Peking duck that doesn't smile back at you.
Peking duck that doesn't smile back at you.
Ando Muneno

Peking Duck, a.k.a. That Duck from "A Christmas Story"

Tired of the same old tired orange chicken and California rolls? Want to venture beyond the standard suburban-stale take-out? Here comes Chop PHX, with the Valley's rarer Asian offerings.

This Week: Peking Duck from Nee House Chinese Cuisine

The Basics: Most people are only familiar with Peking duck through this scene from "A Christmas Story." It's not exactly a flattering introduction to one of China's oldest and most decadent dishes.

Ordering a Peking duck is no minor undertaking. This is a dish that helped lure President Nixon to Communist China at the height of the Cold War. Peking duck runs around $30 and easily feeds 3-4 people on its own. Ordering a few sides would not go amiss though, the braised green beans at Nee House are very good.

You will be brought no fewer than three plates:

Plate #1:The crisp, glazed skin of the duck topping a bed of shrimp flavored fried pork rinds.

Plate #2: Moist snow white buns made of the same downy dough that graces the every popular steamed bun. Accompanying this plate are two important sides: A small mountain of thinly sliced scallions and sweet-savory hoisin sauce.

Plate #3:The rest of the duck sliced for ease of consumption. Dark, rich meat that tastes great on it's own or with the skin. The head is optional at Nee House but I've been told that the extra crisp skin of the head is particularly prized.

Eat It!: If you are a a regular reader of this column then you may have spotted a trend with Asian food:some assembly required.

The basic idea is to pry open one of the buns, slather on some hoisin, insert a piece of skin and pinch of scallion. Then you eat it like a tiny Asian taco and repeat. In Chinese cooking the texture of food is almost as important as the taste. By combining all of these elements together you should end up with a mouthful that is a perfect balance of crunchy, chewy, sweat, salty and completely delicious.

This dish assumes you know what you like and are more than capable of jostling elbows with your closest friends and relatives for the tastiest bits. A great deal like the Thanksgiving turkey you bolted down yesterday. Everyone works their way through a Peking duck differently. I personally favor a piece of skin, two pieces of breast meat, plenty of hoisin and a healthy serving of scallion. If you want a little extra crunch you can always add some of the fried pork rinds.

But what is Peking duck? Truly authentic Peking duck is difficult to come by in the states. It requires a specific kind of duck raised and fed in a particular manner. After butchering, compressed air is used to separate the skin from meat of the duck. This process is what allows the skin to attain its distinctive crispy texture.

After the bird is washed and blanched it is placed in brine for at least 24 hours. Once removed from the brine, the duck is hung to dry for several hours and covered with a malted sugar syrup which is what gives the duck its distinctive reddish brown color. At this point there are two ways of cooking the duck. The duck can be roasted in a brick oven or hung over an open flame. If you've seen ducks or pigs hung in the windows of a Chinese restaurant, this is the style of cooking you are seeing. Both methods rely upon slow, low temperatures to keep the flesh moist and the skin crispy.

The serving of Peking duck is a producation at restaurants that specialize in it. The ducks are prepared to order right in the dinning hall and a tip jar is available for diners to show their appreciation for the cook's knife skills.

Should I be scared? It appears that most Chinese restaurants have at least a passing knowledge of "A Christmas Story." The head is unlikely to make an unannounced appearances at your table unless you request it.

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