Two Ducks (Kamo Nabe・鴨鍋)

It’s possible that duck may be the finest of the meats. It’s definite that it’s tastier than chicken, especially the hopelessly bland gigantic mutant chickens they sell in our local supermarket. It’s also $15 a pound for sliced duck breast, so it’s a Sometimes Food. But last night we had a birthday to celebrate, so I bought a pound of duck breast and made kamo nabe (鴨鍋), Japanese duck hotpot. And then there were leftovers, so I made a duck-and-onion rice bowl for lunch today. They were both delicious, so I thought I’d post the recipes.

First, kamo nabe. Nabemono (鍋物) literally means “pot things” and is a popular and delicious winter meal. In our house, we use a large cast-iron pot (鉄鍋) on an electric burner, while sitting in our kotatsu. Unfortunately, the wiring in our house is a little bit sketchy — some long-ago electrician decided to put the entire house on a single circuit — so we often end up eating nabe in the semi-darkness to avoid blowing a fuse. It’s very cozy, sitting under the warm blanket, with the table lit only by a single paper lamp, the red glow of the electric burner, and the candle keeping my shochu warm.

Kamo nabe (sometimes kamo suki, 鴨すき) is a regional specialty from the northern part of Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, where siberian ducks spend the winter. I’ve never been there, but after researching this recipe I’m seriously considering planning a trip during Duck Season (November through March).

When I’m looking for recipes for things like this, I usually avoid the popular recipe sites like cookpad.com and search for recipes from local cooks or restaurants in wherever the dish is most famous. In this case I searched 鴨鍋+琵琶湖+郷土料理+レシピ, and found this recipe from a restaurant in Nagahama City, plus a number of references to a Japanese proverb, “a duck comes carrying green onions” (鴨がネギを背負って来る), which refers to something as surprisingly convenient as a duck showing up bringing the onions to cook it with. Apparently it’s often used to refer to a sucker showing up with a lot of money ready to be swindled away. It’s also the inspiration for the original Japanese name of the Pokemon Farfetch’d (Kamonegi), which is why he carries an onion around.

All of which is to say that, duck meat and green onions go together so well they named a Pokemon after it. So I started with my pound of duck breast and an extremely oversized green onion, then began assembling the rest of the ingredients for the pot meal. The recipe above calls for seri (water dropwort) as the green vegetable, which is extremely not available here. The one time I did try to find it here, I learned that there are multiple vegetables that go by the name “Chinese celery” in English, and the one I got was actually celery, which was not at all acceptable. So I replaced that with shungiku (crown daisy or garland chrysanthemum), a fairly bitter leafy green that is my absolute favorite nabe ingredient. We also added soft tofu and shirataki noodles, per the recipe, and some spinach for those member of our family who hate shungiku. The sauce was homemade kombu dashi, soy sauce, sake, and a truly shocking amount of sugar (I reduced it from 100g to 75g). The most important thing with kamo nabe is not to overcook the duck. Each duck piece should be quite rare, maybe a minute or so in the simmering nabe, otherwise it gets too chewy.

The kamo nabe was a great success, but a pound of meat plus all of those accompaniments was a little bit too much for 2.5 people on a Monday night. Which meant, leftovers! I wrapped up about 10 pieces of uncooked duck breast and stashed in the fridge for lunch. Since the duck and onion combination was so good, I decided to make a duck-onion rice bowl (鴨ねぎ丼?). I very briefly fried the duck in a cast-iron frying pan, fried the onions in the duck fat, then poured in a bit of the leftover nabe sauce and boiled away most of the water. Then I threw the duck back in, coated it with sauce, and put it on top of a bowl of rice with some chopped up spring onions. That was so easy and delicious that I’m tempted to make a whole meal around that next time I get duck.

Recipes!

Kamo Nabe 鴨鍋, adapted from this recipe
INGREDIENTS

  • 450g (1lb) duck breast
  • 2 bunches green onion — ideally the large green onion, instead of regular spring onions.
  • 1 bunch shungiku — “crown daisy” or “garland chrysanthemum” in Asian supermarkets, otherwise spinach.
  • 1 block tofu — you can fry this beforehand or just cut it into bite-size pieces.
  • 100g shirataki noodles — white or clear noodles made from konnyaku.
  • 1 liter kombu dashi — soak a largeish piece of kombu in a liter of water for a while then heat it up until just about boiling and remove the kombu.
  • 100ml sake
  • 130ml light soy sauce — though I accidently used regular and it seemed fine.
  • 75g sugar — I reduced this from 100g in the original recipe and it was still very, very sweet.

STEPS

  1. Combine kombu, sake, soy sauce, and sugar and heat up in a pan on the stove. Transfer roughly half to the nabe pot and the other half to a pitcher or container. The remainder will be used to refill the liquid if it boils away while you’re eating.
  2. Prepare the veggies and tofu. Chop everything into bite size pieces and (if you want) pre-fry the tofu until the outside is golden brown.
  3. Add the tofu, noodles, onions, and greens (in order) and then finally add the duck on the top. Only add as much duck as you’re going to eat immediately, otherwise it’ll over cook. Add new duck as you eat.

SERVING
Optionally serve with a bowl of beaten raw egg to dunk things in before eating them. We keep separate plates of duck meat and additional ingredients, and a pitcher of backup sauce on the table, and replenish everything as we go along. The soup should be lightly simmering, not boiling.


Kamo-Negi Don 鴨ねぎ丼
INGREDIENTS

  • Duck breast — however much you want, but roughly 100g is a pretty big bowl for lunch.
  • 1 bunch green onion — the white part will be fried with the duck, and the green part will be chopped up and put on top.
  • 100ml nabe sauce — the leftover nabe sauce, made from dashi, sake, soy sauce, and sugar.
  • A bowl of rice

STEPS

  1. Separate the onion into white parts and green parts. Chop the white parts into 2cm/1in pieces. Chop the green parts into small rings.
  2. Fry the duck breast for about 20-30 seconds per side in a frying pan, melting out some of the fat. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.
  3. Fry the white parts of the onions in the duck fat until they are slightly browned.
  4. Pour the nabe sauce into the pan and cook down until most of the liquid is gone.
  5. Add the duck back into the pan and quickly swirl around in the sauce.
  6. Put the whole thing on top of your rice bowl and top with the chopped up green onions.

SERVING
I added some shichimi (a peppery spice mix) and then inhaled the whole bowl.

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