Pancake Day #2: with Crispy Duck and Plum Sauce

If you put me on the spot and asked me for the definition of my perfect pancake, what would I choose? The way my mum used to make them on Shrove Tuesday, thin with a crisp lacy edge, served with sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice?

Soft and fluffy American-style pancakes, soaked with butter and maple syrup and topped with a couple of brittle rashers of streaky bacon?

Image of a stack of pancakes topped with bacon

Chinese pancakes in a bamboo steamer, waiting to be stuffed full of crispy Peking duck, plum sauce and crunchy cucumber and spring onion?

Or filled with fresh vegetables, ready to be rolled up and baked in an unctuous overcoat of cheese sauce?

Image of stuffed and rolled pancakes in baking dishWell, lucky me, I haven’t had to choose as I’ve eaten all of these over the past week or two, all in the interests of bringing you the recipes and pictures. My selflessness knows no bounds.

Today we’re heading east. If you don’t want to make the plum sauce just use Hoisin sauce from a bottle.

Similarly, you can buy Chinese pancakes ready made. The home-made ones are slightly thicker – and according to my husband more rustic – but we both agreed are worth the effort for the improved flavour.  They’re actually very easy to make. I don’t recommend freezing them though, they tend to go a bit leathery.

Image of Chinese pancakes

To replicate authentic Peking Duck at home you need more time and patience than I possess –  have a look at what Tim Hayward did in the Guardian newspaper a couple of years ago and weep.

The first alternative I tried produced something that tasted like a perfectly ordinary roast duck with the doubtful addition of a burned and blackened skin.

So I went with Jamie Oliver’s method for crispy duck. It’s not remotely authentic and to my mind the search for the perfect home-cooked version continues – suggestions welcome – but it tastes good.

Image of Jamie's crispy duck

Crispy Duck with Pancakes and Plum Sauce

Ingredients for the duck:

1.75 kg (4lb) duck

Lots of Five Spice Powder

A knob of ginger, peeled and grated

Sea salt


Image of duck rubbed with ginger and five spice

Anoint with plenty of Five Spice and ginger

Leave the duck, uncovered, in the fridge overnight for the skin to dry out.

Rub it with plenty of salt. I also smeared it  inside and out with some grated ginger but you run the risk of the ginger burning. Jamie suggests just putting it in the cavity.

Now massage in plenty of Five Spice Powder and set aside again to dry out (if you have time) on a rack in a roasting tin.

Preheat the oven to 325F/170F/200C/Gas Mark 3.

Roast the duck for around 2 hours,  spooning off any excess fat from time to time. If by now the skin isn’t crispy with the legs pulling away easily from the body, give it a quick blast at 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6.

Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Ingredients for the pancakes:

Image of pancake ingredients

500g plain flour

250 ml boiling water

90 ml cold water

1 tspn sesame oil


Image of pancake dough being made

Sift the flour into a bowl and gradually stir in the boiling water. Mix well.

Add the cold water and mix to form a ball (you may have to get your hands in here).

On a floured surface, knead until smooth. Return to the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave for 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half and roll each half into a long sausage 5cm/2″ in diameter.

Image of pancake dough, rolled and cut

Cut into 2.5 cm/1″ lengths. Flatten each piece with the palm of your hand. Brush the tops lightly with a dab of sesame oil and place two pieces together, oiled sides facing.

Image of pancakes rounds being oiled

Roll each pair into 15cm/6″ pancakes.

Put a dry non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and cook, still stuck together, until they start to bubble and develop brown spots underneath.

Image of pancake cooking

Turn over and cook until the underside is lightly speckled. Remove from the pan and carefully peel apart the pancakes. (Be careful, they get very steamy in the middle.)

Image of pancakes being peeled apart

Interleave with pieces of greaseproof paper and set aside.

Ingredients for the plum sauce:

Image of plums, halved

6 large red or purple plums (550-600g), washed, stoned and roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

A thumb of ginger, peeled and grated

1 star anise

2 cloves

1/2 piece of cinnamon stick

Pinch of ground fennel seeds

Pinch of Sichuan pepper, ground

(Or 1/2-1 tspn Five Spice powder, to taste)

Zest and juice of 1/2 orange, juice of 1/2 lemon

30ml soy sauce

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2-3 tbsp honey, to taste


Image of plum sauce being sieved

Sieve the sauce if you want it to be smooth

Place all the ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes or until the plums are soft.

Remove and discard the star anise, cloves and cinnamon.

It should break down into a thick sauce but if you want it to be completely smooth, push it through a sieve or mouli. Thin with a little water if necessary.

This will keep in the fridge for several days if you want to make it in advance. It also freezes well for up to three months.

Image of plum sauce

To serve:

Plum sauce or Hoisin sauce

6 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and cut into shreds about 6-8cm long

1/2 cucumber, cut into thin sticks the same length

Image of shredded cucumber and spring onions

Warm the pancakes (minus the greaseproof paper) in a steamer over simmering water for about 10 minutes.

Carve the duck into manageable portions then shred it using a couple of forks or cut it very thinly.

Put everything on the table then fold the duck, sauce and vegetables into small bundles of pancakey joy and devour …

Image of ingredients ready for wrappingImage of crispy roast duck, slicedImage of half-eaten pancake

12 thoughts on “Pancake Day #2: with Crispy Duck and Plum Sauce

  1. Love Peking duck but yes, hard to find a simplish recipe – Ken Hom’s takes up half the book. I’ve never tried making the pancakes either. I do love a bit of Sichuan pepper though, despite the fact the peppercorns make your tongue numb. I have a big jar of them from when we visited China but don’t dust them off that often. Your duck is making my mouth water though so might have to give this a try (or maybe Ken’s, if I can set a week aside…;))

    • Yes, I looked at one on the internet (think I linked to it) but lost the will to live when I realised how long it would take.
      The pancakes are fun to make though if you have the time.

  2. I vote for the Peking Duck! Kudos to you for making everything from scratch–even the plum sauce!–and photographing it! I can still remember the first time I had this, in my mid-twenties. I was transported. Great post.. Ken

    • Thank you! That’s very kind. I can remember the first time I had it in a restaurant too – and it’s still a favourite. In fact duck any which way works for me,

  3. If in doubt re crispy skin, use a hairdryer. It’s what some Chinese restaurants use. I used one once on pork crackling and it was amazing….! You just have to remember not to baste your hair.

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