Crispy Peking Duck with Cranberry Red Wine Sauce and Pancakes
Red, green, gold, silver – nothing describes “Festive” better than these colours. Indian weddings and Diwali celebrations call for brightly coloured decorations, drapes and lights, and Christmas in London is not too dissimilar (no paisley prints here though) and rather breath-taking. One of the very few things that would cheer me up on my way home after work at an ungodly hour would be the drive going under the Christmas lights at Regent Street. The lights at Saint Christopher’s Place and South Molton Street make me feel like I’m in a Fairy-Wonderland playing Tag with Tinker Bell. The window displays at Harrods and Selfridges are awe-inspiring and imaginative – Harrods has an amazing Wizard of Oz theme (Tinman is cool). Starbucks smells of cinnamon and winter spices, and my home smells like sweet pine and mulled wine.
I’ve never been more excited about Christmas before until the tree arrived this year and I got my presents sorted and wrapped. Oh, and then there was deciding upon our Christmas menu. Since we’re not big fans of traditional crinkle fare such as turkey, sprouts and christmas pudding, I’ve come up with an updated version – Christmas crispy duck with cranberry sauce, Christmas crustaceans, Christmas macarons, Christmas cupcakes and lots of Christmas mulled wine. Quite Christmassy, doncha think?
I didn’t want any nasty surprises on the 25th so I set about doing a practice run of everything beforehand. Never having cooked a whole bird before I had no idea what an uncooked and naked duck looked like, and I hadn’t known what giblets were. All I knew was that I had to massage this dead bird with heaps of salt, chinese 5 spice and some honey before I cooked it for 2 hours and drained the fat every 15 minutes or so.
Massaging the duck was cringe-tastic to begin with. I hated the cold and clammy fleshy feel of it. It felt like I was invading the defenseless duck putting my fist through its cavity to massage the honey and spice into its flesh. It felt like Krishna’s eyes were boring into my back. It felt bad.
But then as I went along I was surprised by my de-sensitisation to the feel of the dead duck. I’m probably going to have to do much worse at cooking school but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
Crispy peking duck is quite simple. I followed Jamie Oliver’s recipe but most recipes online are similar. The key to the crispy skin is draining the fat while it cooks. Simple as this may sound, it turned out to be tricky for me as I dropped the duck more than once into the sink. Anyway, I had other things to worry about such as the cranberry sauce and chinese pancakes.
The sauce was straight-forward and the super-star of the evening but the pancakes were little rascals. Ken Hom’s recipe says I must dip one “side” of the dough ball (spherical objects don’t have sides, Mr Hom) into sesame seed oil, place it on top of another dough ball and roll them into flat pancakes together. Then I should cook one side of the rolled out pancakes over low heat till dry and then flip over and do the same. Straight-forward-ish. Then I must peel the pancakes so that I have two. Now this last step burnt my fingertips and rarely resulted in a normal un-mangled looking pancake. The recipe didn’t state roughly how long it took for the pancake to “dry”. So I left some to cook for a short while and some for a long while. Neither produced the perfect, almost-translucent doilies I was seeking. The ones that weren’t ripped to shreds upon peeling were doughy and heavy. I wanted to find someone to blame for my failed pancakes and I came across Ken Hom’s video instructions on Youtube. He makes it seem so easy! And what wound me up even more was that the written recipe said I should let the dough rest of 30 seconds and in the video he says to rest for 30 minutes! Argh.
At least I have the Crispy Peking Fairy-Liquid Duck, cranberry sauce and pretty Christmas tree to enjoy.
Crispy Peking Duck (Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe)
1 nice whole duck
2 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp Chinese 5 spice
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp honey
1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/325ºF/gas 3
2. Remove the giblets from the duck. Rub the duck with the salt, inside and out. Rub in the 5 spice all over with five-spice and rub the ginger and honey round the cavity, leaving the ginger inside to flavour
3. Place the duck in a roasting tray and put it in the oven. All you need to do is check on it every so often and spoon/pour away the excess fat that has rendered out of the duck. This will make the skin go wonderfully crispy. Generally, after a couple of hours it will be perfect – the leg meat will pull off the bone and the skin will be crisp. Jamie says you don’t always need to, but I turned the heat up to 200ºC for the last 10 minutes of cooking and it went really golden crispy.
Cranberry Red Wine Sauce (Jo’ Pratt’s recipe)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cm/¾in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 tbsp cranberry sauce
1½ tsp Chinese five spice
1 large glass red wine
1 strip orange zest
½ orange, juice only
1 tsp brown sugar
coarse sea salt
1. The sauce can be prepared while the duck is cooking, or made well in advance and warmed just before serving. Heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan and cook the onion until softened.
2. Add the ginger and red wine vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook until the vinegar has almost cooked away.
3. Stir in the cranberry sauce, ½ tsp Chinese five spice, the red wine, orange zest, orange juice and sugar. Bring to the boil and cook for 6-8 minutes until thickened slightly. I used a teaspoon of cornflour to thicken the sauce further. Season with salt and remove the orange zest before serving.
Chinese Pancakes (Ken Hom’s recipe)
2 cups All-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup very hot water
2 tbsp Sesame oil
1. Put the flour into a large bowl. Stir the hot water gradually into the flour, mixing all the while with chopsticks or a fork until the water is fully incorporated. Add more water if the mixture seems dry.
2. Remove the mixture from the bowl and knead it with your hands until smooth. This should take about 8 minutes.
3. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a clean, damp towel and let it rest for about 30 seconds (Ken Hom says 30 minutes in his video).
4. After the resting period, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it again for about 5 minutes, dusting with a little flour if it is sticky.
5. Once the dough is smooth, form it into a roll about 18 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Take a knife and cut the roll into equal segments. There should be about 18. Roll each segment into a ball.
6. Take two of the dough balls, dip one side (spherical objects don’t have sides!) of one ball into the sesame oil and place the oiled side on top of the other ball. Take a rolling pin, and roll the two together into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. It is important to roll double pancakes in this way because the resulting dough will remain moist inside and you will be able to roll them thinner but avoid the risk of overcooking them later.
7. Heat a skillet or wok over a very low heat. Put the double pancake into the wok or pan and cook it until it has dried on one side (I haven’t been able to figure out how long in my experiment. I feel my dough was faulty). Flip it over and cook the other side. Remove from the pan, peel the pancakes apart and set them aside. Repeat this process until all the dough balls have been cooked. Steam the pancakes to reheat them, or you can wrap them tightly in a double sheet of foil and put them into a pan containing 1 inch of boiling water.
Take a pancake, spread some sauce, layer some julienned cucumbers and spring onions and shredded duck, roll up, munch.