Duck and other waterfowl were hunted and eaten occasionally by the nobility in feudal Japan. Some of the ancient recipes, such as this succulent soy-braised duck, remain part of the contemporary culinary repertoire. I’ve modernized this classic dish even further by making it the main attraction of the meal (a slice or two are normally relegated to appetizer status in Japan) and presenting it with crisp, raw vegetables. This dish is usually served at room temperature, though it’s just as delicious hot or cold.
Have your butcher bone the duckling so that you have a full breast, split lengthwise and with the skin intact, and both thighs (with lower legs), butterflied so as to lie flat. These pieces should also have their skin intact. You should have four pieces of meat weighing a total of about
Prick the skin of the duck meat all over with the sharp tines of a fork. Over low heat, sauté the duck meat, skin side down, in the melted fat for 2 minutes or until lightly colored. Immediately remove the meat and plunge it into ice water; the excess fat will congeal and float to the surface, facilitating removal. Strain the fat from the skillet through a fine-meshed strainer and save it, covered, in the refrigerator.
Remove the meat from the cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the meat, skin side up, in a glass or ceramic container just large enough to accommodate the four pieces in a single layer. Combine the marinade ingredients and pour them over the meat. Turn the meat several times during the marinating process if the liquid doesn’t rise to cover the meat. Cover and marinate a minimum of 2 hours at room temperature, or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Lift the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade. In a skillet just large enough for the four pieces of meat, heat the duck fat saved from the first sautéing. Over low heat sauté the meat, skin side down, for 2 minutes. Flip the meat and continue to sauté for 2 minutes more. Blot up or pour off all excess fat before adding the reserved marinade to the skillet. Add
Flip the meat so that the skin faces down again and check the amount of liquid in the skillet. If the braising liquid is already reduced by more than half, add the remaining stock to the skillet now. If not, keep the extra stock on hand in case you need it later. Cook, covered, for another 5 minutes if you like the duck pink, 8–10 minutes if you prefer it a bit better done. (Unlike currently fashionable rare duck dishes, this recipe produces succulent and tender meat that’s well cooked. When it’s pierced, the juices should be rosy and clear, and the internal temperature about 160 degrees.)
Pour off the pan juices and remove excess fat from them. (I find pulling strips of paper towel over the surface of the juices the easiest way, though chilling and lifting off solid fat is fine if you have the time.) Ideally the juices have reduced to a thick sauce. If the sauce is still rather watery, simmer uncovered over low heat until it thickens naturally to a glazelike consistency, then set aside.
Wash the cucumbers well and slice off about
Rinse the cabbage leaves under cold water, then pat dry. Trim away any wilted edges. Slice the cabbage leaves in half, lengthwise, then across into
If you want to add a bit of zest to your garnishes, include the crisp but spicy radish sprouts. Rinse them under cold water, shake off the excess, and trim away the roots.
On each individual plate, place one quarter of the shredded cabbage just to the left of center. Mound one quarter of the drained cucumbers just to the right of center. Lay a small clump of radish sprouts in the middle. Slice the duck meat slightly on the diagonal and lay the slices, domino style, against the bed of cabbage, cucumbers, and radish sprouts. Serve extra sauce either dribbled across the sliced meat or in a separate dish.
© 1985 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.