I got a tip about a duck recently, and based on the source and the fact that I haven't had great duck in ages, I heeded the man's advice within days. If you've had great Peking duck, you know that it is a revelation and one of the world's very best culinary achievements. Peking duck, decadent burgers, tacos on handmade tortillas filled with salty, crunchy bits of meat, and other classics are the dishes that keep me motivated to push forward and write another day.
The problem is, Peking duck is usually terrible, made with low-grade birds that are abused by careless cooks who would rather turn quick tricks with their fiery woks. Don't get seduced by smiling specimens hanging by the doorway; great duck needs no introduction. If the skin is flaccid and an unnatural shade of red, you've got a bad meal. Meat wrapped in a layer of fat and flavors that are overly gamey are other signs you've likely ordered a bad version. Don't give up. You just need to drive to Plano.
The first clue that the duck is good at Mr Wok is that the dish "requires" a reservation. I use those quotes because Jack and Amanda Kang, the husband and wife team who own the place, are smart enough to keep a few extra ducks on hand. Don't gamble with your dinner, though. Call ahead and reserve your own, and then convince three friends that the trip up the Central Expressway will be worth it. They will thank you all the way home.
Good Peking duck is carved at your table, so you can listen to the skin crackle as it yields to a cleaver. The skin stays crunchy, not for minutes, but for forever, or at least until you've eaten all of it, and is colored by a lengthy and involved cooking process, not Red No. 40. All of the fat is rendered from the meat of good Peking duck, and if you watch as it's sliced, you'll see juices and oils cascading downward with each pass of the blade.
After the carving is completed, diners are turned loose with steamed Chinese pancakes, hoisin sauce and fresh green scallions. I like making little burritos with the meat sauce and onions — the skin I enjoy on its own. While you shovel away, the bones find new uses, as either a savory stir fry or a rich soup that tastes like the memory of thousands of ducks before it. Crunching through cartilage and other unidentifiable duck bits makes for rustic eating, but it's delicious.
I watched seven ducks meet the cleaver on the dining room floor of Mr. Wok, and apparently that's a slow night. Grab a case of beer — a light, crisp lager would work perfectly — and don't forget to call ahead. Your duck will be waiting for you.
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