Here is how you make a proper Peking duck. First, invent a time machine, go back to the mid-nineteenth century, grab yourself a plot of land in one of the booming cities of mainland China and enlist the help of a bricklayer to build you an oven. Then practice. For about a hundred years. Find a source of Nanjing river mallards and a place where you can raise them, force-feeding them like foie gras geese four times a day.
On the 65th day of a duck’s life, slaughter, feather and gut it. Cut a slit in the skin near the neck and, through a long tube, blow air in between the skin and subcutaneous fat to separate them. You’re only really concerned with the breasts here, so don’t knock yourself out. Toss the loose-skinned duck carcass into boiling water briefly, then hang it to dry for 24 hours, coating the skin with anything from malt sugar syrup (back in the day) to maltose (a more modern substitute). Now introduce it to the oven. Traditionally, your oven should be fired with pear or peach wood, though any hardwood will do. Light the wood, let it burn out, then hang your duck inside, sealing the door for another 24 hours while the ambient, convective heat and smoke cooks Daffy straight through.
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Granted, it's not easy to find a place that's willing to go to all this trouble -- from finding the right oven to getting the time machine -- just to make a Peking duck. But if you’ve got the kind of hunger for duck that I do (and the same kind of obsessive-compulsive need to find the best of anything you’re searching for), you could do a lot worse than visiting the subject of this week’s review: Spice China.
Here, chef Jack Mok and his crew do right by their ducks, taking two days to prepare the birds and presenting them as traditionally as any place I’ve found in years of searching. Not only that, but they also knock out some very good Americanized Chinese grub and a whole host of Shanghai specials across a menu that stretches for eighteen pages.
Also in this week's Cafe, we've got a surprising restaurant story from the long-missing Chris Cina, some updates on the fate of Dish Bistro and the beginnings of a story about Georgetown, Colorado, that just might be one for the history books.
Bon appetit. -- Jason Sheehan