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Peking Duck: A Brief Lesson in History By Linda Civitello

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Consider the Peking duck. A dish that carries prestige in both its preparation and consumption. It is perhaps the most famous Chinese dish in the United States today, at least since we stopped claiming that Chop Suey was Chinese. To get a bit of background on the dish, we went to Linda Civitello, scholar in food history and author of the recently popular Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food & People. Civitello is also a member of The Culinary Historians of Southern California.

What I can tell you about Peking Duck is that it is the name of both a type of duck and a cooking technique. It's been around since at least the Yuan Dynasty, 1300 or so. The name comes from the ancient city Peking, now known as Beijing and still the capital of China; this is why the duck dish is referred to as either Peking or Beijing duck. The dish has always been associated with nobility due to its highly specific preparation.
The duck must be a young, white-feathered duck, killed at about 2 months that may have been force-fed in the manner of foie gras. The prep is lengthy. The ducks are feathered, washed, boiled and then hung to dry in an arid, not especially cool, place. Most traditionally, the ducks are glazed and cooked in hanging ovens so that the fat found between the meat and the skin drains out. This also allows the entire surface of the skin to crisp. Either before cooking or during the cooking process, the skin is coated with maltose, which makes it extra crispy.

As told by Linda Civitello

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