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November 7, 2010

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Divine delights of dining on DUCK

PEKING Roast Duck is one of China's national dishes, served to visiting statesmen and celebrities and famous worldwide. Poets and scholars wrote of the delight of eating roast duck, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger raved about it.

Its preparation is detailed and exacting and the presentation of the fowl with crispy golden skin, a symbol of China, is considered an art.

Chinese have been roasting duck for more than 2,000 years, since the Southern and Northern dynasties (AD 420-589). The "Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages" by Hu Sihui in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) recorded recipes and cooking techniques in detail.

Roast duck, once eaten primarily by ordinary people, was favored during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-95) and the Empress Dowager Cixi (1861-1908) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was high on the imperial court menu and was formally named Peking Roast Duck.

Preparation of authentic Peking Roast Duck involves careful raising and selection of ducks, force-feeding and fattening, roasting and final dinner presentation when it is carved at the table.

Ducks are usually slaughtered after 65 days. In the last 10-15 days they are force-feed four times a day, thus, sometimes they are called "stuffed ducks."

After the duck is cleaned, eviscerated and rinsed, air is pumped under the skin to separate the skin from the fat. It is then soaked briefly in boiling water and hung up to dry for 24 hours.

The duck is traditionally roasted either in an enclosed oven or hung in a hanging oven above the fire when it dies down; Special firewood is used, sometimes from peach or pear trees. The chef uses a pole to move the duck, cooks it evenly and causes the water to evaporate, leaving the skin crispy. Again and again it is basted with honey or maltose so that it glistens.

Using enclosed oven means a certain amount of moisture is retained, so the meat is quite tender but the skin is not so crispy.

Authentic Beijing food culture emphasizes that roast duck should be served in four steps. First, the chef slices the whole duck in front of guests and finally separates bones, meat and skin. All parts of the duck can be eaten, and sometimes are.

Second, the skin should be dipped in a sugar sauce and a garlic sauce. Most old Beijingers consider that those two sauces can improve the "flat" flavor.

Third, diners use the chun bing (steamed pancakes) to wrap cucumbers, scallions and duck meat (covered with sweet black bean sauce) and then deliver the rolled delicacy to their mouths. Good steamed pancakes should be thin enough so that each bite is filled with the fragrance of duck, not the flour.

Fourth, the remains, including meat, fat and bones are used to make duck soup. The ideal soup is not too oily and has the perfect proportions of fat and meat.

Food goes best with wine. Chinese people generally drink some er guo tou (liquor made from sorghum). Those who prefer Western wines can try Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, both with a full body and tannin and suitable for dishes rich in fat.

Shanghai embraces various food cultures and the same duck can be cooked in different ways, with different spices, by chefs from different backgrounds - offering different delightful flavors.

This week, we introduce four Shanghai restaurants, two serving classic Peking Duck and other two, serving duck in a contemporary way.

The House of Roosevelt

The newly opened restaurant is decorated like a huge wine cellar. Rows of bottles occupy nearly half the space. If not for the night view of the Bund, diners might imagine themselves in Bordeaux.

This restaurant serves the duck breast, the tenderest part of the fowl, as well as duck liver. The dish is arranged rather like an art piece. The breast is sliced evenly in several pieces of equal thickness, each showing perfect layers. The outer layer is the crispy, brick-red skin; the middle layer is firm and white, somewhat chewy; the center is a bit pink, fresh and juicy. The duck is served with figs which tastes slightly sour, well balancing the fatty taste of duck liver. Bright yellow mashed pumpkin enriches the flavor of the entire dish.

This extraordinary dish is created by executive chef Jackie Xu, who is obviously dedicated to creating delicacies.

"I tried to keep the skin crispy and the meat tender," he said, explaining that after the first roasting, the duck is cooked at standard temperature to lock in the moisture. Then it's roasted again.

Price: 198 yuan

Address: 27 Zhongshan Rd E1


When entering M1NT, a 17-meter long shark tank is the first thing that meets the eye. Another spectacular sight is the 360-degree view of Shanghai at night.

The roast duck is served with bread, gras de canard and plum sauce - a somewhat contemporary presentation. When the waiter places the dish of sliced duck on the table, the aroma of fat fills the air, making diners salivate.

The duck skin is dark brown and very crispy, the meat is firm. The gras de canard is smooth and creamy, perfect for spreading on bread. The plum sauce, sweat and sour, balances the rich oiliness of the duck, which is both roasted and fried.

This creative dish was recently developed by executive head chef Grant Brundsen.

"This dish is inspired by traditional Peking Roast Duck, which is very delicious. However, I added some elements of Western food, such as the gras de canard and plum sauce. They are perfect to accompany the duck," Brundsen said.

Price: 180 yuan

Address: 24/F, 380 Fuzhou Rd


Shanghai's first Peking Roast Duck restaurant is filled with an atmosphere of Chinese history and culture.

The 70-year-old restaurant serves what is essentially traditional Peking roast duck, but the chef has adapted the recipe a bit and changed preparation so the duck is less fatty. Unlike many other restaurants that separate the duck skin from the meat, here the tender meat retains the crispy skin, so that each bite contains both. The meat is a bit lean but the fatty aroma is still there.

For those who want to eat healthy but love duck, this is somewhat lower in calories than the classic.

The golden-colored duck soup has that wonderful fatty aroma, but it's clear and fresh.

The handmade steamed pancakes are almost transparent and slightly chewy, perfect with the lean meat.

However, the service has room for improvement. During one visit, this diner had to call again and again for the waitress.

Price: 98 yuan for a whole duck

Address: 100 Yunnan Rd S.

Xindalu-China Kitchen

A huge gray brick duck oven - filled with hanging ducks above a fire - is the first thing one sees on entering the Xindalu-China Kitchen. The glistening date-glazed ducks are reddish gold, their fat dripping and sizzling in the fragrant flame.

The much-praised restaurant in Hyatt on the Bund is simply designed and decorated. Various colorful Chinese spices, such as red pepper, are displayed, but there's nothing to detract from the food. The duck is center stage.

After a short time, aromatic Peking roast duck is on the table. The bright oily skin is the color of dark red jujubes, or Chinese dates, and it's delicious and crispy.

It's not necessary to dip the skin in the standard sugar and garlic sauce because the fat is already sweet and tasty. The meat is fresh and tender and diners inhale a slightly fruity aroma. The waiter explains that the ducks are cooked over a fire of green apple wood and red date wood. The duck is divine and the restaurant lives up to its reputation.

Seating is limited and booking one or two days in advance is essential. It's nearly impossible to walk in and be seated.

Price: 258 yuan for a whole duck

Address: 1/F, Hyatt on the Bund, 199 Huangpu Rd


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