Favorite Chinese Dish: Peking duck

by Molly Matthews

Tables are set with delicious ethnic dishes in Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine and scenes in the book show characters enjoying the ritual of shared meals from home, celebrating full bellies, and taking comfort in memories and one another. 

In one scene in the book, aromatic Peking Duck is on display in the windows of Philadelphia’s Chinatown.The dish is associated with imperial menus and although named after Beijing (‘Peking’ is an older spelling), it originated in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing, which lies in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

Peking Duck became  a feature dish in American Chinese restaurants in the early 20th Century so technically the timeline is a little early but I imagined that some Chinese, especially those with aspirations of nobility, might have started to sell Peking Duck ahead of the trend.

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Picture from Agricole Hospitality

Picture from Agricole Hospitality


1 whole duck, head on

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup salt

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

1 cup molasses

2 cups oil, hot


Fill large pot 3/4 full with boiling water. Preheat rotisserie or oven to 375 degrees. Soak the whole duck in the large pot of boiling water. Remove it as soon as the skin changes color.

Sprinkle the inside of the duck with sugar, salt, and five-spice powder. Rub the skin of the duck with molasses. Truss the duck with string and hang in an airing place for 2 hours, or put the duck in the refrigerator overnight without any cover. This will dry the skin of the duck so that it will be crispy.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the skin is reddish brown.

Before serving, pour hot oil over the skin to increase the crispiness. Carve the skin and meat from the duck, and serve.