According to a Chinese saying, no visit to Beijing is complete if you miss seeing the Great Wall or dining on Roast Duck. As a famous and delicious food with very long history, Beijing Roast Duck is an excellent choice if you want to understand more about Chinese cuisine, culture and customs.
It is thought that Beijing roast duck, like the tradition of roast turkey in America, owes its origin to the roast goose that is still popular in Europe on festive occasions. Westerners like Marco Polo brought certain European customs to China and may have introduced the concept of roasting poultry to their Chinese hosts during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368). Ducks had long been domesticated in China and the plump ducks proved to be an excellent substitute for goose in much the same way as the American colonizers found the native turkey to be. However, there is another school of thought based upon certain records that show roast duck has a much longer history dating back as far as the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 – 589). Up until the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279), ducks were roasted in the area around Jinling, today's Nanjing. However, the later Yuan Dynasty rulers moved their capital city to Beijing from Jinling and took with them their cuisine thus making roast duck popular in the city that was eventually to make it its very own specialty.
The ducks were originally roasted in a conventional convection oven until Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) when roast ducks became a delicacy in the imperial menu and were highly regarded by emperors and other members of the ruling classes. The ducks used during this period were a special breed namely the White Beijing Duck and a new method of cooking was employed, by suspending the ducks over the flame in an open oven. These two traditional methods of cooking have resulted in the two major present day schools of roast duck preparation.
The initial method has been perpetuated by very few restaurants among which Bianyi Fang (Convenient and Comfortable) Restaurant, established in 1861, is the most famous. There serves roast duck with a well-preserved traditional flavor. The second method is relatively well-known and used with great success by the Quan Ju De Restaurant. Today, Quan Ju De means Beijing Roast Duck to many Chinese people as well as foreign visitors.
Over a long period of development exceeding some 140 years, a consummate and precise procedure for cooking Beijing Roast Duck has been firmly established:
First, a suitable White Beijing Duck will be chosen for preparation. After the bird has been plucked, air is pumped between its skin and flesh. A small incision is made for the removal of the entrails.
Secondly, and once the bird has been thoroughly cleaned, a wooden skewer is inserted through it to facilitate its hanging and ultimate heating; the body cavity is filled with water and the incision that had been made is closed.
Thirdly, the skin of the duck is air dried and brushed with a layer of sugar.
Fourthly, the duck is then put into a large oven, using a smokeless hardwood fuel and heating to about 270 degrees Centigrade for 30 to 40 minutes. The duck is turned frequently during the roasting process to ensure even cooking.
Then the delicious roast duck is ready! It will be a shining date-red in color and unique in flavor; Beijing Roast Duck is characterized by its crispy skin and tender texture. Besides the traditional roast duck, many restaurants offer an All Duck Banquet – various dishes cooked with the offal and juices of the duck, surrounding the main dish. It will be sure to give you satisfaction and enjoyment when dining.
In addition, there are some points to which you need to pay attention when having Beijing Roast Duck. The best seasons for eating it are spring, autumn and winter. The hot roast duck will be brought to the dining table by the chef where he will slice it into more than 100 thin flakes, each having its piece of crispy skin. The way to really enjoy the succulent meat is as follows: first take one of the small, thin pancakes provided and spread it with plum sauce, small slices of spring onions and then add some pieces of duck. Finally roll up the pancake and take a bite. You will be surprised by the terrific taste!