Sunday, October 16, 2011

For Three-Word Wednesday

(Also for Magpie 87, Sunday Scribblings and ABC Wednesday)
"N" is for "Nice"

A few decades ago I had a great job, making motion pictures around the world for various national governments and American businesses.
One of the assignments was to make a film on Taiwan.

The island of Taiwan – (and, by the way, their preferred name is the Republic of China) – is a beautiful place, a perfect subject for a documentary film-maker.

I shot footage of the usual attractions, as might be expected. But the government agency I was working for wanted me to be sure to include a sequence on the food.
Because the food on Taiwan is really good.


There’s a solid historical reason for this. When the Communists took over mainland China, back in 1950, they closed down the great hotels and the fine restaurants; such things didn’t fit in with Marxist philosophy.

So the great Chinese chefs took off, along with everyone else who could get out, for Taiwan. Result: for many years the island had the best Chinese food on the planet.
My clients wanted me to show this in the film I was making for them, and especially to emphasize one of the great national dishes, Peking Duck.

I had heard about this dish, but I had never had a chance to taste it in its authentic form. It has been around for quite a while; some say almost a thousand years.

So I arranged for a sequence for my film, shot in a Taipei restaurant. During the shoot, I had a brilliant idea.
(Like so many of my brilliant ideas, it didn’t work out too well.)
My view was that preparing Peking Duck wasn’t all that difficult. You see, back home in New York I had always wanted to be considered, by admiring friends and relatives, as a competent amateur chef. How satisfying it would be if I used what I learned here to prepare a really nice dish: Peking Duck. I could imagine a large, full-color photograph of me as a champion Peking Duck chef, with a note reading: "You Are Here."
Again, it didn’t look too hard. You just had to have, first of all, a duck – which would be sort of a basic requirement – and such stuff as scallions, hoisin sauce, etc., etc.
A small, tentative voice within me said, you can do this!
You’d think I would have learned never to listen to that small, tentative voice.
It was back home in New York that I was forced to face the basic fact about cooking Peking Duck – it ain’t easy.
Of course, some of the steps weren’t too difficult. Completely cleaning and eviscerating, the bird? Okay, I could do that. I began to get an idea of what a project this would be when I learned that I was supposed to hang it to dry for 24 hours.
I tried to think of what to say if other members of my condominium association dropped in and saw this small carcass hanging in my apartment - surely that might be regarded as a breach of condo rules? But the next bit was even worse: you were supposed to actually blow air through the crevices between the skin and meat; this would remove excess fat.
The reaction of those same folks who dropped by if they saw me blowing air into a duck – well, that could only be imagined.
At one point a sentence in the recipe caught my eye: "Total preparation time 11 hours and 20 minutes." It was around then the flame of ambition I had to be a Peking Duck chef became a dying ember.
Some folks, as it turned out, did drop by and we had a fine meal. I had phoned for Chinese takeout home delivery -- General Tso's Chicken. :-)

52 comments:

izzy said...

I do love duck! but spicy would be too much-
thanks!

Tess Kincaid said...

I'm giggling at the thought of you blowing air into your duck...

Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, and cutting it up into the precisely right hundred-and-some pieces was going to be a piece of cake, too? LOL
We enjoyed genuine Peking Duck in Beijing a few years ago, and I've never forgotten the young chef transforming it into what looked like a zillion pieces in what felt like a matter of seconds.

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

Helen said...

Previously the most hysterically funny recipe I had ever read was for Duck Galantine .. it now comes in second after yours!!! Blow away!

christopher said...

And yet I bet you cook far better than I cook...

jabblog said...

LOL! Peking duck is not quite what it sounds like . . .

junkthief said...

I'm glad you were honest about Peking Duck being beyond your cooking skills (or at least patience). I've always heard about how difficult it is to make but have never fully understood why.

At first glance that photo at the top looked like it had the Tower of Latin America in Mexico City in it.

R. Burnett Baker said...

Makes me hungry! But makes me "homesick" for Taiwan! I love the street food and the different vendors in the night markets. Just thinking about it brings back the aromas and sounds!

(gotta find my pics of Taipei 101, though I don't have any at night)
Rick

Kathy Bischoping said...

I had an uneasy last date with someone who, after watching ducks swimming in Lake Ontario, suggested we go for Peking Duck. Which we did. And it was delicious. But still.

Stafford Ray said...

And.... the take-out was Peking Duck, of course?

Rinkly Rimes said...

I always aim for recipes that say 'Preparation time 5 minutes' so you'd never get Peking Duck from me!

Berowne said...

Yes, "Preparation time 5 minutes" is about right for me too. Just the time it takes to take the thing, whatever it may be, from the freezer and chuck it into the microwave. :-)

Berowne said...

What a great way to start the morning -- comments from izzy, Tess K, Kay L D, Helen, christopher, jabblog, junkthief, Rick, Kathy B and Stafford R. Thanks.

Isabel Doyle said...

What the recipe should have said is: procure yourself a peking duck ...!

Taiwan is a fascinating place - did you get into the museum as well?

Anonymous said...

Dear Berowne: haha! Funny!!!The visuals of you blowing air into a duck are, to say the least, indelibly etched now! I only had duck (a l'orange) once and did find it too greasy and it did taste like chicken. Maybe you could invent a new faster method of duck degreasing...maybe not? chiccoreal

Berowne said...

chiccoreal: "Maybe you could invent a new faster method of duck degreasing...maybe not?"
Sure, no problem. Just blow into it for a while. :-)

Berowne said...

