RETHINKING THANKSGIVING TURKEY
WITH EXCITING PEKING DUCK
It doesn’t get more American than Thanksgiving dinner, and what’s a pilgrim’s feast without a self-induced tryptophan coma courtesy of turkey overload. This season, consider changing tradition a bit and give duck a try as the celebrated Thanksgiving bird of choice, fear not, food coma will still occur.
As a means to consider going duck rather than the traditional turkey, a trip to Chinatown’s Plum Tree Inn in was in order. And executive chef John Zhao’s impressive feast did not disappoint. Ducks offer an altogether different taste than turkeys, particularly Peking roast ducks. Each year, Angelenos will drive for miles into historic Chinatown to purchase these flavorful birds for their holiday meals.
Originating from Beijing, the Peking roast duck has been prepared since the imperial era and is now considered one of China’s national foods. Now, this age-old dish has a new tradition as Chinese families are serving it at Thanksgiving. Peking Duck stands out for its thick and crispy skin, as well as flavorful dark meat. The ducks are seasoned ahead of time and slowly roasted in a closed or hung oven. The meat comes out crispy on the outside, yet delightfully tender and moist on the inside.
Chef Zhao’s Chinese Thanksgiving dinner started with Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups, paired with a nice and refreshing Pinot. This dish is actually based on a famous Cantonese recipe for squab.
Not wasting any time, the second course consisted of the featured entrée, a delicious and crispy Beijing Duck, paired with a sharp Syrah. Served with thin, crisp skin, the duck was sliced in front of the diners, ala carving a turkey at Thanksgiving. Eaten with a pancake, think duck tacos with a flour tortilla; spring onions, and hoisin sauce or sweet bean sauce were provided as seasoning options.
To make the most out of his duck, a nice, hot bowl of Beijing Duck Soup followed. In fact, Chinese culture believes that by using any shape or part of the animal the same part of the human body can be replenished and strengthened, hence no part of the duck goes to waste.
Next were Two Flavored Shrimp (Sautéed, and Sweet and Pungent Shrimp), which were paired with the Pinot. The traditional Lion's Head, also paired with Pinot, soon followed. Fear not, we didn’t eat actual lion, instead this dish is actually oversized meatballs, roughly the size of tennis balls, representing the lion's head, while cabbage represents the lion's mane.
The final three courses of our Chinese Thanksgiving feast featured Crispy Beef, Kung Pao Three Delicacies (Shrimp, Fish, Scallops), and finally, Asparagus with Chinese Mushrooms. And just like at Thanksgiving, food coma followed, along with a nice buzz from the constant wine pairing, which broke the rule of going back and forth between red and white wine.
While it may be hard for us to fathom Thanksgiving without turkey, consider spreading your palette’s horizons with a mouthwatering duck. Its crispy and savory taste makes for a wonderful seasonal substitution.
In Chinese cuisine, there is an emphasis on eating dishes that help to balance yin and yang energy. High importance is placed on freshness and flavor of individual ingredients and the dish as a whole. A typical Chinese meal usually consists of rice, soup and three to four side dishes. Dishes are made of seasonal vegetables, fresh seafood or bite-size portions of meat or poultry.
Since ducks and turkeys are very popular this time of year, Chinatown merchants suggest placing orders at least one week ahead of time to ensure that the size requested is available.
The Plum Tree Inn is located at 913 North Broadway in Chinatown. Call 213-613-1819. Hours: Monday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.