Friday, July 01, 2005

Too wonderful

Tonight's dinner really made me appreciate Japanese meal-planning. What a westerner might call an "entree" is only one of several dishes; it is augmented by rice, soup, a pickle or other vegetable offering. The portions are small and create a medley of tastes and visual impressions. No platters heaped with gigantic helpings of a single food here.

Dinner made me appreciate Japanese meal-planning because, as usual, I didn't follow it. Getting one kind of food on the table taxes my coordination level enough; making a dinner involving several different things is too much effort and planning. Most of the time, I'm only cooking for me so it doesn't matter. But when you make a sinfully rich meal like duck Kaga-style, too much of a good thing can be too much (though it was also wonderful, as Mae West once noted).

I adapted this recipe from Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen. Well, ok, I left out the step of searing the duck breast first, but Shimbo herself says she added this step to the recipe. Omitting it was probably the right decision tonight, since I bought a whole duck at the Pennsylvania Dutch Farmer's Market and carved the breast meat myself. Since my poultry-carving skills are rudimentary at best, I was pleased I didn't make more of a mess than I did.

Slice the duck breast, flour it in a blend of regular and buckwheat flour, then leave the sliced meat to sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile, create a broth from two cups of dashi, one cup each of sake and mirin, half a cup of shoyu and two or three tablespoons of sugar (I used three since I was using cooking sake).

When the meat is ready, add the green parts of two scallions and any extra duck skin or fat you have trimmed from the meat to the broth and bring to a boil. Once the broth is boiling, remove the scallion greens and duck skin or fat from the pot. Add the white parts of two scallions, dip the duck meat in flour again, and add it to the pot. Let it cook until done, about two minutes.

When the broth was cooking all by itself, the kitchen already smelled wonderful. By the time I was sampling the duck, it was heavenly. The rich sweet sauce was wonderful, like teriyaki sauce but even more so. It actually reminded me of the chicken teriyaki they served at Iroha, a Japanese restaurant that used to reside in midtown where Sapporo is currently located. I don't know what they did to that teriyaki sauce, but it was sweet and rich in a way I've never encountered since. Until now, that is. Hmmm.

Of course, given the duck's thick fatty skin, I could feel my arteries clogging with every bite. I'll probably need to go on a tofu diet after this. Whew. The amount of what I ate was small, but it was heavy.

Wonderful as this dish was, eating it by its lonesome was too much. It really needed to be served with a bowl of miso, some rice, a pickle or salad to cleanse the palate, and some green tea. Then it it would even be more perfect, if such a thing is possible. Then the duck's richness would be set off by simpler foods with complementary or contrasting tastes. Live and learn.

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