, and you made a side dish that was difficult to eat with chopsticks, and disappointing by the time it got to my tastebuds.

Mr. Ma ordered this dish especially for me.  We had experienced it the day before and I loved it.  Green beans, red peppers, onions, garlic, a slight hint of soy and pork.  Simple and delicious.  Easy to stick a chop stick in it.  As a matter of fact, I liked it so much, that he gave me a recipe for it, and it was of my Easter dinner side dishes (chopsticks are optional).

Now, on to that duck!  Most restaurants will tell you it is prepared well in advance, and knowing what they do to it, I'm sure it is.  First, air is pumped into the duck to stretch and loosen the skin, then boiled water is repeatedly spread over the bird, which is then carefully dried. The dried skin is rubbed all over with maltose (I have no idea what this is, or what effect it had.  I was just told they plop it on the bird prior to roasting).  The duck is then roasted in a hot oven for a period of time until the meat is tender and the skin is crispy. I would have sworn it was spit-roasted. 
The Chef and the duck arrive to be carved tableside.  In this case, both were sizzling hot.  The initial cuts of meat are sliced thin and served on a small plate to share. 

The crispy skin is cut through to release the sizzling fat dripping down the body of the duck.  Traditionally, they serve the crispy-skin section first, with little duck involvded.  Then he slices enough small pieces of meat to fill a platter and delivers it to the lazy susan.

The duck is traditionally served with "pancakes".  These are paper-thin rice pancakes, used to wrap the duck (like a burrito) before eating.  Pancakes, green scallions, celery, sugar, garlic, fresh cucumbers, and special hoisin (ginger) sauce are all laid out on a separate platter. 

You take the elements you want, arrange them on your pancake, then add the succulent, moist, flavor-filled duck for a delicious Chinese burrito.  The combination of sugar, garlic, scallions, and duck wrapped in this incredibly light pancake, then dipped in the ginger sauce is beyond what most tastebuds can endure.  Absolutely remarkable.  This is one meal where "delicacy" is an apt descriptor for this delightful Chinese specialty.

Once most of the duck has been enjoyed, and everyone is sitting around remarking on the delectable dinner, the final course comes:  Duck Soup.
Duck Soup.  Perhaps you've seen the movie?  If so, let me tell you, the movie is better than the soup.  It is a bland broth, reminiscent of watery duck fat and nothing else.  This is one part of the duck they could keep to themselves.

I learned that the ducks used by QuanJude for their Beijing Duck dinner are very special.  Each one has it's own birth certificate (which oddly, doubles as it's death certificate), and as dinner concludes, one diner is ceremoniously served the certificate of authenticity.  It's the diner's proof that their delightful duck was bred specially for QuanJude, and was slaughtered 65 days after birth, and properly seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven.  I'm just glad there was no name on the birth certificate. 

No comments:

Post a Comment