Hoisin-Roasted Duck with Sweet Potatoes

"It was genius," says chef Ming Tsai of the thought process that led the Ming Dynasty's finest chefs to invent Peking duck some 800 years ago. A simple trick relieves the duck of its copious fat. Here's how it works: The cook gives the duck a tracheotomy, slides in a tube and pumps air under the skin to separate the skin from the flesh, allowing the fat to render off completely. The duck is then dipped in a glaze of "Chinese vinegar, soy sauce, water, and a sweetener and hung up to dry for 24 hours in a well-ventilated space," says Tsai, then it's roasted slowly. What results is the crackling mahogany skin that has made this dish a delicacy. Peking duck is a specialty of Tsai's Blue Ginger restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts, but is only served to diners who give the required 24 hours notice.

Tsai, a Yale-educated chef from a restaurant family who has done much to school Americans in Chinese cuisine on his PBS show Simply Ming, respects the process but says there is a much easier approach that makes the dish doable for less accomplished cooks.

With Tsai's one-pan variation, a Long Island Pekin duck is marinated for at least two hours in a sauce of lime, aromatics, and hoisin – a sweet bean-paste sauce that's the most common accompaniment to Peking duck. It's then roasted for an hour or so with sweet potatoes, onions, and kale that absorb the luscious sauce and duck drippings. And voilà: a version with the crispy skin, savory meat, and hoisin sauce of Peking duck that anyone with an oven – or grill – can make at home in an afternoon.

Ming Tsai's Hoisin-Roasted Duck with Sweet Potatoes
(Serves 3 to 4)

Ingredients 

  • One 5- to 6-pound Long Island Pekin duck, rinsed and dried, and visible fat removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups Hoisin-Lime Sauce (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 4 large sweet potatoes (orange flesh) or yams (white or yellow flesh), washed and cut into 6 to 8 wedges each
  • 1 bunch kale, washed and sliced in 1/4-inch-wide strips

Instructions
1. Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, combine the Hoisin-Lime Sauce and the wine. Rub the duck generously with the mixture inside and out, and marinate in the mixture, refrigerated, for 2 hours or more, up to overnight.
2. Place a roasting pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Combine the onions, potatoes, and kale in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, and toss.
4. Open the oven and carefully spray the roasting pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place one potato wedge in the pan. The potato should sizzle; if not, remove it and continue to heat the pan. When the pan is very hot, add the potato-onion-kale mixture to the pan and place the duck on top, breast side up. Turn the pan back to front, and roast until the duck is brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Tent the duck with foil and continue to roast until the duck is cooked through, or the legs can be moved easily, 30 to 35 minutes more. Alternatively, grill the duck over indirect heat (heat right half; cook on left half), either vertically beer-can style (a "tall boy" can works best) or on a duck rack that's standing on a sheet pan with the potato mixture. Cook until potatoes are tender and meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. When roasting or grilling is done, transfer the duck to a cutting board and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Using a flat spatula, loosen the potato mixture from the pan and transfer to the center of a platter. Place the whole duck on the potatoes, breast side up, and carve at the table. You may also carve the duck before serving, separating the thighs from the wings, and slicing the breast.

Hoisin Lime Sauce
(Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp grapeseed or canola oil
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cups hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the 2 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the hoisin sauce and stir to prevent burning. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the lime juice. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend, drizzling in the 1/2 cup oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cool thoroughly; store leftovers in fridge.