New York City. The saying goes that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. But I think they were talking about young, cute, single and childless 22 year olds (which I’d like to believe I once was and, damn, that was a fun time). I don’t think Sinatra was talking about older, married, overworked parents making a decent wage but still in the lower-middle class because they live in NYC. We’re tired. Very tired. I know, I know, bust out the violins to play a sad song for our tragic city-living lives but this is a bit of a way to apologize for our lack of blogging over the past year and a half. Living in NYC may seem magical for many but for us it’s beginning to become more like hard work than “magical fun”.
No matter where you live, being a good employee, a homeowner (or, in our case, renters) and a hands-on parent is tough work. But, for some reason, being all of those things in NYC seems just a notch more tiring, stressful and, well, annoying. Walking everywhere is wonderful (when it’s not raining, snowing, freezing cold or extremely windy), invigorating (sometimes when it is raining, snowing or freezing cold) and healthy but with a child it sometimes becomes a pain in the ass, especially if you just need one or two things from the grocery store (and that grocery store is a 20 minute uphill walk and your kid is fighting you to get in the stroller). Being a renter is anything but a dream here. A $2000 to $3000 a month rental gives you barely enough space for your family and you are left with only just enough money to buy the absolute necessities. If you want to pay less in rent it means a longer commute, less square footage and often further from a large park. Being a good employee means constantly competing with “the best of the best” in order to prove your worth (and that’s after walking 15 minutes to the subway and, if you are lucky enough taking in the “sights, sounds and smell” of the Penn Station/Port Authority area). Sometimes it all just leaves you, well, worn out.
I know I sound like a grumpy, old person and many of you may think I’m being a crybaby. “Listen to her! Spoiled brat! Complaining about living in what’s thought of as one of the greatest places on earth! She doesn’t know real problems.” But a girl can vent a bit, right? Especially to you guys, right? Really it’s more of me airing out my guilty conscience about not having the time or energy to blog. Rant over – we’re working to improve. I would love to know how other super-busy parents (or super busy people without kids) have time to blog regularly. Suggestions welcome.
Although our blogging has been slow, it doesn’t mean we haven’t been cooking. We have about 40 dishes that have been photographed – just nothing written for the blog. One cold, wintery October Saturday (our only day of snow during an otherwise warm NYC winter), we were dying to eat duck. We had bought a whole one the day before and had thought about making Peking Duck but due to end-of the week tiredness (brought on by all the things mentioned in the rant above) we chose to down two Negroni’s each and order dinner in instead of preparing the Peking Duck. That wintery Saturday morning I figured I was too late to start making the duck dish that overwhelms many, whose preparation traditionally takes more than three days and is called “incredibly complex”. But I needed to eat Peking Duck and didn’t have three days to ensure I did so. We decided to see what it was like to cut some corners and streamline the recipe.
Peking duck is the type of super traditional dish you usually don’t half-ass. But I am here to tell you that it is possible to have delicious, crispy and satisfying Peking Duck in 12 hours. I feel like a bit like a poser here since we normally like to try to be as traditional and authentic as we can in preparing dishes that have real, serious history (and one that causes people to be outright pissed off if you don’t do it the right way) and, in the case of Peking Duck, have “rules”. I normally wouldn’t mess with a dish that is over 600 years old but, in this case, I kinda had to. We didn’t have the time and we didn’t have a bicycle pump. I was desperate and tired and needed to eat duck Peking style to turn my frown upside down – and I wasn’t dragging a baby, stroller, toys and whatnot through the snow to get it in Chinatown Brooklyn. So we shortened the Peking Duck preparation time and, guess what, it was good. Really good. Note the things that we didn’t do: we didn’t dry it out for 24 hours, we didn’t pump air in between the fat and the skin via a bike tire pump, we did not cook it vertically over a wood fire and we also didn’t cut it into 120 perfectly thin slices. Is this really Peking Duck? Maybe not in your eyes. But to us (sleep-deprived, burnt-out Brooklynites) it was and it did its job damn well! Our version took 12 hours from start to finish and it was delicious. I think separating the skin from the fat is the one thing I would try and do differently next time to get the skin that much crispier but I highly recommend, if you have 12 hours, taking the short cut and trying our “Quicker” 12 hour Peking Duck recipe. Once we have that meat hook, I imagine this dish to really take very little effort to make!
(We used legendary Chinese chef Ken Hom’s Peking Duck recipe – you can watch the YouTube video Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE)Ingredients:
4lb fresh duck (thawed completely and dried with paper towels)For Duck “Bath”:
4 cups of water
1 lemon cut into slices
3 tbsp (preferably) dark soy sauce (use regular if you only have that)
5 oz. rice wine (or dry sherry if you don’t have rice wine)
3/4 cup of water for bottom of roasting pan
For Mandarin Pancakes:
1 cup of white flour
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 teaspoon (or pinch) of salt (optional)
small bit of sesame oil for brushing
extra flour for dusting
Thin sliced cucumber
Make the “duck bath” mixture by combining water, honey, lemon, soy sauce and rice wine together in a pot. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Buy a meat hook (or “S” hook) if you can or, do what we did and ghetto-ize it by creating one with a wire hanger (or get creative and figure out your own way to be able to hang your duck to dry). We also used a fan to help speed along the drying process. This looked pretty awesome hanging in our kitchen near our 1 year old!
Next, baste the duck with the boiled liquid using a ladle to “bathe” it. Do this several times and make sure the mixture is really hot – this will help it close up the skin pores (creating crispier skin, they say) and will allow it to adhere to the duck so it will glaze well. You will not see how this “bath” will actually create a beautiful dark color until it has roasted.
Let the duck hang in a cool and dry place with good ventilation so it can dry. Many people hang their duck in the fridge overnight. If you are like me, you have no room in your fridge to hang a four pound duck. Depending on the weather or season you are cooking your duck, you could hang it in your garage (if you have a garage – we don’t) or your basement (if you have a basement – we don’t have that either). What we did have is a hanger, a knob on a cabinet door and a fan. That created our cool, dry and well ventilated environment for 11 hours. Just make sure you put a pan underneath it to catch all the drips. When it is dried, the skin will look dried and will feel very dry to the touch.
Now, put it on a roasting rack to start the cooking process, adding 3/4 of cups of water to the bottom of a roasting pan so the fat that drips off the bird won’t burn. The duck MUST be elevated on a rack to cook to ensure that the skin gets crispy all around and doesn’t cook in it’s own fat.
Roast at 475F for 15 minutes and then turn down to 350F to cook for another hour to hour and 10 minutes.
While duck is roasting, make the pancakes. In a bowl, add the flour and slowly add the boiling water while quickly stirring. Using your hands, knead the dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Keep kneading till it all comes together. Allow the dough to rest in the bowl under some plastic wrap for 20 to 30 minutes. After resting, roll out into a “log” (about 2 to 3 inches wide) and then cut into 1 inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then roll each ball out into a pancake – about 6 inches in diameter and fairly thin (less than a 1/4 inch). Brush each pancake with a bit of sesame oil and then cook in a dry, hot pan on low-medium heat. Stack the pancakes and keep warm in a wrapped towel.
Allow the duck to rest 10 minutes before cutting and, if you have an inkling to do so, go right ahead and try and slice it into 120 pieces (Riiiiight) or, if you were as hungry as we were, just do what feels right. We didn’t slice ours super-thin. Traditionally, it should be sliced very thinly. Serve with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, sliced scallions and pancakes. Roll em up and ENJOY!