March 1998

Chinatown, Topsham, March 2, 1998 Ever since I was a boy, growing up in the Bay Area, roast duck has always been my favourite birthday feast. In those days, it involved a journey over the Bay Bridge from Berkeley to SF to visit to Chinatown, an exotic adventure in itself for a small boy. There we'd pick out the duck, lacquered and glistening in the steamed-up restaurant window, watch it quickly and expertly chopped up with a cleaver and packed in a white cardboard take-out box, then bring it back home to be eagerly devoured.
I still like nothing better than roast duck on my birthday, and so now does Guy. It stands to reason, therefore, that by default so should Kim, especially when Guy and I are cooking dinner for her birthday. There is not, sadly, an equivalent to San Francisco Chinatown here in Exeter, and anyway, it's more fun to make our own version of authentic Peking duck ourselves!

Guy and Marc's Peking Duck

Peking duck is one of the greatest dishes of the world and the ultimate duck preparation. It takes considerable time and patience to prepare, but believe us, it is well worth the effort and lots of fun, too. Guy particularly enjoys blowing up the duck with a bicycle pump, an essential step to separate the skin from the fat, as well as basting the duck, hanging up by a butcher's hook in front of an electric fan, for a day or so with a mixture of honey and soy sauce, the skin taking on the look and feel of parchment. For the real delicacy, of course, is the roast duck skin itself, crispy and delicious enjoyed with abit of meat, wrapped up in a homemade mandarin pancake together with spring onions, cucumber and a thin smear of plum sauce. Though you can buy the pancakes ready made, we find those are usually rubbery and disappointing, so if you are going to all the trouble of making the duck, do take the time to make the pancakes yourself too.


Mandarin pancakes

225 g/ 2 cups plain flour

250 ml/ 1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp sesame oil

Peking duck

1 bicycle pump

1 electric fan

1 oven-ready duck (about 2 kg/ 4 1/2 lbs)

1/2 cup vinegar

1 tsp coarsely ground Szechuan peppercorns

3 tsp coarse sea salt

Generous pinch of five-spice powder

4 tbsp honey

2 tbsp vinegar

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry

1/2 litre/ scant pint boiling water


About a dozen spring onions, shredded and placed in a bowl of ice water

1 cucumber, peeled and cut into strips

Plum or hoisin sauce


First make the mandarin pancakes. Sift the flour into a bowl, and add the boiling water, beating well with a wooden spoon to make a smooth and pliable dough. Knead vigorously to make the dough elastic, then leave to rest for about a half hour. Form the dough into a long roll, then cut into slices and roll out each slice into a thin pancake of whatever size you like -- about 4-6 inches in diameter seems about right. Brush one side of the pancake with sesame oil and sandwich together with another pancake of similar size. Continue until all the pancakes are rolled out and formed in pairs. Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan and cook each double-pancake for about two minutes a side. Remove and separate the pancakes, folding each in half then in half again. Continue until all the pancakes are cooked. The pancakes can be made a day or so in advance. To serve, place the folded pancakes in a steamer and steam for about 10 minutes. They should emerge deliciously chewy but fully cooked through.
To prepare the duck, insert a clean bicycle pump under the breast skin, and pump to inflate, causing the skin to separate from the fat. You may need to do this in a number of places since most ducks these days are not completely airtight! Now bring a large pot of water to the boil, and add the 1/2 cup of vinegar. Plunge the duck into the boiling water and leave for about 5 minutes. Take out, dry with a towel inside and out, rub the inside with the crushed peppercorns, salt and five-spice powder. Hang up with a butcher's hook in front of an electric fan. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: mix together the honey, vinegar, soy sauce, wine or sherry, and boiling water. Paint the duck with this mixture all over. Allow to dry in front of the fan, and repeat a number of times over the course of about 12-24 hours. The skin will dry and become the texture of parchment.
To cook the duck, pre-heat the oven to moderate (about 160 degrees C/ 325 degrees F). Place the duck on a rack over a tray of water. Roast for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours, depending on size of duck, basting with the glaze from time to time. Turn up the heat for the last fifteen minutes if necessary to bring the skin to a rich, dark mahoganey brown colour.


Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2000