Yes, I love steak but nothing spells out special occasion for me like Peking duck.
Note: M.I.Y.O. Monday stands for Make It Your Own Monday, a question thrown out to DCF readers every Monday to jumpstart the week with lively interaction. I also welcome questions and suggestions for future MIYO Mondays. Email me.
I don’t remember the first time I had Peking duck but I do remember being so entranced with its mahogany skin, its scintillating sheen, and painfully unctuous texture that I felt myself go limp (seriously). I also remember that it was a special occasion in one of those we-only-eat-there-for-special-occasions restaurants.
Of course, as with all special occasion dishes, preparing Peking duck requires decades of learning and mastering. Originally a dish from Nanjing, China, ducks are prepared for their exalted, edible destiny through procedures that can only be described as Byzantine. The bird is force-fed until 35% of its weight is pure fat, its feathers plucked with almost loving care, then it goes to that kitchen in the sky via a cunning evisceration through a tiny opening under its wing. Chinese master chefs are mum about their methods in acquiring the duck’s exquisitely crispy skin but my research yields a litany of bizarre “blow-drying” methods that include a bicycle pump (!), electric fans, and fruitwood-fired kilns the size of a condominium, among others.
As far as I’m concerned, the chefs can keep their secrets, I want my Peking duck skin. Though the number of pancakes provided per order of Peking duck is prescribed, my perfect ratio is 2:3, two pancakes to three strips of skin. Ideally, there should be some meat sticking to skin layered over a just-steamed floury pancake, its ivory hue stained by streaks of hoisin sauce. A line of leeks peeks out once the pancake is folded, their piquant flavor ripping through the richness. This is a dish that invites delectable daydreams, even surrounded by others in equal states of ecstasy seated at a table centered on celebration.
There are plenty of places in Manila that take their Peking ducks seriously. My choice is Peking Garden.
What is your celebratory dish in your special-occasion restaurant?