Duck, Duck…Duck: Peking Duck

It’s Friday night!  And you know what that means?

Chinese food.


When I first moved to Chicago and lived with Watermelon, Friday night Chinese was our tradition. We lived together for a little over three years (proof that Craigslist roommates CAN be a good thing), and neither of us wanted anything more after a long week than Chinese takeaway, fuzzy slippers, bad TV and a warm beverage to cap the night. Living on the edge.

Watermelon has since moved out, and I think Chinese for one isn’t really worth it. I find I can’t be bothered to order take out (the ultimate in lazy) and since the fruits of my kitchen are usually picked through by Friday night, dinner at the end of the week turns into cereal, toast, eggs…you get the idea.

Not tonight. Tonight, I revamp the Chinese tradition by making the lone man’s version of Peking duck.

Peking (Beijing) duck may be considered by many to be the national dish of China, distinct both in the type of duck bred specifically for the dish and in the method and preparation of the duck.  Some cooking manuals trace the dish back to the 1300s, and variations of it have appeared on imperial court menus. Quanjude is one of Beijing’s oldest Peking duck houses, established in the 1860s.  That’s really old.

The type of duck traditionally used is the Pekin breed from Nanjing, ideal thanks to its small stature, deep flavor, and relatively low-fat skin.  This lower fat content allows the skin to get all kinds of good and crispy.  No one wants a soggy duck. 


To cook it, air is forced between the skin and flesh to puff out the skin so that the fat will be rendered out during roasting and the skin will be very crisp.  Crispy is key.  The inflated bird is painted with a sweet solution, hung up to dry, roasted  and suspended in an oven.

Good for them, but I’m not doing that. Why?

a) I don’t need to eat a whole duck

b) I am too hungry when I get home any day of the week to spend days roasting and drying a duck

c) I do not own the requisite clay oven

d) I really don’t care that much.

However, I DO care about flavor, so I’m recreating Peking duck, crispy skin and all, using duck breasts. I remember a long time ago I lamented the fact that lone duck breasts were not to be found. Turns out, I was not looking hard enough, because as I glanced at the freezer case in my local Whole Foods, there they were. Frozen, skin-on and all. Perfect for my Peking faking.


Funny– as I was putting the spices together I had to double check to make sure I was not making pumpkin pie:  cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger…seriously? However, mixing all of the above with soy sauce worked some magic, and my duck came out moist on the inside, crispy on the outside and altogether lovely.  All in a little over 30 minutes.

As for a side, cabbage is quite popular. When I opened my fridge, I was sad to find I didn’t have any. Probably because I didn’t buy it. Whoops. What I did have was kale, so I roasted some kale (have you ever done that? It comes out all nice and crispy.  Again, going with the crispy theme) and dressed it simply with some roasted sesame seeds and a little of the sauce I made for the duck.  Probably not a 100% authentic side dish, but I’m okay with it. So was my tummy.  Definitely better alternative than toast.


Enough rambling. Here you go:

Recipe adapted from All Recipes


2 whole duck breasts, skin on

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ginger

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp white pepper

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 TB soy sauce

1 TB honey

1 TB parsley, chopped

1 TB mint, chopped*

2 green onions

*I had mint in the fridge, so I used it. Not at all authentic. Don’t hate.*

Ginger-Orange-Hoisin Sauce

1 ½ TB soy sauce

1 ½ TB hoisin sauce

1 TB orange juice

1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1 tsp rice wine vinegar

½ tsp garlic sauce

1.   In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, white pepper and cloves.  Sprinkle a bit of this seasoning under the skin of each breast.  Stir ½ TB of the soy sauce into the remaining spice mixture and rub evenly on the outside of the bird.  Cut one of the green onions in half and place half under each skin.  At this point you can refrigerate overnight if you want.


2.  Preheat the oven to 375.

3.  Heat a wee bit of oil in a sauté pan.  Once it’s smoking hot, sear each breast skin side down until golden brown. Only sear the skin side.

4.  Place the duck breast side up in a roasting pan and prick the skin all over using a fork.

5.  Roast for 30 minutes.  While the duck is roasting, mix together the remaining soy sauce and honey. After 30 minutes, brush the honey mixure onto the duck and return it to the oven.  Turn the heat up to 500 and roast for 5 minutes until the skin is richly browned.  Do not char the skin.

6.  Prepare the duck sauce by mixing all the sauce ingredients together, and simmer on the stove about 3 minutes until all is combined and saucy.

7.  Before slicing the duck, let sit 5-10 minutes to let the juices redistribute within. Drizzle with the sauce to serve.


Quack, Quack.

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