For previous birthday dinners I’ve relied on some serious meat for the main course: beef filet, short ribs, pork belly. I decided to try duck this year for a change of pace. The recipe looked like a good combination — duck, corn, mushrooms — and it didn’t look too difficult…
…until I began the prep work. One of the ingredients in this recipe is “quick” duck sauce. I’d hate to see what “slow” is in the French Laundry kitchen, because this “quick” sauce took me five hours to make. Bones get roasted for 20 minutes, then deglazed with water. After a complete reduction, there’s a second deglazing with chicken stock, then another reduction. Then vegetables get added and cooked own. Then there’s a fourth deglazing with water and veal stock. That’s right, veal stock — this component has a sub-component. Fortunately, I had veal stock in the freezer (don’t you?). Everything gets reduced again, then strained twice, then reduced down to one cup, then strained again.
After giving my pots, china cap, and chinois a workout for the sauce, I turned my attention the next day to the duck. I started with three one-pound duck breast halves.
I removed the skin from the top and the tenderloin from the bottom of each breast, then trimmed the ends flat. (The skin is waiting in the fridge to get rendered into pure duck fat; the meat scraps are in the freezer waiting for Duck Stock Day.) I pounded the breasts slightly flatter, then sprinkled each with salt, pepper, and freshly ground allspice.
I prepared three large Swiss chard leaves by boiling them in salted water for three minutes, cooling them in an ice bath, drying them on paper towels, and then cutting out the center rib.
The chard handled like wet tissue paper, which didn’t make the next step any easier. I rolled each breast lengthwise into a cylinder, placed it on the chard, and rolled the leaf around the breast. I transferred the roll to a sheet of plastic wrap, then rolled the wrap around everything, tightening the cylinder as I rolled. I twisted the ends like a sausage link, then tied the free ends together.
The uncooked duck roulades sat in the fridge while I prepared the corn. I shucked six ears of corn and cut all of the kernels off the cobs. I placed half of the kernels into a blender with a few tablespoons of water and pureed. I removed the puree to a chinois set over a bowl and let gravity separate out the juice. I blanched the remaining kernels in boiling salted water and cooled them in ice water before draining and drying them.
Before I could start on the mushroom sauce prep, I had to assemble another component, what Keller calls “brunoise.” I sliced equal weights of carrots and turnips , and half as much leeks, on a mandoline, then cut the slices into fine julienne. I cut the julienne crosswise into micro-dice, or brunoise.
I blanched, shocked, and dried each vegetable before combining them.
Almost all of this — about a cup’s worth — went into the freezer. I took the tablespoon I needed (that’s right, all that work for a tablespoon of veggies) and combined it with a teaspoon each of minced chives, shallot, and parsley.
I brought a stockpot of water to just below the boil, keeping it at 190°F. While the water came up to temperature, I soaked the morels in three changes of warm water to loosen any dirt from the caps. I trimmed the stems away, then cut the caps into equal sized pieces. Lastly, I reheated the “quick” sauce and retrieved the roulades from the fridge. Time to make the dinner:
I placed the cold roulades in the water and bumped up the heat slightly to compensate for the temperature loss. I melted a tablespoon of butter in a hot pan and added the morels.
While the morels cooked, I whisked the corn juice over medium heat until it thickened (it happens naturally due to all of the cornstarch in the juice).
I lowered the heat and whisked in five tablespoons of butter, then added the corn kernels and some salt and pepper.
After seven minutes of poaching, I removed the roulades and let them rest for three minutes, during which time I finished the morel sauce. I added a third of a cup of the sauce to the mushrooms, then the brunoise, and finally three tablespoons of butter. I seasoned the finished sauce with salt and pepper.
I cut the ends off the rouldes with a serrated knife, unrolled the plastic wrap, the cut each roulade into thirds. I placed a spoonful of the remaining sauce on each plate, topping it with the creamed corn. I stood a roulade on the corn and garnished it with the morel sauce.
This dish was a knockout. The duck was a perfectly cooked, rosy pink, meltingly tender morsel that picked up the meatiness of the concentrated sauce without being overwhelmed by it. The corn and morels provided more contrast: crunchy against soft, sweet against earthy, all set off by the slight bitterness of the chard.
I served a Ravenswood 2002 Pickberry Sonoma zinfandel with this dish.
Even with all the advance prep required, I know I’ll be making this one again.
New bonus technique:
As we ate the duck, one of our guests asked me how it was cooked. I explained the rolling and wrapping in plastic, followed by the poaching.
“So it’s a sous-vide?” she asked.
I thought about it for a minute. “I guess it is. I was so focused on the recipe I didn’t realize he used the technique.”
So step back: I’m rollin’ with Keller, Achatz, Cantu, and Dufrense — my new homies — and I’m tellin’ y’all sous-vide ain’t no thang.
Duck breasts and morels from Savenor’s
Corn and chard from Whole Foods
Zinfandel from Ravenswood Winery
Stocks and bones from the Belm Laboratories Research Kitchen