The dish is prized for the thin, crispy skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. Ducks are bred specially for the dish, which after 65 days are and before being roasted in a closed oven or a hung oven. The meat is often eaten with pancakes, spring onions, and hoisin sauce or sweet noodle sauce. A variant of the dish known as crispy aromatic duck has been created by the in the United Kingdom. The two most notable restaurants in Beijing which serve this delicacy are Quanjude and Bianyifang, two centuries-old establishments which have become household names.
Duck has been roasted in since the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Peking Duck was first prepared for the Emperor of China in the Yuan Dynasty. The dish, originally named "Shaoyazi" , was mentioned in the ''Complete Recipes for Dishes and Beverages'' manual by Hu Sihui , an inspector of the imperial kitchen in 1330. In the Ming Dynasty, the Peking Duck was one of the main dishes on imperial court menus. In the same period, the first restaurant specialising in Peking Duck, Bianyifang, was established in the Xianyukou, Qianmen area of Beijing in 1416.
By the of the Qing Dynasty, the popularity of the Peking Duck spread to the upper classes, inspiring poetry from poets and scholars who enjoyed the dish. For instance, one of the verses of ''Duan Zhu Zhi Ci'', a collection of Beijing poems was, "Fill your plates with roast duck and suckling pig". In 1864, the Quanjude restaurant was established in Beijing. Yang Quanren , the founder of Quanjude, developed the hung oven to roast ducks. With its innovations and efficient management, the restaurant became well known in China, introducing the Peking Duck to the rest of the world.
By the mid 20th century, the Peking Duck had become a national symbol of China, favoured by tourists and diplomats alike. For example, Henry Kissinger, the met Premier Zhou Enlai in the Great Hall of the People on July 10, during his first visit to China. After a round of inconclusive talks in the morning, the delegation was served Peking Duck for lunch, which became Kissinger's favourite. The Americans and Chinese issued a joint statement the following day, inviting President Richard Nixon to visit China in 1972. The Peking Duck was hence considered one of the factors behind the rapproachement of the United States to China in the 1970s. Following Zhou's death in 1976, Kissinger paid another visit to Beijing to savour Peking Duck. The Peking Duck, at the Quanjude in particular, has also been a favorite dish for various political leaders ranging from Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Raising the duck
The ducks used to prepare Peking Duck originated from Nanjing. They were small and had black feathers, and lived in the canals around the city linking major waterways . With the relocation of the Chinese capital to Beijing, supply barge traffic increased in the area which would often spill grain during trips the ducks fed. As a result, the ducks slowly increased in size and grew white feathers. By the Five Dynasties, the new species of duck had been domesticated by Chinese farmers. Nowadays, Peking Duck is prepared from the Pekin Duck . Newborn ducks are raised in a free range environment for the first 45 days of their lives, and 4 times a day for the next 15–20 days, resulting in ducks that weigh 5–7 kg. The force feeding of the ducks led to an alternate name for the dish, Peking Stuffed Duck .
Fattened ducks are slaughtered, , and rinsed thoroughly with water. The duck is then soaked in boiling water for a short while before it is hung up to dry. While it is hung, the duck is glazed with a layer of maltose syrup, and the innards are rinsed once more with water. Having left to stand for 24 hours, the duck is roasted in an oven until it turns shiny brown.
Peking Duck is traditionally roasted in either a closed oven or hung oven. The closed oven is built of brick and fitted with metal griddles . The oven is preheated by burning Gaoliang wood at the base. The duck is placed in the oven immediately after the fire burns out, allowing the meat to be slowly cooked through the convection of heat within the oven.
The hung oven was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty and adopted by the Quanjude restaurant chain. It is designed to roast up to 20 ducks at the same time with an open fire fuelled by hardwood from peach or pear trees.
Whole Peking Ducks can be ordered as takeaways. The ducks can be reheated at home with an oven, grill or boiling oil. When an oven is used, the duck is heated at a temperature of 150 °C for 20 minutes, and then at 160 °C for another 10 minutes. The grilling method involves filling the duck with boiling water before placing it on a griddle, 70 cm above the cooking fire. The boiling water is replaced every 3–4 minutes until the duck's skin is piping hot. To reheat the Peking Duck with oil, the duck is sliced into thin pieces and placed in a strainer held over a wok of boiling oil. The duck is then rinsed several times with the oil. Some restaurants, in particular Quanjude and Bianyifang, have long histories of serving high quality duck that they are now household names, or ''laozihao'' , literally "old brand name". In addition, Quanjude has received worldwide recognition, having been named a China Renowned Trademark in 1999.
Crispy Aromatic Duck
Crispy aromatic duck is a variant of Peking duck that originated from the Chinese community in the United Kingdom in the latter half of the 20th century, served by most Chinese restaurants as a signature dish on the menu. To prepare crispy aromatic duck, the duck is first rubbed inside and out with a mixture of spices including five spice powder and Sichuan peppercorns. Having left to stand for 24 hours, the duck is placed into a wok and steamed for two hours, with the fat constantly poured off. Afterwards, the duck is cut into quarters and dusted with corn flour and deep fried for 8–15 minutes. The cooked duck is drained on kitchen paper and taken to the diners' table, where the meat is shredded off. The meat is served with pancakes, finely chopped cucumber and spring onions and hoisin sauce. The meat has less fat, but is drier and crispier compared to that of Peking Duck.