One evening, when I was cooking sautéed duck breasts, a favorite at our house, I thought of Peking Duck and wondered if I couldn’t dream up a quick version . Peking duck is a great classic of Chinese cuisine, “a dish fit for an emperor,” according to writer Emily Hahn, but making it damn near requires an emperor’s kitchen staff. Ms. Hahn, writing in Time-Life’s “The Cooking of China” (1969) laid out some of the details:
The traditional version calls for the choicest fowl, brought to the exact degree of plumpness and tenderness through force-feeding, and got ready for the table by a many-staged process [including air-drying it for a full day]. The birds are roasted in a mud-lined oven, suspended from hooks to ensure even heat on all sides.
In short, no home cook in her right mind is ever going to make traditional Peking Duck – at least not on a weeknight.
Think of this recipe, then, as Peking Duck Light. (That’s light on procedure, not on flavor.) You use the same kind of duck, but the breasts only and you sauté them, which only takes about 15 minutes. (The skin won’t turn out quite as crispy as if you roasted it, but it’s plenty crispy enough.) The Asian-style cole slaw with which I’ve supplemented the classic recipe provides acidic contrast to the sweet hoisin and fatty skin. Roll it all up in my cheating non-homemade pancakes (aka flour tortillas) and you have a feast in every bite.
Best of all, you can measure the hands-on cooking time in minutes (about 25 of them), not days.
Makes 8 wraps, 4 servings
Shred the cabbage (about 2 cups). Peel the jicama; finely chop both the jicama and bell pepper either by hand or in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade (about 1 cup each). Trim and thinly slice the scallions crosswise (about 1/2 cup). Stir together the vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the hot pepper flakes in a medium bowl until the salt dissolves. Add the cabbage, jicama, bell pepper, and scallions and toss until the salad is well mixed.
Slice the reserved duck breasts very thin crosswise. Heat the oil in a large skillet over moderately high heat. Add the sliced duck, season with salt and pepper, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes or until just seared lightly.
Spread out the tortillas on a work surface. Spread them with sauce, dividing it equally. Thinly slice the duck at an angle into ¼-inch-thick slices and arrange on the tortillas; top with the cabbage salad. Fold in the sides of the crêpes and roll up. Place 2, seam side down, on each of 4 plates.
Ginger Hoisin Sauce: Combine 3 tablespoons soy sauce (low-sodium if you prefer), 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, 1/2 garlic clove, pressed (about ½ teaspoon), and a pinch of cayenne pepper in a small saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes.
Where can you buy duck breasts?
Where can you eat the classic Chinese Peking Duck, as I did in this episode? I highly recommend the experience, especially if you are a duck skin lover as I am.
There are two Peking Duck Houses in New York City, one in Chinatown and one in Midtown:
What is the difference between seasoned and unseasoned rice vinegar?
Seasoned has sugar and salt added to it. If all you have in the house is unseasoned, and a recipe calls for seasoned, just add a pinch of sugar and salt to it.
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