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Peking duck vs Cantonese duck

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I'm sorry that my Chinese-food reference library isn't particularly good. I don't know if that's my fault or if the books just aren't out in English. Either way, I resorted to asking the lady at the Chinese restaurant I order a lot of takeout from. She's an industry veteran and knows a lot about Chinese high cuisine even though the restaurant she works in is rather generic. In any event, she said the Cantonese roast duck doesn't have air pumped into it to separate the skin from the duck the way Peking duck does. She said there are sauce and serving differences too. And she said the whole point with Peking duck is to eat the skin, whereas Cantonese duck is about the meat. This all may or may not be correct. Perhaps someone who really knows can chime in.

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Peking Duck is a style of duck preparation as noted above, which is served in the classic manner as 3 separate courses: the duck skin folded into pancakes; duck meat stir-fried with vegetables; and duck bones boiled for soup. It's prepared by first tieing off the neck of the duck with string, inserting the nozzle of the air pump into the neck opening and then inflating with the pump until the skin separates from the flesh. The duck is then scalded and hung from a hook for the skin to dry. Then the duck is coated with a mixture of boiling water, vinegar and maltose and then left, still hanging, to dry completely for 10-12 hours. Then the duck is roasted until the skin is a deep brown color and very crisp. The skin is removed from the meat and served with steamed pancakes. (Marcella Hazen adapts this recipe somewhat in a recipe for roast duck where you first scald the duck and then blow dry it -- the pores open from the scalding and then the blow drying draws out all the fat. The duck comes out with very crispy skin.)

Cantonese duck is roasted, glazed duck. This is the duck you see hanging in the windows of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. First the duck is salted and rubbed with white rice wine. A marinade of bean sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and cilantro is placed in the body cavity of the duck, along with ginger, scallions, star anise and cinnamon stick. The duck is then roasted until well cooked and glazed, and served chopped into bite-sized pieces with the juices.

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Back when I was working at a law firm in Midtown Manhattan, we were right near this place called Maple Garden Duck House that served (and may still serve) the best Peking duck I know of. If you went there to eat they would do the whole elaborate tableside presentation of the duck and slice the skin up with what looked like a straight razor. They didn't do the three course thing, though I think it was available upon request. In any event, we rarely got to go to the restaurant, so we ordered the Peking duck as a takeout item fairly often when we were working late into the night and had the ability to order on the firm's account. It wasn't cheap, and this place was fancy, so when they did takeout it was fairly elaborate. The Peking duck came in approximately eleven different containers. The meat was sorted by type and each type was packed separately. There were also various sauces, pancakes, scallions, etc. Quite a trip. Me and one other guy probably ate $1000 worth of Peking duck in a year.

Gray Kunz once did a riff on Peking duck where he served duck in multiple courses. Of course it's not uncommon in France to get it in two courses (they serve the breast and take the legs back for further cooking), but this was way more Asian. I can't remember all the permutations but I do remember the stir-fry-type course as being quite amazing.

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Thanks Toby, I think you answered my question about the differences conclusively. It's been interesting watching from the sidelines. checking all the replies. I was clueless to the answer, so I couldn't contribute any more.

I wonder before the air-pump days, how people pumped air below the skin to make Peking Duck? Do some people in China still make the Peking duck the old fashioned way(no air pump used)?

BTW, if people here don't know Gray Kunz had a stint working in Hong Kong running a kitchen. Maybe that's where he got his duck dish.



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I should add that many places claim to serve Peking duck (the Chinese dish), but generally don't add the third course, or they combine the first two courses together (both meat and skin served together with pancakes). The usual method of eating the pancake course is to dab a pancake with a little hoisin or plum sauce, add some scallions, some sliced skin (and/or meat) and fold it up, etc.

If you do order PD, be sure to find out if the restaurant in question serves all three courses.


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Though he is Swiss, Kunz was raised in Singapore, and there's little room for doubt that his palate was heavily influenced by this early exposure to Asian cuisine.

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I wonder before the air-pump days, how people pumped air below the skin to make Peking Duck? Do some people in China still make the Peking duck the old fashioned way(no air pump used)?

Perhaps they adapted the design of the forge bellows they used from Iron work into hand models?

-------- Found on Google ----------------

Iron smelting in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) made further progress, as indicated by the appearance of various kinds of furnaces, the use of refractory materials and bellows which were made of leather and powered by human strength. Bellows drastically increased the temperature of the furnace, and further promoted metallurgy.



