Raising the duck
The ducks used to prepare Peking Duck originated in Nanjing. They were small, had black feathers, and lived in the canals around the city linking major waterways. With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area. Often these barges would spill grain into the canals, providing food for the ducks. By the Five Dynasties, the new breed of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers. Nowadays, Peking Duck is prepared from the white feathered Pekin duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica). Newborn ducks are raised in a free range environment for the first 45 days of their lives, and force fed 4 times a day for the next 15–20 days, resulting in ducks that weigh 5–7 kg (11–15 lbs). The force feeding of the ducks led to an alternate name for the animal, Peking Stuffed Duck (simplified Chinese: 北京填鸭; traditional Chinese: 北京填鴨; pinyin: běijīng tián yā).
Cooking the duck
A Peking Duck after having been dried
Fattened ducks are slaughtered, plucked, eviscerated and rinsed thoroughly with water. Air is pumped under the skin through the neck cavity to separate the skin from the fat. The duck is then plunged in boiling water for 1 to 5 minutes, and then hung to dry. This will tighten the skin and help the duck to achieve its traditional crispy texture. The duck is then glazed with a layer of potentially spiced and flavored maltose syrup, and the inside is rinsed once more with water. A marinade of traditional flavorings, including soy sauce and five-spice powder, and more maltose, is then applied inside the body cavity. This will flavor the duck during the next step. The duck is then left to dry for between 24 hours and several days in a cool, dry place (or a refrigerator). The drying allows the skin to crisp while roasting. It is then roasted in an oven until the skin turns shiny brown. While roasting, hot water is added to the body cavity as needed to ensure even cooking and tenderness. Some preparations involve the duck being smoked with fruity woods.
Besides traditional methods to prepare Peking Duck, recipes have been compiled by chefs around the world to produce the dish at home.
Peking duck is originally roasted in a closed oven (Chinese: 焖炉), and Bianyifang is the restaurant that keeps this tradition. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles (Chinese: 箅子; pinyin: bì zi). The oven is preheated by burning Gaoliang sorghum straw (Chinese: 秫秸; pinyin: shú jiē) at the base. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked through the convection of heat within the oven. Controlling the fuel and the temperature is the main skill. In closed-oven style, duck meat is combined well with the fat under the skin, and therefore is juicy and tender.
The open oven (Chinese: 挂炉; literally: 'hung oven') was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty, and adopted by the Quanjude restaurant chain. 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 (525 °F) for 30–40 minutes. While the ducks are roasting, the chef may use a pole to dangle each duck closer to the fire for 30-second intervals. In open-oven style, the fat is usually melted during the cooking process, so the skin is crispy, and can be eaten separately as a snack.
Almost every part of a duck can be prepared afterwards. Quanjude Restaurant served their customers the "All Duck Banquet" in which they cooked the bones of ducks with vegetables.