Cantonese Roast Duck

This is it: my last post before the limited edition hardcover version of The Heritage Cookbook is no longer available for purchase. This special edition shop will only be open until midnight Sunday, June 30th, because after that I must submit my order to the printer in time for an October delivery. We’ve sold a little over 500 copies at this point, which means I’ve reached my target goal and won’t be losing money off this endeavor. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders! Thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy for yourself or a loved one — your support means a lot to me, and I think you’re going to love the finished product.

So to celebrate this milestone, I’m sharing one of my crowning achievements from this book’s recipe development: a recipe for Cantonese roast duck that rivals the versions you’ll find in restaurants. I found that the trick to getting that crispy-all-over texture comes from lots of exposure to air: air out the chicken in the fridge, then brush on the glaze while airing it out with a fan, and propping the duck upright using a bottle so that the air hits every part of it.

Be warned that there are a few unconventional ingredients in this dish, but a) most Chinese markets will carry them at a fair price, b) you can find on them online for a little bit more (links below), and c) because they are all shelf stable, you won’t need to reinvest in these ingredients for some time. While you’re there at the market, pick up an extra Chinese rice wine bottle, the ones with a squared base — they’re the best bottles for keeping the duck solidly upright (see the picture above).

Cantonese Roast Duck (Gluten-free)

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Advanced

1 whole duck (~4 lbs), wing tips removed
2 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp five spice powder
¼ tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp fermented black beans (Douchi)
1 tbsp tamari or light soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1” ginger, sliced and smashed
3 green onions, cut into 2” lengths
1 small piece dried citrus peel (Chenpi), or peel of ½ tangerine
1 whole star anise
¼ cup honey or maltose
½ cup hot water
1 tbsp Chinese red vinegar
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine, dry sherry, or other rice cooking wine

1. Using paper towels, pat the duck dry, and cut away any excess fat or skin that extends beyond 2” from the bird.  Rub the outside of the duck all over with the salt, five spice powder, and ground peppercorns. Stuff the inside of the duck with paper towels to absorb any moisture; refrigerate, uncovered and breast-side-up, for 2 hours.

2. Remove the duck from the fridge, and remove and discard the paper towels.  In a small bowl, combine the fermented black beans and tamari, then rub the mixture all over the inside of the duck.  Place the garlic, ginger, green onions, citrus peel, and star anise inside the duck; stuff the duck with a large (25oz) glass bottle, preferably a square Chinese cooking wine bottle for the most stability, but an ordinary wine bottle will do.  Secure and seal the top of the duck by piercing each end of the skin with toothpicks, then tightly secure the cavity skin around the duck using toothpicks; the goal is to make the duck as airtight as possible.

3. Gently stand the duck upright and place in the sink.  Bring 1 quart of water to a boil over high heat, then slowly pour or ladle the boiling water all over the outside of the duck. In a bowl, combine the honey, hot water, vinegar, and wine. Brush a layer of the liquid all over the duck, wait 10 minutes for the duck to dry, then brush another layer on; continue this process until ⅔ of the honey mixture has been brushed on, about 6 layers (and 1 hour) total.  For best results, aim a portable fan at the duck to aid in the drying process. At this point the duck can be roasted immediately, or refrigerated overnight for extra crispy skin.

4. Preheat the oven to 400F, and remove all but the bottom rack from the oven.  Place the upright duck on a cast iron skillet, then brush on another layer of the honey mixture and place in the oven.  Roast until deep golden brown, about 45 minutes, rotating the duck and brushing on more of the honey mixture every 15 minutes.  As the skin cooks and shrinks, the toothpicks will come undone from around the bottle (as pictured), which is fine. If any parts of the duck become prematurely dark, such as the wings, loosely cover the dark parts with tin foil to halt the browning process.

5. Allow the duck to rest upright for 15 minutes, then gently remove from the bottle, carve, and serve.  When carving, try and combine a little skin with every piece of meat. Serve over rice, drizzled with any juices that accumulated in the skillet.

8 thoughts on “Cantonese Roast Duck

    1. Hi, it’s unlikely that the book will be in print after this initial limited edition hardcover, since I’m no longer under contract with a publisher. I’m not sure that it could even hold up to printing in paperback; 760 pages would make make the spine too large for most paperback printing machines!

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  1. I had to get the Heritage cookbook in electronic format as i’m In the UK, not something I like to do generally with cook books, but I’m so pleased I did, it’s clearly a labour of love, and truly excellent.. i’m surprised someone hasn’t bitten your arm to publish it..
    It’s fascinating in it’s scope and the recipes are a wonderful collection. Props to you.

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