Last week I made the best meal ever. Chinese crispy duck (Peking duck), pancakes, and plum sauce - all cooked from scratch. Impressive, eh? I didn't actually intend to make the pancakes myself - I planned to buy them from the local takeaway. However, said local takeaway refused to sell them to me without the duck, so in high dudgeon I said Ha! I will make them myself! So I looked up a recipe on YouTube, and they turned out to be divine.
So without further ado, here's how to make homemade Chinese crispy duck, pancakes, and plum sauce. Give it a try this weekend. You'll love it, I promise. Naturally, the duck and plum sauce recipes are both from good ol' Jamie Oliver, on page 102 of Jamie's Dinners.
First of all, you need to get the duck roasting in the oven. Use an organic duck, if you can get hold of one. Place it into an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle it with lots of Chinese Five Spice, and salt and pepper - and sprinkle some ginger inside the cavity. Use the back of a spoon to really mash the Five Spice into the skin:
Place the duck into a 170 Celcius oven for about two hours. Keep an eye on it, and baste it occasionally. Then turn the oven up to 200 Celcius for about 15-20 minutes. This will make the skin go crispy. And that's it. You're done. You will end up with a ton of duck fat in the roasting dish - you can put some of it to one side and roast potatoes in it the next day, if you like. Mmm, potatoes roasted in duck fat. Yum.
Once the duck has been in for about 30 minutes, you can make the pancake dough. This recipe will make about 30 smallish pancakes. Here's how.
Put a kettle of water on to boil. While it comes to the boil, combine 300g of plain flour and 1 tablespoon of sugar (I use Billingtons) in a bowl. Measure out 240ml of boiling water, and add it gradually to the flour, stirring with a fork as you go along:
You probably won't need all the water. Keep pouring and mixing with a fork until the mixture starts to get sticky. That's what you can get your hands in there and start squeezing the mixture together to form a rough dough. Attention! You have just poured boiling water into flour. Therefore the mixture will be hot!
Tip your dough out of the bowl onto the work surface, and give it a good kneading. Add more flour/water as required. It should end up quite smooth and elastic and non-sticky:
Cover with a clean tea towel or napkin, and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
While your dough is resting, you can start making the plum sauce. The following will make enough for two greedy people.
Take six large plums, and chop them in half. Remove and discard the stones, and throw the plums into a saucepan. Add 4-5 tablespoons of sugar, a dusting of Five Spice, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, half a teaspoon of chilli powder, and a little splash of water. Bring to the boil, and then simmer on a low heat for 30-45 minutes:
You can see in the photos how they naturally disintegrate during the cooking process, but you can help this along by mashing the plums with a fork while they cook. If they look too watery, you can turn the heat up and boil off some of the juice. If they look too sticky, just add a splash of water. Taste them (be careful! the sauce will be hot)and add more sugar/soy/spice/chilli as required. Then take off the heat and leave to cool.
So now your duck will be nearly ready, your plum sauce is made, and your dough is ready to be rolled out. The next thing you need to do is slice your cucumber and spring onion. Do this now - it takes a lot longer than you think:
Cover and put in the fridge for later.
Now it's time to make the pancakes! This part is really fun, and quite theatrical, so it's a great one to make when you have guests over who can marvel at your supreme cooking skills (no one actually makes Chinese pancakes, right?)
Cut your dough in half. Roll out the first half on a floured surface to about 3-4mm thick. If you have a round 7cm biscuit cutter, use it to cut circles out of the dough. I don't possess a single biscuit cutter, so I used a Coca-Cola glass. It worked just fine:
Squeeze the off-cuts back together, re-roll, and re-cut until there is nothing left. Then do the same with the other half.
Put all the dough circles on a baking sheet, and brush the tops of each circle with sesame oil:
Take one circle, and sandwich it on top of another circle - sesame-oil coated sides together. Repeat with all remaining circles until they are all sandwiched together in pairs:
By this stage, your duck should be cooked:
Take it out of the oven, and carve as usual. Then take a couple of forks and shred the meat and skin. Cover with foil, and put it back in the oven to keep warm. You can leave the oven on a low heat, if you like.
OK, so it's time to fry the pancakes! You'll need a large non-stick frying pan. Set it over a high heat - you won't need any oil, just the dry pan.
Take one of your dough sandwiches. Don't separate it - just roll it out, pressing one circle into the one below. Roll it as thin as you can - it won't stick to the work surface on account of the oil. The oil will also make it elastic, so it won't break when you lift it, no matter how thin it gets. Pick up your rolled out pancake, and drop it into the hot pan:
Within 30 seconds or less, it will start to bubble in places, and possibly to blow up like a balloon. Turn it over with a spatula (you can toss it in the pan it you're really fancy) to cook the other side. You can tell when it's cooked, because it will have nice brown spots on it. It will take about 40 seconds for each side:
Lift out, and place on a plate. Here's the clever part - you can now separate the top pancake from the bottom pancake. Just run your finger between them to break the seal, let the steam escape, and then carefully peel the top pancake from the bottom pancake:
Magic, eh? I bet you thought I was nuts when I told you to roll them out into a single pancake. Now cook the others. You'll soon get into a rhythm: Put pancake A in pan. Roll out pancake B. Turn pancake A. Lift pancake A onto plate. Put pancake B into pan. Separate pancake A. Turn pancake B. Roll out pancake C. Life pancake B onto plate. Put pancake C into pan. And so on. It's actually very soothing. If you have a team of helpers, you can get one person rolling, and one person separating.
So, let's evaluate. Plum sauce? Check. Sliced cucumber? Check. Sliced spring onion? Check. Shredded duck? Check. Pancakes? Check. You are ready to eat!
Andre and I managed to polish off an entire duck, a tureen of plum sauce, a cucumber, a bunch of spring onions and about 30 pancakes between us. If you're less greedy, this meal would probably feed four people:
Seriously, you have to try this. "Oh, it's just like eating a takeaway", Andre said. Bless him. However, you have been warned - while this dish is cooking your house will smell so amazing that you may get random passers-by beating the door down to get to the source of that glorious fragrance wafting out into the street.
Well, the good news is that I am now officially on holiday. I have three weeks off this Christmas, and am planning to do lots of proper Christmassy wifely things, like baking (I never bake). Doubtless I'll be sharing the inevitably messy results with you in due course. I also have a recipe for coq au vin in the works. Tomorrow, however, I'll be sharing another Christmas gift round-up. Don't change that channel!