Celebrating the diversity of cuisines in Britain

An Homage to

Crispy Aromatic Duck
21 April

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2012 was the first Homage Day in praise of Crispy Aromatic Duck, a truly British invention and one of the most popular Chinese style dishes in the country.

Crispy Aromatic Duck is a real British favourite. It was invented by the Chinese community in London's Chinatown in the latter half of the 20th century and is a signature dish in many Chinese restaurants in the West.

If you look at the food on the table of Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant, you will notice how different the dishes are compared those ordered by Brits who are not Chinese. Most dishes that appear on their table are usually avoided by the Chinese and are not found in China. Crispy Aromatic Duck is very much one of these and is the invention of Chinese restaurateurs in Britain. It is a British invention, mixing Peking duck with Sichuan style duck. Although it is tasty, many Chinese people consider it dry (the duck is deep-fried) and therefore a waste of a perfectly juicy duck.

The duck is first marinated with spices, then steamed until tender, and finally deep fried until crispy. The meat has less fat and is drier and crispier compared to that of Peking Duck.

The Cantonese prefer a traditional roast duck where the juice and flavour of the duck is preserved and enhanced through slow roasting. The northern Chinese prefer Peking duck, a delicacy where the skin is full of intense flavour. I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't order crispy aromatic duck. I'm just encouraging you should also try the authentic varieties as well to really get a sense of Chinese food.

Chicken with Cashew Nuts, is another British invention. The problem with this dish is that restaurants will use sliced chicken breast. To the Chinese, and most other places on earth, the best parts of the chicken are everything but the breast because the breast is bland and lacks juice. Hence breast is best when flavour is seeped into it.

Chicken with Cashew Nuts does not do this. In fact, most places that make this dish use frozen chicken breasts because a Chinese restaurant will assume you don't know good chicken if you order this dish. There are plenty of other chicken dishes that are anglicised and uses similar quality ingredients, such as Sweet and Sour Chicken and Lemon Chicken.

Egg Fried Rice is also a British invention to accompany Chinese dishes.

Ken Hom's Crispy aromatic duck - Recipe

Serves: 4 people

1 x 2.75 kg (6lb) duck fresh or frozen
6 slices of fresh root ginger
6 spring onions cut in to 7.5 (3 in) length
Cornflour, plain flour or potato flour for dusting
1.2 litres (2 pints) groundnut oil

For the spice rub
2 tablespoons five-spice powder
765 g (2 ½ oz) Sichuan peppercorns
25 g (1 oz) whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
200 g (7 oz) rock salt

To serve
Chinese pancakes
6 spring onions, finely shredded
Hoisin sauce


If the duck is frozen, thaw it thoroughly - rinse well and blot it completely dry with kitchen paper. Mix all the ingredients for the spice rub together in a small bowl, then rub the duck inside and out with this mixture, applying it evenly. Wrap well in cling film and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After this time, brush any excess spices from the duck. Stuff the ginger and spring onions into the cavity and put the duck on a heatproof plate. Set up a steamer or put a rack into a wok. Fill it with 5 cm (2 in) of water and bring to the boil. Lower the duck and plate into the steamer and cover tightly. Steam gently for 2 hours, pouring off excess fat from time to time. Add more water as necessary.

Remove the duck from the steamer and pour off all the liquid. Discard the ginger and spring onions. Leave the duck in a cool place for 2 hours or until it has dried and cooled. At this point the duck can be refrigerated.

Just before you are ready to serve it, cut the duck into quarters and dust with cornflour, or plain four or potato flour, shaking off the excess. Heat the oil in a wok or deep fat fryer. When it is almost smoking, deep-fry the duck quarters in two batches. Fry the breasts for about 8-10 minutes and the thighs and legs for about 12-15 minutes until each quarter is crisp and heated right through.

Drain the duck on kitchen paper and leave until cool enough to handle. Then remove the meat from the bones and shred it. You can do this easily with a fork. The Chinese eat it with bones and all. Serve with the Chinese pancakes, spring onions and hoisin sauce.

Chinese Peking Duck originated in the imperial kitchens of the Ming dynasty emperors over 600 years ago. With the fall of the Ching dynasty in the early 1900s, court chefs brought the Chinese Peking Duck dish to the surrounding areas in Beijing (formerly known as Peking) and eventually the popularity of Chinese Peking Duck spread across the globe.

The delicious Chinese-style Crispy Aromatic Duck meal that we enjoy today, originated in the UK in the latter half of the 20th century and is a combination of Chinese Peking Duck (roast duck supplied with pancakes) and Chinese Szechuan Duck (crispy duck on its own).

Organiser : Peter Grove
(in conjunction with The Federation of Specialist Restaurants)

P.O. Box 416 Surbiton Surrey KT1 9BJ Tel : 020 8399 4831
email : groveint@aol.com