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Ken Hom’s Classic Peking Duck

A classic recipe for crispy Peking duck by Ken Hom. This famous dish is made with deliciously roasted duck, dried and marinated with five spice and Sichuan pepper.


Peking duck is perhaps one of the most famous Chinese dishes. Its history goes back to the Yuan dynasty around 1330, when it is first mentioned by an Imperial inspector in an early cook book. I suspect the technique of roasting is Mongolian in origin.The dish remained on the Imperial menu and the first Peking duck restaurant opened in Beijing around the 1500s, when the capital shifted from Nanjing to Beijing. The fame of the dish grew in time, and rightfully so.

I think it’s probably one of the best techniques of roasting duck in the world. The preparation and cooking of Beijing (Peking) duck in China is an art form in itself.Specially raised ducklings are fed a rich diet of maize, sorghum, barley and soya bean for 1½ months before they are ready for the kitchen. After the ducks are killed and cleaned, air is pumped through the windpipe to separate the skin from the meat. This allows the skin to roast separately and remain crisp, while the fat melts, keeping the meat moist. Hot water is then poured over the duck to close the skin pores and it is hung up to dry. During the drying process, a solution of malt sugar is liberally brushed over the duck and it is then roasted in a wood-burning oven using wood from fruit trees, which gives the duck a unique fragrance. The result is a shiny, crisp and aromatic duck with beautiful brown skin, moist flesh and no fat.

Preparing Beijing (Peking) duck is a time-consuming task, but I have devised a simpler method that closely approximates the real thing. Just give yourself plenty of time and the results will be good enough for an emperor. Traditionally, Beijing (Peking) duck is served with Chinese pancakes, spring onions cut into brush shapes and sweet bean sauce. In Hong Kong and in the West Hoisin sauce is used instead (this is very similar to sweet bean sauce but contains vinegar). Each guest spoons some sauce onto a pancake. Then a helping of crisp skin and meat is placed on top, with a spring onion brush, and the entire mixture is rolled up like a stuffed pancake. It can be eaten using chopsticks or with your fingers. This makes an unforgettable dish for a very special dinner party.

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1 x 1.6-1.75 kg (3½-4 lb) duck, fresh or frozen
1.2 l (2 pints) water
150ml (¼ pint) Chinese black rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
3 tbsp malt/maltose sugar (or honey)
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
1½ tbsp coarse salt
2½ tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 tbsp roasted ground Sichuan peppercorns
To serve:
Chinese Pancakes
24 spring onions, cut into brushes (see below)
6 tbsp Hoisin sauce (or sweet bean sauce)

Essential kit

You will need a meat hook and a fan.


If the duck is frozen, thaw it thoroughly. Rinse the duck well and blot it completely dry with kitchen paper. Insert a meat hook near the neck.

Bring the water and vinegar to the boil in a large pot. Hold the duck by the hook over the pot and, using a large ladle, carefully pour this mixture over the outside of the duck several times, as if to bathe it, until all the skin is completely coated with the mixture. Reserve the mixture. Hang the duck in a cool, well-ventilated place to dry, or alternatively hang it in front of a cold fan for about 2-3 hours, or overnight. When the duck is dried, bring the reserved water-vinegar liquid to the boil, add the sugar (or honey) and soy sauce and again bathe the duck skin and leave to dry in front of fan for at least 2-3 hours more. Once the duck has dried, the surface of the skin will feel like parchment. Mix the salt, five-spice and peppercorns together and rub this mixture evenly inside the cavity of the duck.

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas 9. Meanwhile, place the duck on a roasting rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. Pour 150ml (¼ pint) of water into the pan (this will prevent the fat from splattering). Roast for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas 4 and continue to roast for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

While the duck is roasting, make the spring onion brushes. Cut off and discard the green part of the spring onion then trim off the base. You should be left with a 7.5 cm (3in) white segment. Make a lengthways cut of about 2.5cm (1in) long at one end of the spring onion. Roll the spring onion 90° and cut again. Repeat this process at the other end. Soak the cut spring onions in iced water and they will curl into brushes. Pat them dry before use.

Remove the duck from the oven and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before you carve it. Using a cleaver or a sharp knife, cut the skin and meat into pieces and arrange them on a warm platter. Serve at once with Chinese pancakes, spring onion brushes and a bowl of Hoisin sauce (or sweet bean sauce).


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