The Legend of the duck 

I admit- this experience has got to be one for the books, for a multitude of reasons. For one, I have never really had a fascination for duck (even when I visited China way back in 2007 and dined at the famous Bianyifang -the first restaurant specializing in Peking duck, having being established in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416. But as time progressed, this dish grew on me having enhanced and expanded my palate over various cuisines on my numerous travels. Peking duck is a famous dish from Bejing that has been prepared since the Imperial era, and is considered a national dish of a China.

The ducks bred specially for the dish are slaughtered after 65 days and seasoned before being roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat is eaten with pancakes, scallion, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce. Having said this and being witness to the meticulous process observed by Chef Yang at China House- a restaurant designed to exude the warmth of a typical chinese home, that offers a casual dining experience with a modern approach, it was a treat in store for me. One of the popular restaurants at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, the design integrates interactive glass show kitchens into a multiple-seating layout accompanied by surrounding table booths and lounge areas. And with Chef Yang at the helm, who I believe has spent the last 10 years perfecting the art of the Peking duck, it was an opportunity to be seized.

The Duck being roasted for 45mins @ 270 degrees centigradePic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

While I was trying to be obscure in my curiosity towards the hand crafted progress of the meal, it eventually did get the better of me. I sneaked into the interactive kitchen keenly trying to observe what Chef Yang was hard at work on. He was kind enough to take me through a few nuances of the process- especially the special ‘herb water’ used to fill the duck with, to moisten it during the roasting process. This comprised of a mixture of celery sticks, wolf berries, schuan pepper, spring onions, cinnamon sticks & star anise. The uniqueness of this dish is the attention to detail the duck endures before it reaches ones table. For e.g., the ‘7’ times the duck is dipped in sugar water. Why so? To give it that crisp caramel texture showcased on the skin. And of course, the ‘herb water’ mixture described above, which is poured into the duck and corked at the base with a dry bamboo shoot comprising of mango wood, to ensure it is cooked with all the herbs within over a 45-50 minute process in a wood fired oven. Peking duck is traditionally roasted in either a closed oven or hung oven. The hung oven was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty. It is designed to roast up to 20 ducks at the same time with an open fire fueled by hardwood from peach or pear trees. The ducks are hung on hooks above the fire and roasted at a temperature of 270 °C for 30–45 minutes. While the ducks are cooking, the chef uses a pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30 second intervals. And whats interesting, is almost every part of a duck can be cooked. Each aspect is carefully monitored and is taken with pride and gusto by the chef in charge.

Left to Right: Crispy duck skin & breast  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

The art of educating the customer is a must see at China House- the way the duck is served and consumed is something that excited my senses.To the quick carvings- a step process starting with the skin being a delicacy, is normally consumed by dipping the skin in a bowl of refined sugar, to give it a crunch to ones pancake. The meat is slivered in three stages- the skin is one serving. The breast is laid out perfectly and is succulent and tender and the third carving has a mixture of the thigh and skin to give it that coarse and crunch to the moist pancake. The meat is then served with steamed pancakes, spring onions and sweet bean sauce. Cucumber sticks and chopped spring onions are provided for accompaniments. The sauce is evenly concentrically spread, and optional sugar is sprinkled, over the pancake. The pancake is wrapped around the meat with the vegetables and eaten by hand.

Mind you the duck can feed a table of 4 with ease. So do order carefully.

In 2012,The Huffington Post ranked Peking duck 1st in list of “10 Foods Around The World To Try Before You Die”.

The #legendoftheduck awaits you. What are you waiting for?

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