HANDY CHINESE TRICKS FOR COOKING A WHOLE DUCK Cooking a duck can be intimidating to home cooks. Unlike chicken, there's a layer of fat that can cause problems. When duck is simply roasted, it often cooks unevenly, leaving a lot of excess fat. In addition, much of the potentially delicious skin is discarded. Chinese cooks slove these problems by applying two or more cooking methods to melt away most of the fat while enchancing the flavor of the meat. As a bonus, this technique can produce duck skin that is succulently crisp. For example, a duck may be seasoned and hung overnight in a cool, airy place, then steamed, perhaps smoked, and finally fried to a golden brown. Or, a duck may be browned over high heat in a wok full of oil (which melts away some of the fat), drained, and finally simmered in a wine/soy/rock sugar sauce, which is reduced at the end of the cooking time to a syrupy glaze. Sometimes just the skin is stuffed with boned duck meat, which has been mixed with glutinous rice or barley, mushrooms, Chinese dates, lotus seeds and ham; then the whole thing is steamed. The famous Peking Duck, which many rank as one of the world's greatest dishes, begins by easing the skin away from the meat then pumping in air so the whole duck inflats like a balloon.
The duck then is scalded in a honey-vinegar mixture and hung overnight to dry before being cooked. This dish is not a good choice for the home cook because the duck is best roasted suspended in a special clay-lined oven. The lacquered-looking ducks that hang in Chinese delicatessens, somethimes mistakenly thought to be Peking ducks, actually are Cantonese roast ducks. After basting the skins and hanging the ducks overnight, they are roasted to golden brown perfection ~- a sauce of five-spices, star anise, wine and garlic simmering in their cavities. For not much more than the price of an uncooked duck, these, by the half or whole, make excellent take-out food. The method that follows for making Sichauan Crispy Skin Duck is typical of Chinese duck cookery. It requires a few steps over a couple of days, and two cooking procedures, but it's not difficult - although frying a whole duck in a wok full of oil may be a new experience.
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