Crisp, maltose-glazed skin and dark meat layered together for crackle and crunch on a paper-thin wheat pancake. A heaping of sweet bean sauce and a sprinkling of thin cucumber slices and spring onions for garnish. This is the ritual of the Peking duck — China's esteemed national dish.
Like Thanksgiving turkey, the preparation process for Peking duck is both labor- and time-intensive. In China, ducklings are force-fed grain four times a day for weeks until they reach a weight of between 11 and 15 pounds. When the duck is processed, the skin is separated from the underlying fat using compressed air. Even in Beijing, where the dish is a commodity and a city attraction, reservations need to be made days beforehand. If you're lucky enough to score a reservation at the Forbidden City's finest, the chef will personally wheel out the whole duck and carve the meat into bite-sized pieces. The bones are then brought back into the kitchen and ladled into a wholesome milky-white broth; no piece is left behind.
Jan. 18 marks National Peking Duck Day here in the States. As obscure as the holiday is, we here at Squid Ink are supportive of all things duck. So in the spirit of the poultry, we've rounded up five places in Los Angeles to get your fix of Beijing's most celebrated bird. Turn the page.
Hong Yei is a Sichuan-Beijing restaurant that has duck as the centerpiece on their menu. Unless you have more than two hours to spare, the poultry needs to be pre-ordered beforehand. It's served in two-ways: with soup and wrapped. At $29.95 per bird including the broth, Hong Yei's duck is on the cheaper end of the spectrum. 288 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-614-8188.
If you're feeling fancy, Wolfgang Puck's Chinese-inspired WP24 is honoring the day with a special. WP24 carves and serves the duck tableside, along with bao buns, hoisin sauce, cucumbers, scallions and pickled radish. If you're going to splurge, might as well have a chocolate goose egg too. The duck is available in the dining room as part of the set menus — $80 for three courses; $110 for four courses. Or order it a la carte in the lounge on Jan. 18 for only $80. 900 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles; 213-743-8800.
3. Tasty Duck:
As the title suggests, most of the menu items at Tasty Duck are duck-related. The Peking duck here is served with a 12 individual wrappers and the skin is separated from the meat and fried to a crisp, with no fat attached. The bird is priced at $32.95 and you pay extra for more tortillas. 1039 East Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-572-3885.
At Beijing Duck House, the bird is carved up table-side into fatless, meatless shards. Only ten pancakes are given, so be sure to be generous with your wrapping. Condiments include slivers of cucumber, scallion greens, a basting of hoisin sauce and a generous dose of chili paste. The whole ensemble comes with a reasonable price tag of $29.98. 6420 Rosemead Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-286-5508.
1. Duck House:
Duck House, known as Lu Din Gee in Chinese, is a Taiwanese-Beijing restaurant that happens to specialize in duck. They pull out all the stops: crisp squares of roasted duck skin, thin flour pancakes, a sweet and salty bean sauce and thin slices of scallion. You can choose to have your bird prepared three ways for $52.95: the whole duck itself with the pancakes, duck meat sautéed with bean sprouts and duck bone soup. But if you just want the duck itself, minus the soup and extra dish, the a la carte version only goes for $35.95. One hour advanced notice is required. 501 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-284-3227.
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