James Bond food Peking duck

Peking duck

When it comes to a choice between Russian caviar and Peking duck, James Bond (Sean Connery) doesn’t have a preference. As he tells his companion, Ling (Tsai Chin), at the start of You Only Live Twice (1967), he loves them both. One is not better than the other, they just taste different. Like Chinese girls and all other girls. Ling promises Bond the very best duck, which Bond thinks would be lovely, at which moment he is unceremoniously machine-gunned in his bed. A ruse, thankfully, but he never did get that duck.

Ian Fleming was also fond of Peking duck. As recorded in Thrilling Cities (1963), he sampled the dish at the Peking Restaurant during a visit to Hong Kong with Richard Hughes, the Sunday Times‘ Far Eastern correspondent. The duck was accompanied by shark’s fin soup, shrimp balls, bamboo shoots with seaweed, and chicken and walnuts, and Fleming thought the meal was ‘in every respect delicious’.

My recipe includes two ingredients that give the dish a Bondian twist – vodka martini and one of Bond’s breakfast items, heather honey. The martini is unusual, I’ll admit, but, as explained below, it helps with the preparation of the duck before cooking. As for the honey, this is a typical ingredient in the dish, so why not use Bond’s favourite type?

Serves 3-4

  • 1 duck
  • 1 vodka martini (3 measures vodka, ½ measure dry vermouth)
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp heather honey (preferably Norwegian)
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice
  • 150ml water
  • A further 150ml water for cooking

When cooking Peking duck, the secret of a crispy skin is to dry the skin thoroughly before cooking. Traditionally, when making the dish in the home, the duck is suspended between two chairs and dried over several hours by means of electric fan, bicycle pumps, or a breeze coming through the window. I managed to achieve a dry skin, slightly leathery to the touch, by placing the duck uncovered on the worktop and, overnight, in the refrigerator, over a 24-hour period.

It’s said that rubbing the skin with brandy, vodka or some similar spirit aids the drying process, and so naturally I brushed the skin at the beginning of the drying with a vodka martini, using the ratio specified in Live and Let Die (1954).

However you dry the skin of the duck, when it’s ready for the oven, make a basting sauce by putting the soy sauce, honey, Chinese five spice powder, and water into small saucepan, placing the pan over a high heat, and stirring until the ingredients are well combined. (There’s no need to bring the mixture to the boil.)

Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan-assisted; 475F). Put the duck on a wire rack, placing the rack in turn into a roasting pan. Pour 150ml of water into the pan. Brush the basting sauce all over the skin of the duck and put the pan in the oven.

Cook for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 180C (160C fan-assisted; 350F). Take the duck out of the oven, baste it with the sauce, then put the duck back in the oven. Cook for a further 1¼ hours, basting every 20 minutes or so.

At the end of the cooking time, remove the duck from the oven, then let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice or shred the duck and serve it with pancakes, sliced cucumber and spring onions, and hoisin sauce.

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