Beijing Duck, sometimes known as Peking Duck in the West, is known throughout the world, but you have to come to Beijing to sample the real thing.
Beijing Duck is served as two or three different dishes. The skin, cooked crispy and thin, with a delicious layer of melt-in-your-mouth fat, and little or no meat, is eaten wrapped in thin pancakes with slivered spring onions (scallions) and a dash of sweet bean sauce. The rest of the meat is served as a stir fry, and finally the remaining bones are used to make a soup.
The Chinese eat duck in a host of different ways, but it’s only Beijing Duck when it’s eaten as outlined above. Beijing Duck should not be confused with Crispy Aromatic Duck which is often served in restaurants in the West. Crispy Aromatic Duck, which originates from South China, has less fat and crispy, drier meat. In China it’s not usually served with pancakes, although it usually is in the West.
The process by which an ordinary duck becomes Beijing Duck is rather complicated and doesn’t do much for the appetite. For a start, most ducks don’t have a chance because only ducks of a certain species can be used to make genuine Beijing Duck. The ducks are force fed until exactly the right degree of plumpness, and kept in small cages so they don’t develop too much muscle. Before being cooked, they are inflated to separate the skin from the rest of the body, and coated in a syrup of malt sugar, which gives the duck its characteristic dark shiny colour. Beijing Duck must be roasted a specially constructed type of kiln, using the wood of the Chinese Date Tree as fuel.
Sweet bean sauce, known alternatively as sweet noodle sauce, is vital if the duck is to be Beijing Duck and not just a nice duck. After soybeans have been fermented into soy sauce, the leftover beans, along with a little sugar and salt, are used to make Sweet Bean Sauce. Sweet Bean Sauce is also used to make another typical Beijing dish, Zhájiàngmiàn, ‘fried sauce noodles’.
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