Sunday 26 February 2017

Weeknight-Friendly Duck Ssam

I love any kind of Ssam dishes. Ssam means 'wrapped' in Korean, and was most famously introduced to the masses by Momofuku of New York. Typically, it takes the form of lettuce wrapping rice, meat, kimchi and sauces. David Chang's recipe for Bo Ssam marinates and pretty much cures the pork shoulder in sugar and salt, roasting it low and slow with a final sugar rub into the pork fat and a high blast, rendering the fat crisp and sweet. It is incredible, but it does take the best part of two days and quite the occasion to warrant it.

I've always loved this way of eating. Sang choi bao is the Chinese version, often made with minced meat and piled into rigid Iceberg lettuce cups. You get all the textures; crisp fresh vegetable, rich meat flavours. The all-in-one mouthful.

When I had a friend come for dinner on a Friday night, I set out to recreate my favourite meal in an easily doable space of time to still be hospitable. It worked a treat. Duck breasts were slung in a marinade of mirin, soy and sake for the duration of preparing the other ingredients, roughly half an hour. The marinade itself was utilised afterwards, as a sauce for the glass noodles to soak right up. Duck being a very richly flavoured meat, benefitted from a mint, coriander and jalapeno dressing along with my favourites of ginger and spring onion sauce, and kimchi. A lovely combination of flavours, one we customised to each mouthful.

Duck Ssam

Serves 2 generously

2 duck breasts
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp cooking sake
1 inch of ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, grated

Mix the marinade ingredients well, and place in a shallow bowl. Place the duck breasts into the marinade, meat side down. Try to keep the skin dry.

1 head of Little Gem or a small butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed

4 stalks of spring onion, minced
2 inches of ginger, minced
1 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
A hefty pinch of salt

2 tbsp store-bought or your own kimchi in a bowl

A small handful of mint leaves, picked off the stems
A larger handful of coriander
2 green jalapenos
A hefty pinch of salt
A squirt of lime juice

30gr glass noodles, soaked in hot water until softened, then drain

Whizz up the mint, coriander, jalapenos, salt, lime juice with 1 tsp water until you a smooth sauce. Place in a bowl.

Add the ginger and salt to a heatproof bowl and heat the cooking oil until smoking. Pour over the ginger so it sizzles a lot. Add the spring onions and vinegar, and mix well. Set to one side.

Dab the marinade off the duck and dry both sides. Salt the skin and then place in a cast iron or non-stick pan skin side down, then place on the heat. The key to a good, crisp duck skin is starting it from cold. Gradually heat up the pan, rendering the fat out, and checking frequently. You can tilt the pan and spoon some of the accumulated fat over the meat side, but you may need to remove some too as duck is super fatty. Do this until you have a rich, golden brown skin, then flip. Fry on the meat side on a medium-high heat for around 3 minutes, pressing it down for even contact. Remove immediately and place on a plate to rest for 15 minutes.

Drain the fat out of the pan, then add the leftover marinade and bring to a bubble. Remove from the heat and add the glass noodles, constantly moving them around to soak up the marinade and prevent from sticking in clumps.

Slice the duck breast finely and place back over the noodles to serve with the lettuce, sauces, and kimchi. Assemble the perfect mouthful with a lettuce leaf, some glass noodles, a slice of duck and whichever sauces take your fancy. Serve with napkins.