Almond/Peanut/Mandarin pressed duck, a popular dish in Chinese restaurants in years gone by, is rarely featured in today’s restaurant menus. Allegedly, it is has gone out of style or it is just too time consuming to make in fast-pace modern restaurants.
Therefore, to satisfy a craving for some pressed duck one must attempt to prepare it oneself in the home kitchen. The first step involved tapping the internet and to search cookbooks at hand for guidelines. The search converged upon recipes, techniques, and ideas drained from the internet and that contained in two classic books. – (1) “Eight Immortal Flavors,” by Johnny Kan and (2) “The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook,” by Gloria Miller
I tried to experiment with pieces of duck first lest I take on too large a venture that I could not end up handling. Failing to find any duck breasts pieces; I found and settled upon experimenting with a few thigh-leg pieces. The initial results were sufficiently positive that it encouraged me to forge on ahead into tackling a whole duck
I started with a small fresh duck complete with head and feet weighing 4 1⁄2 pounds. After marinating the duck, I placed it on top of a wire rack in my wok and proceeded to steam it for 2 1⁄2 hours. After the duck had cooled, it was time to embark onto deboning it. I was a bit worried about precisely how best to do the deboning since doing a whole duck appeared to be a lot more difficult than doing just the thigh-leg combination. As it turned out, (warning – here comes a double pun!) – it was “duck soup!” That is to say, (1), the deboning was easy and, (2), I solved another problem of what to do with the odd shaped head, neck, and feet parts by cutting them off literally to make duck soup stock (bonus is saving soup for duck broth yee fu won ton for a future meal). The deboning was made easy because, unlike deboning a raw duck, the meat was soft due to the 2 1⁄2 hours of steaming and it separated from bone readily. I placed the duck, breast down, on a cutting board, made a cut down along the back from front to back, move the meat aside, and simply gently lift the keel bone and rib cage out and wiggle all the thigh-leg and wing appendage bones out. Happily, in reassembling the now boneless duck back together, the duck resumed its familiar shape accompanied by a minimum of skin breakage. With the deboned duck, breast down, I then took a second cutting board, placed it on top of the duck and gently pressed down – the result was a nicely shaped pressed duck, flat and compressed uniformly all around to about 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 inches thick. Next, I sprinkled cornstarch generously onto both sides of the flattened duck with the duck sandwich-supported on top and bottom by two opposing cutting boards as required. The duck was then gently placed on top of the wire rack again in the wok and steamed another final 1⁄2 hour. The most difficult part of the process was at last behind me!
The duck was cut into quarters for ease of handling and deep-fried until golden brown. The final 1⁄2 hour steaming yielded a gelatinous coating of cornstarch that produced a nice crunchy crusty outside layer on the fried duck. The sweet and sour sauce topping was prepared and peanuts chopped/smashed (did not have almonds). The duck was cut into individual 1 1⁄2 by 1 1⁄2 inch pieces square. A bed of shredded lettuce was laid onto a serving platter, pieces of fried duck arranged on top of the lettuce, the top surface of the duck coated with a layer of sweet and sour sauce, topped with a garnished of crushed peanuts and sprigs of cilantro, and Voila - the pressed duck was finally done!
I got into it accepting my wife’s challenge and craving to resurrect pressed duck. I cleaned up the kitchen afterwards just fine, as always! It was just time consuming rather than difficult to do. We were all pleased with the results. It should not take a rocket scientist to bring back pressed duck!