In Austin, Which Peking Duck Reigns Supreme? We list some of the mightiest ducks in town – Food
Din Ho BBQ (photo by Jana Birchum)
Peking duck is to Chinese cuisine what lechon is to the Philippines or barbacoa is to Mexico – the culmination of a culture that spends hundreds of years figuring out what’s tastiest.
Prepared through long and painstaking processes to exacting standards, the classic banquet dish is emblematic of traditional palace dishes and meant to be shared around a table with friends and family.
Peking duck is prepared through long and painstaking processes to exacting standards. The result is tender, flavorful, no-fuss meat wrapped in perfectly crispy skin that melts in your mouth like meat candy.
First, a fat white duck—which in America is American Peking ducks, although Jurgielewicz’s ducks are considered the best—is slaughtered at 65 days of age and plucked. A pump is inserted under the skin and meat to remove air and maximize crispness for grilling. Additionally, separating the meat from the skin allows the fat to render properly and tenderize the meat. The entrails are carefully removed through a slit to leave the rest of the skin intact, and the duck is given a quick hot water bath to tighten the skin before being air-dried and coated with spices, including syrup. maltose for a rich mahogany color. Finally, the bird is slowly returned to an extremely hot “hanging oven” and is traditionally carved tableside by the chef so that each piece is free of small gristles and bones.
The result is tender, flavorful, no-fuss meat wrapped in perfectly crispy skin that melts in your mouth like meat candy. Traditional accompaniments are steamed thin pancakes, tianmianjiang (sweet bean sauce) and thinly sliced cucumber and onion, along with a small plate of sugar to dip the skin into as an individual treat. Spread the pancake with the sauce, put a few pieces of duck in the middle, garnish with the green stuff, roll and eat with your hands.
I went on a pilgrimage through Austin’s top purveyors of “Peking duck” (see the sidebar to understand why I’m using quotation marks here), looking for the best Peking duck the city has to offer, based on the flavor of the meat. , the unique crispness of the skin and the quality of its accompaniments. By the end of the arduous journey of eating my way through fancy Chinese restaurants, I felt like Emperor Qianlong, who famously ate roast duck eight times in two weeks. Don’t feel too bad for me – although some were better than others, I’ve never had a bad meal.
Din Ho BBQ
Din Ho BBQ has been an Austin Chinese food staple for over 20 years. The restaurant specializes in seafood and Cantonese-style barbecue, and roast pigs and poultry hang from hooks in the glass display case as you walk in the door, ready for carving and expert delight. Owner Jackie Szeto hails from Hong Kong, which borders the Chinese province of Guangdong, and the “Peking duck” here is prepared in the Cantonese style.
We ordered the Peking duck and some Tsingtao beers served in chilled glasses. Nothing goes as well with Chinese BBQ as a cold Tsingtao or Tiger Beer, so the fact that Din Ho offers beer and wine (unlike Bamboo House or First Chinese, which are BYOB) already puts me in a good mood . They get full marks for cold glasses.
The Peking duck is served whole and comes with an array of steamed bao buns, finely chopped onions and house hoisin sauce. The bone rack, which still has meat on it, is available for an additional $2. The chef did an adequate job of removing most of the bones and guts and arranged the duck with one leg on each side. The skin is fried in a hot oil bath, but it remains slightly chewy and has a lingering bite. It’s still a stellar piece of poultry, and we both wolfed down enough for three people.
Din Ho BBQ
8557 Inquiry #116, 512/832-8788
1618 Asian Fusion (photo by Jana Birchum)
1618 Asian fusion
If you’re looking for service, aesthetics and ambiance more like the Chinese upper classes centuries ago when they ate Peking duck, try 1618 Asian Fusion. The restaurant is by no means a Chinese banquet hall, but in terms of ambience, they are definitely the biggest on the list and there is something to be said for enjoying fantastic cocktails and a beautifully decorated atmosphere while you eat your food. down on some ducks. Owners Kevin Le and Lynn Tran excel at serving up the best of various Asian cuisines (the couple travels extensively throughout Southeast Asia for culinary inspiration), and the Peking Duck is no exception. While it definitely leans more Cantonese in its influence, it’s an incredible roast duck overall.
