It was during fall 2014 that I got the opportunity to travel to China and Beijing together with my stepfather Fredrik on a business trip. During that time I had just failed on getting accepted to Handelshögskolan in Göteborg, so my schedule was wide open. So when he asked me if I waned to come with him, I immediately said yes!
The reason for going was for us to meet with Björn, a buyer at Jack & Jones and hopefully get a deal done. However, it’s not every day that your are in China, so of course we had to do some sightseeing! And we did it all, the Chinese wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, you name it! And Björn, who’s a bit of a hipster boy, took us to some really cool bars that you had to know in order to find. And yes, I would not have gone into a dark alley on the back of a clothing store to look for a bar. But there it was, and the drinks were superb! And who would have thought that they have American steak houses in Beijing?! Well, nobody except Björn, who of course had found one.
Anyhow, one night Björn brought us to a traditional Chinese restaurant, owned by the famous Chinese chef Dadong. And evidently, he had named the restaurant after himself. The restaurant was decorated all over with blue neon lights, and outside there was a small garden. And when it came to ordering foods, Björn suggested that since we were in Beijing, we had to try the Peking duck. And holy duck, it tasted great! The rest of the food that trip was a disappointment compared to that duck, and that is saying a lot because everything else was delicious too.
The Peking duck (as it’s commonly known in the U.S.) is a famous, centuries-old dish hailing from Beijing. Whole ducks are roasted in wood-fired ovens, rendering out fat and leaving behind perfectly crisp skin. On the other hand, making a whole Peking duck at home is far easier said than done… So in order to be able to at least get a touch of the flavors from Beijing, I simplified the recipe a bit. If you like this version, you can still look forward to traveling to Beijing one day to get the oven-roasted real deal!
4 boneless duck breasts, 170-200 g each with the skin on, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1/8 teaspoon five spice powder
1 tablespoon oil
For the Mandarin Pancakes
200 g flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
160 ml boiling water
1 teaspoon oil
For the Fixings
1 cucumber, de-seeded
70 g cantaloupe
3 cloves garlic, minced and mixed with 1 teaspoon oil to make a paste
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
How To Do It
To prepare the pancakes, mix the flour and salt in a heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling hot water into the flour mixture and use chopsticks or a spatula to mix until a dough ball forms. Once it is cool enough to handle, knead the dough for 8 minutes until smooth, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover with plastic and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a dough ball, then flatten them out into a small disc about 5 cm in diameter. Lightly brush 6 of the discs with oil, ensuring the sides of the discs are also brushed with oil. Layer the remaining 6 discs over the 6 oiled discs so you have 6 pieces, each comprised of 2 discs. Use a rolling pin to roll the discs into 16 cm circles, flipping the pancakes frequently so both of the dough discs are rolled into the same size. Heat a wok or frying pan over medium low heat, and place one pancake into the pan. After 30 to 45 seconds, you should see air pockets begin to form between the two pancakes. Then flip the pancake, it should be white with just a couple of faint brown patches. After another 30 seconds, the air pockets should be large enough to separate the two pancakes. Remove the pancake to a plate, and let it cool for another 30 seconds. Now carefully pull apart the two pancakes at the seams. Place finished pancakes onto a plate and cover with a warm kitchen towel. If needed, the pancakes can be reheated in a steamer for about a minute.
For the duck, mix the salt, soy sauce, wine, and five spice powder in a small bowl and massage into the duck. Leave the duck breasts skin side up on a plate uncovered, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to marinate and to let the skin dry out. If you don’t want to wait, marinate for at least 30 minutes. To cook the duck, preheat the oven broiler on low heat. Heat an oven-proof pan over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of oil to coat the pan. Sear the duck breasts, skin side down. Move them frequently so the skin crisps up and fries in the duck fat that renders out. After 8 minutes, or when the duck skin is golden brown and a little bit crispy, carefully drain off the duck fat and discard. In the pan, flip the duck breasts skin side up, and transfer them to the broiler for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the skin, which at this point should be a bit crispy. Remove the duck from the broiler and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The duck will be cooked about medium well and will be very juicy. Transfer to a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, cut into thin slices. Serve the duck with your warmed pancakes, fixings, and sauce and mix them into a wrap.