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Cantonese duck is roasted, glazed duck.  This is the duck you see hanging in the windows of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown.

I'm not convinced that Cantonese duck is glazed, and I thought Peking Duck was.

A common menu item in the UK is "Cantonese Aromatic Crispy Duck". This has a matt surface to the skin. The duck is shredded off the carcass and served in make-it-yourself pancake rolls with hoisin sauce, spring onion and cucumber strips.

Other common items are Cantonese Roast Duck with Plum Sauce, and Braised Cantonese Duck. Both of these have similar skin to the crispy duck.

I would assume therefore that the term "Cantonese duck" has little definitive meaning as a menu item.

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The best version of this dish i ever tasted, by far, was at the Quanjude Restaurant in Beijing. It's namesake is where the dish was supposedly popularized 100 years ago. Here's everything you wanted to know about Peking Duck

Note they say nothing about blowing air in the skin. The oven seems to be one of the main factors in good results.

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This would have been a good discussion on the Chinese v. French cuisine thread. The linked article above traces Peking duck back to the mid-19th century and follows its development back to the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), with cites of contemporary cookbook recipes.

In Chinese Gastronomy, the Lins say: "Peking duck is one of the justifiaably famous stars of the cuisine. Because the flavor is very simple and fragrant, even children and other people with undeveloped palates like it. Its appearance is simple, and its presentation always follows the same order: first the skin, then the meat, then the soup from the bones. The skin is crisp and fragrant, but not oily (yu-er-bu-ni). The meat is tender and juicy, the soup rich and sweet with cabbage. The making of it has become a small branch of Chinese gastronomy in itself. ... The skin is the most important part of the duck. In order for it to be crisp but not fat, it must be dry. Air must be introduced between the skin and the flesh. In China, fowl are often eviscerated through a small opening under one of the wings.... Air is pumped into this small opening, so the duck balloons out. This permits faster drying of the skin.... The duck is hung up to dry for at least 24 hours in a cold, stiff breeze. The purpose of this is to permit drying of the skin, which then pulls away from the meat. This dish is a result of the cool and crisp Peking weather, which allowed the duck to be hung in this way when raw."

In the linked article it says, "The preparation of the dish requires a series of complicated steps, which include inflating the unbroken skin so that it roasts just right."

I think "glazed" may not have been the right term for the Cantonese roast duck we get in the West, which is sort of sticky and dark. (I borrowed "glazed" from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's recipe in The Chinese Kitchen.) In the traditional method, the duck is scalded, air may or may not be forced between the skin and meat, and the duck is hung to air-dry; following all these steps, the skin probably would be glazed, as in Peking Duck. The distinguishing feature of Cantonese roast duck is that the marinade is "stuffed" inside the body cavity, which is then sewn closed. The marinade seasons the meat deeply during cooking and allows the duck juices to collect and enrich the liquid seasonings into a very flavorful sauce. After roasting the sauce is poured out and served over the carved duck.

Cut-up roast Cantonese duck is also used (after roasting) as the main ingredient in a lot of braised dishes. At a wedding banquet I once ate roasted, then braised duck with various pieces of seafood, pork, chicken, dried black mushrooms and greens in a dark sauce.

There are many wonderful duck dishes in China, such as Szchuan Crisp Spiced Duck, in which the duck is flattened by breaking the major bones and then the flesh is separated from the bones (although the bones aren't removed). The duck is rubbed with salt and Szchuan peppercorns and marinated overnight with soy sauce, sugar, wine and scallions. It's cooked in a sealed vessel placed in a pot of boiling water for 2 hours, drained, and then fried very slowly in oil, allowing the duck fat to be fried out and the bones to become brittle. At the end, the skin is dull, not shiny. It's served with ribbon rolls and Szchuan pepper and salt mix.

Other duck specialties include Duck Steamed in Wine, Shanghai Duck (red cooked and then glazed), flavor-potted duck (deep-fried and then red-cooked), Crisp 8-Treasure Duck (a boned duck stuffed with 8 ingredients, including sticky rice, duck-liver sausage, dried mushrooms, ham, and gingko nuts, is first steamed and then deep-fried), Pressed Duck, Steamed Duck with Preserved Fruits, and Tea Smoked Duck (Shanghai, duck is smoked in Dragon Well Tea).

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I wonder before the air-pump days, how people pumped air below the skin to make Peking Duck? Do some people in China still make the Peking duck the old fashioned way(no air pump used)?

Perhaps they adapted the design of the forge bellows they used from Iron work into hand models?

Or maybe they just blew.

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