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Depending on the context, “pressed duck” can refer to two different dishes. The first is a traditional French dish developed at a well known Parisian restaurant, Tour d'Argent. The second is a popular Chinese dish, widely available in many Asian markets and restaurants. Both dishes are unique ways to use duck, and both versions are not to everyone's taste.
In the case of the French dish, known in French as canard au sang, or “duck in its blood,” the process for making pressed duck is quite complex. It starts with partially roasting a duck that has been strangled to retain its maximum blood volume. Next, the breasts, liver, and thighs of the bird are removed. The liver is chopped and seasoned while the breasts and thighs are roasted separately. Meanwhile, the body of the duck is pressed in a special device called a duck press, which is modeled after a wine press.
The pressing process extracts the blood from the bird, along with cooking juices. This mixture is seasoned with salt, pepper, red wine, cognac, and butter, to make a dense sauce that blackens as it reduces. The rich sauce is served with the breasts and liver of the duck, and the thighs are served separately. The dish is also known as Caneton Tour d'Argent, after the restaurant, or Canard a la presse, a reference to the pressing process which is integral to the dish.
In China, pressed duck is made by seasoning and steaming a whole duck, removing its bones, and then flattening it out before steaming it again. After the double steaming, the duck is deep fried so that it becomes crispy and golden. This dish may be served with an assortment of sauces, and it is also popular cold shredded on salads and other foods. A remarkably similar vegetarian facsimile is made with bean curd skins.
The Chinese dish is often readily available at Asian markets, and it can be frozen until needed. French pressed duck, on the other hand, is a luxury restaurant item that is served in a limited number of venues. Some people find the preparation and presentation of the French dish distasteful, and people who are unaccustomed to the flavor of meats cooked in their own blood may not find it terribly enjoyable. For culinary adventurers, however, it may be an experience worth having.