It's unclear when Jan. 18 was declared National Peking Duck day, or by who. Still, a day dedicated to a dish that's been the delight of Beijing for eons is preferable to most food holidays.
Even without a national holiday Peking duck is undoubtedly delicious. It's a symphony of skin, flesh, fat and juice that, when roasted properly, creates a textural eating experience that is second to none. The Chinese have been roasting ducks in this fashion for nearly 2,000 years. For centuries, they were a staple at royal banquets, but as time passed, the birds fluttered down to the rest of Chinese society. Beijing's Bianyifang, perhaps the longest-running restaurant to serve the birds, is believed to have opened during the Ming Dynasty in 1416. By the 18th Century, ducks began to waddle onto plates across China. Today, restaurants and butchers with rows of roast ducks hanging in their windows are the surest signs of a city's Chinatown.
Of course, the table side presentation in which a whole bird, head and all, is rolled up, sliced, then delicately wrapped up in thin pancakes with hoisin and shredded scallions makes ordering the already luxurious fowl an even more delightful experience. Because this isn't a real holiday we're going to expand the scope a bit to also include roast duck, which is served chopped, on the bone, and without the accoutrements, as well as some that opt to use only a select portion of the bird.
King Palace Chinese Bar-B-Q. Since 2001 this North Dade spot has churned through nearly 200 roast ducks ($8.95 half, $15 whole) each week, all expertly roasted in a vertical oven that can hold no more than a dozen at a time. Each day chef and co-owner Chris Wu cleans countless waterfowl and fills their cavities with garlic, ginger, Chinese five-spice powder and hoisin fortified with star anise. The bird is then sown shut and pressurized air is pumped between the skin and meat, separating the two. Then, the birds are hung to dry for at least 12 hours. They're ready once the skin has tightened and its pink shine has dulled. These two steps help the thick layers of fat render during roasting, basting the meat while developing the skin's tantalizing crunch. 330 NE 167th St., North Miami; 305-949-2339.
Lotus & Cleaver at 1-800-Lucky. Wynwood's clubby Asian food hall is also the place to get one of the city's most affordable Peking ducks ($60). Here a whole duck comes accompanied with steamed buns - which along with slightly sweet, tart sliced apples can make for a nice change from the usual Chinese pancakes - as well as cucumbers and a house made hoisin sauce. 143 NW 23rd St., Miami; 305-768-9826;1-800-lucky.com.
King Duck Chinese BBQ. One of the newest Chinese barbecue joints on the scene doesn't necessarily serve Peking duck in all its glory, but does serve both traditional roast duck ($12.50 half, $22.95 whole) as well a flattened preparation ($12 half, $23.50 whole) named for the pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument. Essentially the bird is spatchcocked, marinated in garlic, ginger and Chinese five spice then dried and roasted in a traditional oven. The result is a touch less juicy than the usual roast duck, but boasts a far crispier skin and still tender meat. 10340 W. Flagler St., Miami; 786-803-8108.
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Hakkasan. Should you find yourself with an surplus of liquidity and a jonesing for both duck and caviar this longstanding, black lacquered spot tucked into the Fontainebleau Miami Beach is calling your name. A mere $198 will land you a fat, crispy, juice bird with an ounce of Petrossian caviar riding shotgun. It is a holiday, after all. 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-276-1388; hakkasan.com.
No Name Chinese. For one day only, Pablo Zitzmann is bringing back the duck dish that this South Miami spot opened with. Twenty-two bucks get you a roasted, sliced Magreb duck breast ($22) with Chinese pancakes, Knaus Berry Farm strawberry hoisin sauce (repeat; Knaus Berry Farm Strawberry Hoisin), house pickles like yuzu cucumbers, Sichuan shallots, and Mexican escabeche and shredded scallions. 7400 SW 57th Ct.
South Miami; 786-577-0734; nonamechinese.com.