Japanese Grilled Duck Breast with Turnips and Cucumber-Shiitake Salad

As a serious bonsai artist, my husband has traveled to Japan a number of times. His trips helped us to discover the Japanese art of gift-wrapping, traditional mochi (the best sweet treat for dairy allergies!), and a love for Japanese cooking. Purchasing a copy of Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s “Japan: The Cookbook” has introduced us to new foods and enabled us to bring the flavors of Japanese cooking into our kitchen. This surprisingly simple dish, for example, is the first time we cooked duck. We were a little apprehensive until we tasted the absolutely stunning results. Duck breast is a bit gamier and more flavorful than chicken thigh; nutty turnips and a chilled cucumber salad complete the meal.

Japanese Grilled Duck Breast with Turnips and Cucumber-Shiitake Salad

This dish was surprisingly simple and absolutely stunning. Duck breast is gamier and more flavorful than chicken thigh; nutty turnips and a chilled cucumber salad complete the meal.
Prep Time55 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time1 hr 5 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: dairy-free, duck, sugar-free, wheat-free, Whole Life Challenge
Servings: 4
Calories: 282kcal


Cucumber-Shiitake in Sesame-Vinegar

  • 9 oz cucumber
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 dried shiitake
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 4 tbsp rice vinegar

Grilled Duck Breast with Turnip

  • 4 small duck breasts approx 4 1/2 oz each
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 10 oz small turnips with tops
  • 6 green onions


Cucumber-Shiitake in Sesame-Vinegar

  • Soak the shiitake in 1/2 cup boiling water for 30 minutes.
  • Quarter the cucumbers lengthwise and then slice them into thin, 1/4 inch or smaller, slices. Toss with 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and let them sit in a small bowl for 10 minutes.
  • Drain the cucumbers using a wire-mesh sieve over a small bowl.
  • Remove the shiitake from the soaking liquid and place in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of the soaking liquid, the soy sauce, and 1/2 of the sake. Bring to a simmer, and then remove from the heat.
  • Remove the shiitake and slice into thin, 1/4 inch or smaller, slices. Be sure to remove the stems and discard. Place the slices back into the saucepan and allow to cool with the simmering liquids.
  • Toast the sesame seeds: heat a small pan over medium-high heat and add the white sesame seeds. Toast until they’re fragrant, moving the seeds to keep them from sticking and burning. Transfer them to a mortar or spice/nut grinder and smash until they begin to break down. Repeat with the black sesame seeds.
  • Add the toasted, smashed sesame seeds to a small bowl. Stir in the vinegar, remaining sake, and 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt.
  • To serve, drain the shiitake and toss them in a bowl with the cucumber slices and the dressing.

Grilled Duck Breast with Turnip

  • Trim off any extra fat overhanging on the duck breasts and then score the skin in a crosshatch pattern. Only cut partially into the skin and not down into the meat. Sprinkle both sides with 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.
  • Clean the turnips and trim the tails and leaves, leaving about 3/4 inch of the stem. Quarter the turnips into wedges. Fill a heavy medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil. Blanch the turnip wedges for about 1 minute; drain and set aside.
  • Cut the green onions at a diagonal, into 1 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the duck, skin side down. Use the heavy pot from the turnips to weigh the duck down, and sear for 2 minutes (literally, put the pot on top of the duck and add weight if needed to ensure pressure). Remove the pot, flip the duck breasts, and cook them for 1 more minute. 
  • Remove the duck from the pan and allow the breasts to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes. Pour off the excess fat (save it to use for another recipe!) and return the pan to medium heat.
  • Place the blanched turnips in the hot pan along with the green onion slices. Season with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Turning them over with tongs, cook the turnips until they’re evenly browned, about 2 minutes.
  • To serve, cut the duck into thin slices (approx 1/4 inch thick) and arrange along with the turnips. Add a scoop of the cucumbers and enjoy!


The original Cucumber-Shiitake recipe calls for mirin, which is a sweet rice wine. We replaced it with saki. The recipe also calls for Japanese cucumbers, which we couldn’t find in our local grocer. We used a large English cucumber instead.
We learned that you should always cook duck breast with the skin on, to protect the meat. 
Black sesame seeds are so good, our younger son has started sprinkling them on chicken and eggs! 

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