Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung are the cooks behind The Woks of Life, a food blog spanning several generations of their family. For the past two years, the entire family has used the blog — featured as part of Yahoo Food Blogger of the Week series — as a platform to communicate, tell stories, and share food across distances.
Photos: The Woks of Life
Ever since we left Beijing to come back to the U.S., one of the things we really miss is the abundance and variety of authentic food China has to offer. Take Peking duck, for example.
Whole ducks are roasted in wood-fired ovens, and the skin reaches a perfect crispness. Meat is then skillfully shaved from the duck and served with Mandarin pancakes, along with a variety of condiments.
Making a whole Peking duck at home here in the U.S. is far easier said than done. We think this recipe — made with duck breasts instead of the whole duck — perfectly captures the flavors and textures of Peking duck without all the hassle.
For the duck:
4 duck breasts (about 6 to 7 ounces each) with the skin on, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry with a paper towel
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
Pinch of five spice powder
1 tablespoon oil
For the mandarin pancakes:
1 ½ cups flour
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
For the fixings:
1 cucumber, de-seeded and julienned
2 scallions, julienned
½ cup julienned cantaloupe (optional)
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
First, marinate the duck: Mix the salt, soy sauce, and five spice powder in a small bowl and massage into the duck. Leave the duck breasts skin side up on a plate uncovered, and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to marinate and let the skin dry out. (If you don’t want to wait overnight, reduce the marinating time to 30 minutes).
Next, prepare the mandarin pancakes. Mix the flour and salt in a heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling hot water into the flour mixture and mix until a dough ball forms. Once it is cool enough to handle, knead the dough for 8 minutes until smooth, adding flour if the dough is too sticky. Cover with plastic and allow the dough to rest at room temperature for at least 1 hour.
Roll the dough into a cylinder and cut into 12 equal pieces. Form each piece into a dough ball, then flatten them out into a small disc about 2 inches in diameter. Lightly brush 6 of the discs with oil, then layer the remaining 6 discs over the 6 oiled discs. You should have 6 pieces, each comprised of 2 discs.
Use a rolling pin to roll the discs into 7-inch circles, flipping the pancakes frequently so both of the dough discs are rolled into the same size.
Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-low heat, and place one pancake into the pan. After 30 to 45 seconds, you should see air pockets begin to form between the two pancakes. Flip the pancake; it should be white with just a couple of faint brown patches. Any more than that, and they are overcooked.
After another 30 seconds, the air pockets should be large enough to separate the two pancakes. Remove the pancake to a plate, and let it cool for another 30 seconds. Now carefully pull apart the two pancakes at the seams. Place the finished pancakes onto a plate and cover with a warm kitchen towel. Repeat until all pancakes are done.
The pancakes can be reheated in a steamer for about a minute when ready to serve. They also keep in the freezer for up to 3 weeks if you decide to make a larger batch.
Next, preheat the oven broiler on low heat. Heat an oven-proof pan over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of oil to coat the pan. Sear the duck breasts, skin side down. Move them frequently so the skin crisps up and fries in the duck fat that renders out. After 8 minutes, or when the duck skin is golden brown and a little bit crispy, carefully drain off the duck fat and discard. In the pan, flip the duck breasts (so they are skin side up), and transfer them to the broiler for about 3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the skin, which at this point should be a bit crispy.
Remove the duck from the broiler and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The duck will be cooked about medium well and will be very juicy. Transfer to a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, cut into thin slices.
Serve the duck with your warmed pancakes and all the fixings, including the julienned cucumber, scallion, cantaloupe, and hoisin sauce.