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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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:
500g plain flour
250 ml boiling water
90 ml cold water
1 tspn sesame oil
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Interleave with pieces of greaseproof paper and set aside.
Ingredients for the plum sauce:
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
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
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.
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
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 …