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French Laundry Duck Roulade

French Laundry duck breast roulade

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I’d been wanting to make this dish ever since I saw a picture of it in The French Laundry Cookbook a few years ago. It is a duck breast, wrapped tightly, wrapped in a chard or cabbage leaf, then gently poached, sliced and served atop something yummy with a concentrated sauce underneath.

It looks like a high-wire act, and it is, to some extent. But it is not really as hard as it looks in the picture. You do need one special ingredient, though, which is demi-glace, a concentrated broth that gels up at room temperature. You can either follow my recipe for duck demi-glace, or buy duck demi-glace online. But you’ll need it for this recipe.

The other weird ingredient here is pureed scorzonera, which is a black-skinned version of salsify, a/k/a “oyster plant.” I grow it, and love the thin root’s artichoke heart-like flavor (it tastes nothing like oysters to me), but scorzonera can be hard to find. Good ole’ mashed potatoes, or mashed parsnips, or creamed corn (what the French Laundry uses in the original version of this dish) are all fine.

What kind of duck breast to use? If you are not a hunter, this is easy: Any you can find. But I designed this version for hunters, and because you skin the breasts, it is an ideal diver duck or sea duck recipe — divers and sea ducks have fishy-tasting fat, but are fine once skinned. I actually used a Ross’ goose breast here, which is also a perfect fit because a Ross’ goose is about the size of a mallard, but has not real fat; this makes skinning it less of a crime.

If you’re a hunter, I would not recommend that you waste a nice fat mallard or pintail breast on this recipe, unless the birds were skinny.

Finally, a word on the morels. You can buy morels online, or in season at farmer’s markets, but don’t let a lack of morels stop you from making this recipe: Use any fresh mushroom. Shiitakes, readily available in stores, are a great substitute.

Serves 4

  • 1 whole duck breast, or Ross’ goose breast
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 4-5 large chard or savoy cabbage leaves
  • 6-10 fresh morel mushrooms (or shiitake or other ‘shrooms)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup duck demi-glace
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic chives (or regular chives)
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 1/2 pound scorzonera, parsnips or potatoes
  • 1/4 cup cream

 

  1. Blanch the chard or cabbage leaves in a large pot of salty boiling water for 3-4 minutes. Pull them out and plunge them into a large bowl of ice water. Let them cool a few minutes and drain on a clean cloth towel.
  2. Peel and chop the scorzonera into large pieces. Boil in lightly salted water. Scorzonera takes 30-40 minutes to cook enough to the point it can be pureed, so start now. Potatoes don’t take as long, so wait until you make the roulade to boil potatoes if you go that route.
  3. Make the roulade. Trim the duck breasts of all sinew and skin and veins, then put them between two pieces of wax paper. Gently pound the thicker end of the breast with a meat mallet or empty wine bottle until it is about the same thickness as the skinny end of the breast.
  4. Trim the edges of the breasts to get a rectangular shape. Generously salt and pepper them, then sprinkle on the allspice.
  5. Lay out the cabbage or chard leaves on a cutting board and remove the ribs with a sharp knife.
  6. Pull out a piece of plastic wrap about 15-20 inches long and lay it flat on a counter.
  7. Lay out the chard leaf flat on another part of the counter. You want pieces large enough to wrap a rolled duck breast in one layer. If your leaves are too small, overlap them. This will make rolling a little harder, but you can still do it.
  8. Tightly roll the duck breast lengthwise into a long cylinder. Place it on the chard leaf, then gently roll the leaf around the breast. Make sure it goes all the way around.
  9. Pick up the roll gently and place it — seam side down — on the plastic wrap in a spot that is closer to you than the center of the wrap. Tightly roll the plastic wrap around the roulade.
  10. To seal, twist one end of the wrap away from you until that end of the roulade is tightly sealed. Twist the opposite end of the plastic wrap toward you. Tie the ends of the wrap together over the center of the roulade. If you want, you can make these roulades several hours in advance and keep them in the fridge.
  11. To assemble the dish, make sure your mashed potatoes, scorzonera or parsnips are done. Basically you cook them until soft, mash them with a fork or potato masher, run them through a ricer or food mill if you want a finer texture, then mix in 2 tablespoons butter and the cream. Taste for salt and add if needed. Keep warm on very low heat.
  12. Now poach the duck. Get a saute pan with high sides, or a pot large enough to fit the roulades, and put enough water in to submerge them. Bring it to a bare simmer, about 190 degrees. Turn off the heat and drop the roulades in — the water will still be hot enough to poach them. Leave them in the water for 10 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, make the morels and sauce. Heat the demi-glace in a small pot until it steams.
  14. Get a saute pan hot over high heat. Add the fresh mushrooms and dry-saute them until they release their water, stirring often. When most of the mushrooms’ water is gone, add a pinch of salt, the remaining butter and shallot and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  15. Add half the demi-glace and let it boil down to almost a glaze.
  16. OK, now you’re ready to plate. Remove the roulades from the poaching water and gently take off the plastic wrap. Using your sharpest knife, slice them into stout cylinders. In a shallow bowls, pour in little pools of the remaining demi-glace, then top with a dollop of the mashed scorzonera. Place a piece of the roulade on top.
  17. Mix in the parsley and garlic chives into the mushrooms, and place a little on top of the roulade. Serve at once.

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