I was showing off to my brother-in-law recently, recounting how I once ate crispy duck at an open-air restaurant in Laos. After a starter of cold duck’s blood in a soup dish topped with golden, crisp fried shallots, we were served a huge platter of roasted carcass, and encouraged to toss the bones over our shoulders for the stray dogs to chew on.
“Gosh,” said Rupert pensively. “It wasn’t a bit like that at the Mandarin in Lingfield.” His eyes grew moist as he recalled his childhood outings to the takeaway, with its brown smoked glass windows and steamy waiting area at the front. For a schoolboy in 80s Surrey, this was pure exotica.
“For years I thought crispy duck with pancakes was the world’s greatest dish,” sighed Rupert. “Until I discovered sweet-and-sour chicken balls in bright orange sauce. That really blew my mind.”
For me, though, it was always crispy duck. And (despite my boasting) not the Laotian kind, but the Rupert kind. My equivalent of the Lingfield Mandarin was a slightly plusher Chinese restaurant in Putney, with a swirly carpet and thick white tablecloths. Everything about it seemed foreign and sophisticated: the waiter who pulled apart the tender duck with a fork, the bamboo steamer loaded with soft pancakes, and the fact that you were expected to assemble your own meal. My friend Ed and I used to argue for hours about the correct order of construction: sauce, duck, spring onions and cucumber (him); or duck, spring onions and cucumber, sauce (me, clearly right as you don’t want the sauce soaking into the pancake).
But perhaps the most thrilling thing about crispy duck was the impossibility of ever making it yourself. Everyone knew that it required a process of salting, boiling, rubbing, drying, roasting, and glazing so fiendishly complex that Confucius himself would have balked and ordered a takeway.
So it is with some trepidation that we offer up this week’s recipe. Not because it is too difficult for the novice cook, but precisely because it isn’t. Of course this isn’t the authentic method. What you produce with this recipe will be subtly different from what a restaurant might serve (the pancakes will take on a lightly toasted colour for example). But it doesn’t take days, the duck will come out crisp as you like and it will cost you about a quarter of the amount you would pay in a restaurant.
The salting of the duck can be done the night before or a few hours before cooking. The duck can also be cooked ahead of time and re-heated to serve with the pancakes.
Cook for about a minute on either side until slightly browned in places and transfer to a serving dish. Repeat with the rest of the dough mix.