Peking duck has a long and illustrious history than spans hundreds of years. It is now so celebrated that it is considered one of the national dishes of China.
There are variations of this dish at Hakkasan, HKK’s sister restaurant, in the form of the restaurant’s Peking duck with special reserve Qiandao caviar served in two courses – the first with pancakes and the second with a choice of sauces – and Pipa duck, a dish that takes its name from the shape of the duck as it resembles a Pipa, a traditional Chinese guitar-style instrument.
But it is at HKK that Chef Tong’s Cherry wood roasted Peking duck takes centre-stage.
1,608 hours before serving
The duck, a long-necked white-feathered variety, is born. Its birthplace is the family-run duck farm Silver Hill in southern Ireland, where it lives for 65 days.
In the beginning, the ducks used to prepare Peking duck were small and black-feathered, originating from Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province and the second largest city in China after Shanghai.
However, today the Beijing or Pekin duck is preferred, with its goose-like appearance and tendency to gluttony (and therefore fattier, tastier meat). The Pekin duck was actually introduced to the USA in the 1800s; the similarity between roast goose so enjoyed in the West and roasted Chinese duck is evident even today.
50 hours before serving
The duck is prepped using a unique blend of sugar, salt and spices. It is stuffed with this blend to flavour and perfume the meat from the inside; the duck is then sewn up and attached to a hook.
Traditionally, air would be pumped into the duck using either the chef’s mouth or an air pump (on some occasions and in some restaurants they would use a bicycle pump) to separate the meat from the skin. This allows the skin to crisp up, giving the dish its trademark ‘duck crackling’: caramel brown with umami sweetness. Chef Tong created an alternative method to separate the duck skin from the meat: instead of pushing air into the duck (and thus risking damaging the skin of a quality bird and making it unusable), the chefs give each bird a hot shower, dowsing it in boiling water mixed with vinegar, lemon juice and maltose syrup from a scalding hot wok. This technique means the skin naturally separates from the meat while simultaneously caramelising it.
48 hours before serving
Each duck is hung in a purpose-built duck drier for 48 hours at 3 degrees. This ensures that the skin is properly separated from the meat which allows for the skin to render out fat from both sides, basting the meat as it cooks; it tightens as it dries which, when roasted, gives it a more intense, ducky flavour.
1 hour before serving
Peking duck is roasted in either a closed oven or a hung oven. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles. It is preheated by burning straw at the base. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked by convection. The hung oven is authentically heated using a fire, and the ducks are hung on hooks and roasted at extremely high heats for up to an hour.
Chef Tong and HKK use the latter method to roast their ducks. The birds are roasted vertically in a fire stone oven with cherry wood for an hour at 138C for 20 minutes before the oven is turned up to 175C for 40 minutes to guarantee extra crisp skin. As the duck is roasted the fat melts and runs down towards the leg, giving different texture to the meat and skin.
The Cherry wood roasted Peking duck is presented on the duck trolley and carved at the table. Three different cuts are offered: the crispy duck skin from the shoulder, which should be dipped into the unrefined organic cane sugar that accompanies it; the skin and juicy meat from the breast served with duck sauce; and the leg meat, shredded and stuffed inside a sesame pancake with leek.