One of my blogger friends once reminded me that blogging should be about sharing, not showing off. I try to follow her advice, but I’m afraid that this post might be edging over a little into showing off. I recently saw the film Julie and Julia again on TV – I really like this movie; perhaps it’s because of the nostalgia created by the movie sets of an old Paris, perhaps because it has Meryl Streep in it.
Anyway, I noticed that the last dish that ‘Julie’ had to make was a fully boned duck, stuffed and baked in a fancy pastry crust – Pâté de Canard en Croûte. This dish was a major achievement for her – not only it was the last of the 365 dishes she had to create over the year, but she had to overcome the hurdle of preparing a complicated dish.
I, too, then decided to leap to the challenge of making Canard en Croûte. At first, I thought this dish might be too ‘fiddly’, but then again it would be good practice for me- in three months I’m off again to Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris to do the advanced cuisine course! Was this dish worth it? Was it worth the many hours spent in the kitchen and dropping my knife several times on my foot? Read to the end of this post and see!
(P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please do ‘like’ my G’day Souffle’ Facebook page!)
The first steps to making the dish involve removing all the bones of the duck, leaving the skin in tact. It’s important to start with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude- remember that you are master of the duck!
To bone the duck, start with the back of the duck facing upwards. First you cut a deep slit down one side of the backbone (going from neck to tail), pulling the flesh away from the carcass using your fingers.
Now repeat this process on the other side of the back bone. You will now see a fully exposed back bone with the ribs attached- cut away this part of the carcass to tidy things up and make it more manageable to handle the remaining carcass. Next you cut very close to the ridge of the breastbone to free the carcass, being careful not to cut the skin. Once the carcass is fully released, you’re not done yet! There are still the bones to remove from the wings and thighs. To remove the bone from the thighs, scrape the meat from the bone going from the ball joint to the tip of the thigh. Repeat with the wings.
At some point, Julia warns us that the whole duck carcass with dangling legs, etc will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and therefore we should not be overcome with fright. Several times, I had to remind myself to put on my ‘Julia hat’ and fill myself with confidence. Yes, I can bone six ducks if I wanted to! After boning the duck, you are left with an empty ‘duck suit,’ ready to be stuffed, then rolled and stitched up into a loaf shape.
Next, you brown the duck in oil on the stovetop. Prepare a chilled pastry dough and roll 2/3 of it out into an oval shape (1/8 inches thick). Place the browned duck on top of the dough with the breast side facing up and bring the pastry up around the duck, patting it into place.
Roll out the remaining pastry into an oval shape and place it on top of the duck. Brush pastry top with egg wash. Cut out small pastry decorations using a cookie cutter, using back of knife to press fan-shaped lines into them. Coat them also with the egg wash. Bake for 1.5 to 2 hours at 350 F (180 C). Julia recommends serving the dish chilled, but you can also serve it hot. Before serving, you’ll need to lift the top crust off and remove the duck, to cut all of the trussings. Place the duck back into the pastry to serve.
But was it worth it? Julia Child gave people the confidence to toss out their TV dinners and to get into the kitchen to cook- even complicated things like Pâté de Canard en Croûte. I accepted the challenge and happily succeeded! This dish is indeed an impressive sight when you bring it to the dinner table! So, yes, it was worth it. But bones are what give meat dishes their juicy flavor – so why remove them? And there are other duck dishes that are more delicious and simpler to prepare (see my Duck Breast in Orange Sauce). So, yes, with this dish Canard en Croûte, I admit I was showing off a bit, but probably I won’t be doing it again! It will be back to my ‘blogging is sharing’ once more.
- 1 duck
- 2 tbsp. cognac
- 2 tbsp. port
- For the stuffing
- ½ cup mined onion
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- 2 Tbsp butter
- ½ cup port or cognac
- 1½ cups each minced pork and veal
- 1 cup minced pork fat
- 2 lightly beaten eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ tsp thyme
- t tbsp orange zest
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- For the pastry dough
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 2½ cups chilled butter, cubed
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- about ½ cup cold water
- Cut the wings of the duck at the first joint and bone the duck as per the instructions (above). Lay the bird skin-side down on a cutting board. Slice off some of the thickest parts of the meat from the duck breast and thigh meat and cut into cubes. Place the cubes back onto the duck, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the cognac and port. Roll the duck up and place in fridge while preparing the pastry and stuffing.
- For the stuffing, cook the diced onion and garlic slowly in butter until they are tender and translucent. Transfer to large mixing bowl and add the port and cognac, minced pork, veal and pork fat. Add the eggs, salt, pepper, thyme, orange zest and chopped walnuts and mix well.
- To prepare the dough, place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled, cubed butter; rub the flour and butter together between the palms of your hands until it resembles fine sand. Add the eggs and mix with a wooden spoon. Add enough cold water so the dough easily holds it shape when formed into a ball. Turn the dough mixture out onto your work surface and knead several times until the dough forms a cohesive ball. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge to chill for at least 15 minutes.
- Remove the duck from the fridge. Place the duck skin-side facing down on a work surface. Place enough stuffing inside the duck to cover the center part. Fold both sides inward toward the center and stitch up the opening using kitchen string and a trussing needle. Wrap and tie the string around the duck in 4 – 5 places to hold it together while cooking. Heat several tablespoons of oil in a large casserole dish or saucepan and brown the duck on all sides; let cool for several minutes
- Remove dough from fridge. Roll out ⅔ of the dough into an oval shape on a floured surface. Place the trussed duck on top of the dough, with the breast side facing up. Bring the edges of the dough up around the duck and pat into place. Roll out the remaining dough into an oval shape and place on top of the bottom crust. Pinch or press the edges of the top and bottom crusts together. Brush the top crust with an egg wash. Roll out the remaining pastry dough and cut out small round or oval shapes using a cookie cutter. Use the back of a knife to press fan-shaped lines into them. Decorate the top crust with these shapes. Brush the entire top crust and pastry decorations with egg wash. Place a foil funnel or piping nozzle in the center of the pastry to let out steam during baking.
- Bake for 1.5 to 2 hours at 180 C or 360 F. Remove from oven and let cool. Lift the top crust gently off and lift out the duck. Cut off the trussings, place the duck back inside the pastry and replace the top crust. Serve either cold or warm.