Peking (not really) Duck
Gong Hey Fat Choy – Happy year of the monkey, from a monkey himself!
So, I promised to continue my Chinese story that I started a few posts ago.
For a good 8 years, from my late teens to my mid 20s I think I ate Chinese food and drank Chinese beer most days of the week. Often, it would be my 4th meal of the day (or my first, depending on where your day starts) sitting in the back room of my Chinese friend’s restaurant around a large round table, after closing hours, with the workers. It’s often the custom that all the food goes in the middle and its help-yourself-style.
Once, at a similarly round table at a restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown , where my friend and I took trips together to get food for the restaurant back home, an old woman once remarked in Chinese, “He uses the sticks pretty good for a white boy,” to which the whole table erupted in laughter. I laughed too. It was a great compliment.
But nothing compares to the biggest moment of my Chinese cultural life, which came at the wedding of my friend’s older sister. I was one of ten guys sitting at the table reserved for “Western people” in a sea of 99 other tables, reserved for 990 Chinese people.
This was a celebration like nothing you’ve ever seen before – we were playing mahjong, drinking, singing… I’ve always loved to sing. There we were, seated close to the wedding band, when the fifth new sequined, female singer came over to our table, and dragged me up on stage to sing Yesterday, by the Beatles. Yes, it’s true. The biggest audience of my life, and probably more than half of them had no idea what I was singing.
All fantastic things must come to an end, but even though I moved away, I never stopped loving Chinese food and still celebrate Chinese New Year every single year. Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, but the Chinese don’t celebrate just one evening or one day, they celebrate for weeks! So you have plenty of time to try and make this amazing dish!
The dish of all Chinese dishes, if you ask me, is Peking Duck. And when I went 100% plant-based, it was one of the things that worried me the most – What am I going to eat on Chinese New Year now?! Well, turns out I didn’t have to worry at all!
If you are lucky enough to live in or near a larger city, and if that city has a Chinese supermarket or three, I can very much recommend going in and taking a look around – there are so many interesting and exciting things in there! And one of them is a growing variety of what people sometimes call “mock meat”. I really dislike the term “mock”, because plant-based food is very real – it’s not fake or unnatural. The lovely “duck” I got had a very short and simple ingredients list: Gluten, soy sauce, salt, and plant flavorings – that’s it!
Wheat gluten is made by washing wheat flour dough with water until all the starch has been removed. This leaves it with a chewy texture that makes it ideal for replacing meat. It’s believed that wheat gluten was first made in the 6th century as an ingredient for noodles. It’s popular in China, and Asia in general, commonly found on menus catering to Buddhists – who don’t eat meat.
Wheat gluten, like tofu, doesn’t have a lot of flavor itself, so it’s best cooked along with a tasty sauce so that it can soak up the flavor. And that’s where the amazing hoisin-based sauce in this recipe comes in. Make lots of it, you’re going to wish you had more!
This dish, when traditionally prepared, can take up to three days – yes, you read right, 3 days! I always wondered what all the different steps really did and if they were really necessary. Even for a foodie like me a 3-day prep time is a bit much. So, years ago, I started using a “quick” and easy Peking prep method, that reduces the time down to less than 3 hours. I know, I know, you still think I’m crazy – but traditions are important and times a-wastin’ – so let’s get to it and make some Peking (not really) duck!
- 1 pound (454 g) - vegan duck meat (or seitan)
- 1 tsp (5 ml) - fresh ginger
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) + 1 tsp (5 ml) - brown sugar
- 4 large spring onions
- 1 cucumber
- 4 Tbsps (60 ml) - hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp (5 ml) - sesame oil
- 16-20 Chinese Peking duck pancakes (or make your own*)
- Thaw the gluten "duck", rinse, dry lightly with paper towel and then place near an open window or where there is a breeze, for 1 hour.
- In a medium-sized pot, boil some water (just enough to submerge the gluten "duck" in) and add the ginger, 1 Tbsp of brown sugar and one chopped spring onion. When it comes to a boil, remove from the heat and put the "duck" into the water so that it is totally covered. Then remove immediately, and place the duck back near the open window.
- Make the sauce while you're waiting: in a small pot, add the sesame oil, hoisin sauce, 1 Tbsp of water and 1 tsp of brown sugar and stir. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat to cool.
- You can also chop the spring onion and cucumber now, Cut them both into similar sized long, thin slices (as seen in the photos) .
- Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 C) and cook the duck for about 25-30 minutes. It should be warmed through, but now we want to get the "skin" crispy, so turn on the grill to 450 F (225 C). Grill for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
- When the surface of the gluten "duck" is nice and crispy, remove from under the grill and chop into small pieces.
- To serve, use a spoon to put spread some sauce onto a pancake, and then add some "duck", onions and cucumbers - roll up, eat, and repeat!