The wonderfully rich, slightly gamey flesh of duck and the intense earthy, woodland flavour of mushrooms are one of the most natural and instinctive combinations in cookery. It’s a pairing you might expect to see in Italy, Russia, Sweden or France; countries that used to be blanketed with dense forests and vast lakes, countries that have a deep folklore and long history of woodsmen, making their living from what nature provides. All of these features are equally true of Japan, and unsurprisingly the Japanese made the same discovery early on, that marrying wild duck with foraged mushrooms was a union worth remembering. The other classic Japanese accompaniment to duck are the buckwheat noodles known as soba. Deliciously nutty in flavour and with a slightly toothsome texture, soba are one of the oldest known types of noodle in Japanese cuisine, dating back over 2500 years to the Jōmon period and even further in Chinese cookery where they probably originated.
We’ve combined all three of these ingredients in a classic Kamo Nanban Soba- a dish that smells and tastes like a stroll through an ancient forest; with rich, life giving soil and a wealth of fungus sprouting from the crumbling trunks of fallen trees. It wouldn’t be a kamo nanban without some sweet, charred spring onions, and to lift the earthy flavours slightly we’ve added a tiny hint of orange zest, perfect for cutting through the richness of the duck fat.
- 2 duck breasts
- 320g dried soba noodles
- 250g assorted mushrooms, we used a mixture of enoki, shiitake and brown shimeji
- 4 spring onions
- 1 bunch spinach
- handful of baby kale leaves
- 1 litre chicken, pork or duck stock
- 5cm by 2cm piece of dried kombu
- 2 dried shiitakes
- 100ml sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- pinch of sanshō
- 5cm by 1 cm piece of tangerine peel
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Trim any white sinew from the underside of the duck breasts before sprinkling them with the sea salt and leaving for an hour in the fridge- this salting process will slightly firm up the flesh of the duck and help the skin to crisp when you fry it.
- In a large saucepan, slowly warm the stock along with the mirin, sake and soy sauce until the mixture has come to a simmer. Rinse the piece of kombu and the dried shiitakes under a cold tap, then add these and the piece of tangerine peel to the pan. Let the broth bubble away for about ten minutes, until the strong alcoholic smell of the sake has dissipated and the savoury flavours of the mushroom and seaweed have enhanced your soup. Discard the kombu, shiitakes and citrus peel from the broth, add the sugar and sanshō to season, then turn the heat down so that your stock is keeping warm and barely bubbling.
- The duck will have created a small amount of brine whilst salting, pour this away and gently pat the breasts dry, then place them skin side down in a medium-hot frying pan; it is not necessary to add any additional oil as fat from the skin will render out of the duck while cooking. Don’t be tempted to touch the duck too soon, you want a deep golden colour to develop on the skin and fat before turning it, this should take about five minutes. When a crisp skin and pleasing colour has formed, flip the breasts over and continue to cook on the second side for another five minutes. Take the duck out of the pan and leave it somewhere warm to rest before slicing it, pour off most of the duck fat and keep it for another day- it’s a wonderfully flavourful fat, far too good to waste.
- While you are frying your duck, prepare the mushrooms and greens for cooking and slice the spring onions into 6cm lengths. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil ready to cook your noodles.
- Drop your prepared mushrooms into the hot stock and allow them to poach slowly, at the same time start cooking your soba; both the noodles and the mushrooms will be ready after four to five minutes. When the noodles are about half cooked, heat up the pan that the duck cooked in and throw in your spring onions. Don’t stir the onions, just let them catch and char slightly on one side.
- Add your prepared greens to your hot broth about a minute before you’re ready to serve, then slice the duck into thin pieces. Drain the soba and divide them between four serving bowls, then top the noodles with a selection of the mushrooms and greens before pouring the fragrant broth over. Arrange the duck slices and seared onions on each of the bowls and sprinkle with a final flourish of sanshō before serving.
Serves 4 people.