Isabel D: "Taiwan is a fascinating place - did you get into the museum as well?"
Yes, of course. The 2 days of the museum shoot were memorable. As I shot the ancient artifacts and treasures, they had a crew of scientists and other specialists who watched me like a hawk. They measured the light -- to see that not too much heat was on the items and that no one but the experts touched them, etc. It was a fascinating experience.

Brian Miller said...

hahaha just thinking of someone stopping in as you were blowing in the duck...priceless...yes i will take general tsaos any day...

Doctor FTSE said...

Fascinating and informative as always. And well told. Thank you.

Berowne said...

Thanks to Doc FTSE; a fine comment as always.

Brigid said...

Blowing air into a duck, that sounds like a Monty Python sketch?
Great post!

Lolamouse said...

I can almost hear Julia Child's voice saying, "Just blow into the duck between the skin and the meat to remove the excess fat..." It's one of those recipes that you WATCH someone else make.

Christine said...

Thanks for dropping by. I liked your ending.

Ginny Brannan said...

Twenty-four hours to dry, and 11 hours and 20 minutes to prepare. I like to cook, but that is far beyond the time I'd want to spend on a meal. Preparing a turkey at Thanksgiving is enough for me!! I'm with you, Chinese take-out works just fine!! No fuss, no muss!

Margaret said...

If you made a documentary filming exactly as you described... "The making of and "almost' Peking Duck Chef".. it would be hysterical! I loved this. Thanks.

Catfish Tales said...

Hahaha. Enjoyable read - especially loved your colourful photos!

Susie Clevenger said...

Love this...I was smiling throughout...trying to imagine you blowing air in a duck and then having it hang in your apartment..I'm afraid I would think of it as more of a crime scene...lol Great story!

Roger Owen Green said...

I love Peking duck but, er, I think I will seek ANOTHER chef.
No offense.

mrsnesbitt said...

I normally double the preparation time in any case - however...11+ hours???? lol!
Great post.
Denise ABC Team

Meryl said...

LOL! I personally support easy and simple... life is just too short!

Leslie: said...

Too much time and effort for me! I much prefer calling my local Chinese restaurant - and I then pick it up for 10% off...lol

Ann said...

I like large chunks of meat, not slivers. When I was treated to a high class hotel in Singapore, when they took away the carcass, I felt like saying, please leave the bones, I like to gnaw at them. LOL

Nicholas V. said...

Hmmm, Peking duck is definitely not "fast food"!
Interesting read.

Berowne said...

Ann: "I like large chunks of meat, not slivers."
But the glory of Peking Duck is primarily in the skin, not so much the meat. When done right, there's nothing like it.

Morning said...

thoughtful,

Peking Duck is famous indeed, but Beking is located in the mainland,
Glad to see your passion in this culture.
Taiwan is a lovely place to dine!

Berowne said...

Morning: "Peking Duck is famous indeed, but Beking is located in the mainland."
Surely you're not suggesting that Peking Duck is available only in Peking? That would be like saying hamburger can only be found in Hamburg. :-)

Trellissimo said...

Can I find the time to try the recipe? Probably not. Pity.

sunny said...

hi Berowne.nice to see your blog,and the post is really apetizer hope you will visit mine blog too.

Ann Grenier said...

Always learn something new here. I've never eaten Peking Duck, just the usual (too oily for me) roasted version; my interest is peaked by all I am reading:-)

Sheilagh Lee said...

I don't blame you that sounds like an awful lot of work for a few minutes if filming and eating

Jo Bryant said...

I had no idea there was so much involved in that dish - not that I am a fan of it

Thomma Lyn said...

Fascinating! I've never tried Peking Duck, either, but I learned a lot from your post. Cool photos, too!

Andy Sewina said...

Brilliantly entertaining story!

Thank you!!

Tumblewords: said...

Ha. Never catch me blowing in a duck. Nor peeking at one either, probably. The only thing better than take-out is bring-to. Love this post.

Alice Audrey said...

Peking Duck is good, but if you ask me it isn't worth the effort.

Great use of three words. Please read my attempt.

Berowne said...

Alice A: "Great use of three words."
Another three words: thanks a lot. :-)

Berowne said...

Tumblewords: "Nor peeking at one either, probably. Love this post."
Enjoyed the peeking-Peking pun; thanks, Tumble.

Berowne said...

Andy S: "Brilliantly entertaining story!"
Brilliantly entertaining comment! :-)

Kim Nelson said...

That was a great story! Truly entertaining. You did yourself proud.

Berowne said...

What a marvelous comment, Kim. My thanks to you.

sharplittlepencil said...

Have eaten Peking Duck. Would never attempt preparing it. Prefer General Tso's Chicken anyway! (I know, Bourdain is writing in pain at the mention of the latter, ha ha)

You have trod a most unusual path. Thanks for sharing another batch of footsteps with us, Berowne, and sorry it's been so long since I was here. "Unavoidably detained." Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/not-me-never-again-abc-weds/

sharplittlepencil said...

I meant Bourdain was WRITHING in pain. What a funny typo, considering his crafts!

 
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