The skin is tight as a drum, extremely crispy, and comes away easily from the firm but tender meat. The meat is darker so I assume it was seasoned with Cantonese style spices. The perfectly carved whole duck feeds two or three and comes with 10 steamed bao buns, tianmianjiang and chopped onions. Half the appeal of Peking duck – and what sets it apart from Cantonese-style siu aap – is the skin, and unfortunately that’s where the 1618 falls down; the skin of this duck crackles on the sticks and not on the tongue.
1618 Asian fusion
1618 E. Riverside, 512/462-9999
Bamboo House (photo by John Anderson)
Austin’s Chinese population was excited when Bamboo House decided to open here because the original Houston location received such high praise for its Peking duck, which is prepared using traditional methods and strict standards, difficult to found outside of China. When Bamboo House finally opened in October, the duck was sold out for the first few weeks and the lines were out the door. These days, you can walk in and order a half duck (for one or two people) or a whole duck (only available for groups of three or more) most weekday afternoons without a wait, though you may can be a bit busy on weekend nights and on sale, so I recommend getting there early to make sure your ducks are in a row.
My friend and I sat down at 4:30pm on a Thursday in a mostly empty restaurant and were served almost immediately after sitting down. The Peking duck experience began with a duck bone soup with napa cabbage and tofu floating in the clear and fragrant broth, a classic precursor to the main course, which arrived within minutes of the soup. The perfectly carved half duck was served with freshly steamed pancakes in a bamboo steamer and all the traditional accompaniments, including house-made tianmianjiang and sugar for dipping.
It was worth the fuss. The meat had a milder, more nuanced flavor than any other duck and no gameiness, with a firm but tender texture. The leather was absolutely flawless – the only place on this list to get it right. Bamboo House loses half a point because it doesn’t have the Tsingtao or baijiu beer needed to counter the fat of the duck, but this is the holy grail of Peking duck in Austin … for now.
7010 Easy Wind #100, 682/428-7846
The First Chinese BBQ (photo by John Anderson)
The first Chinese BBQ
Let me just say: First Chinese BBQ has some of the best Cantonese-style BBQ and seafood in town, so don’t let this review put you off their other dishes. Their “Peking Duck”, while generally not bad, isn’t really Peking Duck. It actually reminded me a bit of Salted Nanjing Duck, which is a stewed duck dish but with extra marinade.
The duck is served complete with 10 steamed bao buns, hoisin sauce and haphazardly chopped onions, suggesting a lack of care or finesse with the accompaniments. It was clear that they were serving standard roast duck with a different colored marinade and no attempt was made to dry the skin at all. While the marinade was quite tasty, the skin was very chewy and the meat was the tastiest of all the ducks.
The duck was torn apart fast and hastily, so I bit into a few chunks of bone and chewy fat. This made it difficult to properly roll the pieces into the bun. It’s the kind of duck you can make at home, which kind of defeats the purpose of ordering Peking duck altogether. If you’re going to order duck at Chinese First, try the Roasted Duck Noodle Soup instead.
The first Chinese BBQ
10901 N. Lamar, 512/835-8889
myfirstchinesebbq.com Peking Duck vs Cantonese Roast Duck
“Peking duck” is often used as a catchall term for any roasted Chinese duck, although they may not use the same cooking methods. Cantonese-style roasted duck, or siu aap, although similar, is topped with star anise, ginger, peppercorns, green onions, cassia buds, cloves, vinegar, and salt to give it a reddish color and more flavor. sweet and usually served with steamed bao buns and hoisin sauce instead of thin pancakes. They are also baked in closed ovens and require a hot oil bath to cool the skin – unlike the open oven method – producing a firmer, less “melt in your mouth” texture. It’s delicious in its own way, but for the purposes of this article I’m specifically evaluating how Peking duck is traditionally presented.– Clara Wang