Peking duck is the national dish of China for good reason. The dish dates back hundreds of years, is associated with emperors and sitting presidents of the United States, and it takes at least two days to bake to perfection. These are just three of the fascinating facts that make Peking duck so famous in China and throughout the world.
Peking Duck and the People Who Made It Famous
Peking duck became especially popular in Beijing during the 1970s thanks to some well-known guests who dined on it while visiting China. It wasn’t long before Peking duck prepared in Beijing became a national symbol for China. The Chinese people enjoyed the praise of government officials, heads of state, and tourists coming to China from abroad.
Perhaps one of the most famous Americans to eat Peking duck was Dr. Henry Kissinger. In later decades, President George H.W. Bush and family came to appreciate a meal of Peking duck. His son, President George W. Bush, was among them. The elder Bush worked for the United States Embassy of Beijing during his 1988 to 1992 term. Since a restaurant that served Peking duck was nearby, Bush made it a point to enjoy the dish as often as he could.
The Detailed Process of Preparing Peking Duck
The most important part of creating the perfect Peking duck meal is locating just the right duck. During the time of China’s northern and southern dynasties centuries ago, the emperor would choose a white Beijing duck. This duck species was especially common in China at the time. After hunting the duck and plucking its feathers, the next step is to create an incision between the skin and flesh to pump air into the duck to remove its internal organs. Subsequent steps involved in preparing the ideal Peking duck meal include:
- Cleaning and skewering the duck with a wooden rod.
- Suspending the duck carcass with rope from the ceiling and allowing it to boil over an open flame on the stove below. This process can take several hours. Some chefs in Chinese restaurants even allow the duck to remain suspended over low flame until the next morning.
- The chef now removes the duck carcass from the rope and places it back into boiling water. The boiling process helps to tighten the skin and make for a crispier meal. Depending on the chef’s preferences, the next step could involve filling the duck with water and sewing it shut.
- It is now time to hang the duck again, this time for it to dry completely. Once the duck is dry, the chef coats the Peking duck with marinating sauce, sugar, or other ingredients to sweeten the taste.
- Suspending the duck over a large oven turned to 500 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 to 40 minutes.
Although all chefs have a different threshold for when to serve the Peking duck, the general agreement is the duck is ready for people to eat once the skin has a crispy texture and appears a dark red color.
With the 2020 holiday season officially underway, more Americans will have the opportunity to try Peking duck for the first time. That is usually all it takes for most people to become lifelong fans of the delicious and traditional Chinese meal.