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Peking duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that has been prepared since the imperial era, and is now
considered a national dish of China
The dish is prized for the 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
eaten with scallion, cucumber and sweet bean sauce with pancakes rolled around the fillings.
Sometimes pickled raddish is also inside, and other sauces (like hoisin sauce) can be used.
Two notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this dish are Quanjude and Bianyifang, both centuries-old
establishments which have become household names. The two both have their own style: Quanjude is
known for using the hung oven roasting method, while Bianyifang uses the oldest technique of closed
oven roasting.
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 "Shaoyazi"
(), was mentioned in the Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages () manual in 1330
by Hu Sihui (), 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, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416.
By the Qianlong Period (17361796) 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 of the
verses of Duan Zhu Zhi Ci, a collection of Beijing poems was, "Fill your plates with roast duck
and suckling pig". In 1864, the Quanjude () restaurant was established in Beijing. Yang Quanren
(), 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, during his first 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. Peking Duck was hence considered one of the factors
behind the rapprochement of the United States to China in the 1970s. 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 revolutionary Fidel
Castro to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Raising the 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 species of duck had been domesticated by
Chinese farmers. Nowadays, Peking Duck is prepared from the 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 1520 days, resulting in ducks that weigh 57 kg (11
15 lbs). The force feeding of the ducks led to an alternate name for the dish, Peking Stuffed Duck
(simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: bijng tin y).
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 soaked in
boiling water for a short while before it is hung up to dry.While it is hung, the duck is glazed with a layer
of maltose syrup, and the inside is rinsed once more with water. Having been left to stand for 24
hours,the duck is roasted in an oven until it turns shiny brown.
Peking Duck is traditionally roasted in either a closed oven or hung oven. The closed oven is built
of brick and fitted with metal griddles (Chinese: ; pinyin: b zi). The oven is preheated by
burning Gaoliang sorghum straw (Chinese: ; pinyin: sh ji) 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.
The 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 3040 minutes. While the ducks are cooking, the chef may use a
pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30 second intervals. Almost every part of a duck can be
cooked. The Quanjude Restaurant even served their customers the "All Duck Banquet" in which they
cooked the bones of ducks with vegetables.
Besides the traditional methods to prepare Peking Duck, recipes have been compiled by chefs around
the world to produce the dish at home.
The cooked Peking Duck is traditionally carved in front of the diners and served in three stages. First, the
skin is served dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served with
steamed pancakes (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: chn bng),spring
onions and sweet bean sauce. Several vegetable dishes are provided to accompany the meat,
typically cucumber sticks. The diners spread sauce, and optionally sugar, over the pancake. The pancake
is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand. The remaining fat, meat and bones
may be made into a broth, served as is, or the meat chopped up and stir fried with sweet bean sauce.
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 34 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.
Notable restaurants
A number of restaurants in Beijing specialise in Peking Duck. Examples include Quanjude, Bianyifang,
Changan Yihao (), Beijing Xiaowangfu () and Dadong Kaoyadian ().
Some restaurants, in particular Quanjude and Bianyifang, have long histories of serving high quality duck
that they are now household names, or Lao zihao (), literally "old brand name". In addition,
Quanjude has received worldwide recognition, having been named a China Renowned Trademark in
1999. Duck Chang's Restaurant, established in 1975 in Virginia, USA, was the first Chinese restaurant to
prepare and serve Peking Duck without a 24 hour advanced notice.
Crispy aromatic duck ( xiang su ya) is a similar dish to Peking duck. It is very popular in the United
Kingdom,[32] where it was created in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The duck is first marinated with spices, then steamed until tender, and finally deep fried until
crispy.[36] The meat has less fat and is drier and crispier compared to that of Peking Duck.