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Although advertisements featuring Christmas items have been hitting us since the start of November, there’s no real set menu or tradition when it comes to Christmas feasts in Japan. The only item that could be regarded as a tradition is the Christmas cake, but other than that, anything goes. You can settle for ordering in, but a home-cooked meal is still something special.

What I’d like to propose, especially if you are thinking of a romantic night in, is an elegant dish that’s not your typical dinner fare and doesn’t take a lot of effort to prepare: duck. I took my inspiration from the Christmas tradition of roast duck rather than the chicken or turkey people more commonly opt for. Also, you don’t need an oven for this recipe, since it’s cooked on the stove top.

I have combined the rich flavor of the duck breast with the very Japanese flavors of yuzu — both the fresh citrus fruit as well as yuzucha jam — sake and soy sauce.

This makes a great main course with potatoes, rice or bread, or can be served as a drinking snack. I have paired it with a very simple salad featuring the red and dark green colors of the season.

Recipe:

Serves 2 as a main course

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes, plus resting time

Ingredients:

For the duck:

  • 2 boneless duck breasts, each weighing 250 to 300 grams
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 tablespoons yuzucha jam
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped yuzu zest
  • the juice of two ripe yuzu fruit
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

For the salad:

  • 6 to 8 small cherry tomatoes
  • 20 grams arugula, washed and dried (or use watercress instead)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons apple vinegar
  • a pinch of salt and black pepper

Directions:

  1. Take the duck breast out of the refrigerator at least an hour in advance to bring it to room temperature.
  2. Score the skin side of the duck breast in a crisscross pattern. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the duck breasts skin side down. Pan roast the breasts while moving them around occasionally. Pour off the excess oil that comes out of the skins occasionally.
  4. When the skin side is a golden brown, turn the duck breasts over and cook for an additional two to three minutes on the other side. Turn the breasts around using tongs or cooking chopsticks so that the edges are browned, too. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes.
  5. In the meantime, make the salad. Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Combine with the torn up arugula. In a bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and beat with a fork to make a dressing. Toss the vegetables in the dressing.
  6. Wipe out the frying pan to remove any excess fat. Reheat the pan over moderate heat. Add the sake, water, yuzucha, yuzu juice, zest and soy sauce to the pan and bring to a boil. When the sauce is bubbling up vigorously, remove the duck breasts from the foil and put them back into the pan. Turn them a couple of times to coat in the sauce, then remove from the pan again. Continue cooking down the sauce until it has thickened and is slightly syrupy.
  7. Slice the duck breasts thinly and arrange on a plate. Spoon the sauce over the breasts. Arrange the salad on the side.

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