Thursday, 18 November 2010

Pate de Canard en Croute Part I


The wrongness of this is quite overwhelming.

It's just so  typical of the French to do something like this. And I like the French, I really really do. I think they're great. I love loads of things about them, even the bad stuff. But to do this to a duck - to take all its bones out, stuff it and then wrap it in pastry - is just... wrong.

I suppose I'm just too modern, too new-generation about food to really understand why you'd want to do this. It strikes me as a thing you'd do if you were suffering from a glut and had eaten duck 50 different ways that week anyway and you were staring at your latest bird thinking "Hell, how am I going to liven this thing up?"

So instead of just spreading it with orange sauce (again), you decide to remove its skeleton, stuff it and then wrap it in pastry. Mental.

I'm really sorry that I proposed I would do this, I really am. I feel like a bad person for subjecting my innocent free range duck, which I purchased at vast expense (£20) to such frankly perverted kitchen practices. But I did, because I felt like I had to, if only so I could bang on about how wrong it all it.

This is not Julia Child's exact recipe because I wanted to do it my way (I'm getting a bit like that these days - a bit grand). I've basically wrapped it in rough puff pastry and changed the stuffing to a more Christmassy thing, whereas Child's recipe called for pastry made to American measurements - sticks and cups and all that unfathomable stuff - and a veal and pork stuffing that looked boring.

But the main event is the deboning of the bird, which Julie Powell's character makes such a fuss of in Julie and Julia.

Anyway, I was right, deboning a duck is easier than getting a book deal. But it's still a quite traumatisingly gross process. Those who feel sensitive about these things ought to look away now.


So, if you want to do this, and I can't imagine why you would, take your bird, apologise profusely and then lay it down on a board breast-side down. Then take the smallest, sharpest knife you can find and make a slit down the middle of the back.

Then, visualising what the bone structure of the duck looks like - i.e. a barrel-shaped, hollow thing, cut and scrape along the bones with your knife so that you remove as much of the duck along with the skin as you can, leaving the bones bare. It'll make sense once you're actually doing it.

You have to cut through the joints where the legs are attached to the main ribcage. Be firm. The main objective is just not to cut through any skin and the finesse with which you do the rest of it doesn't matter.

After the top of this is mostly clear, you have to release the ribcage from the breast-side of the duck, which is very fiddly, but you'll get there in the end. The picture below is just a horrifying mess, but it will be instructive if you're about to do this, or are in the middle of it.

I cut off most of the ribcage here so I could see what I was doing. Please, for the love of God, if you do this at least make a stock out of the bones so it's not a waste.

Detatching the last bit of the bonecage, at the top, which constitutes sort of the shoulders and the attachments to the wings, is really hard and I haven't got any advice other than be very careful. You'll do a lot of bending over and squinting and swearing at this point. Just cut very carefully as best you can see how around the bones, just bearing in mind all the time not to cut right through any skin.

Cut the wings off at the mid-joint (i.e. cut off most of the wing) and then carefully scrape round the bone to release it and pull it out. Child says you can leave the drumstick bones in, which I did because I so much wanted the whole awful process to be over, but I'd advise going that extra mile and taking those out too.

Ta da!

Then pile on your stuffing. I made mine out of 2 packets of Waitrose's finest chipolatas, skinned, 1/2 a cooking apple - diced, the zest and juice of half an orange, 5 prunes - finely diced, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp mace, about six scrapings of nutmeg and a lot of salt and pepper. You also slice off as much of the duckmeat from the breast and thigh that you can without tearing through the skin, dice it and add it to the stuffing.

Here you are supposed to sew it all together with a trussing needle and string, but I forgot to get it off my mum (despite going round to her house specifically for it - you know how it is) so I just had to tie it up with string, which worked okay.

Then you brown it all over

Then you wrap it in pastry

Decorate it, brush it all over with eggwash and stick a foil funnel in the top to let the steam escape

Tune in tomorrow to find out what happened next...


  1. God I'm impressed. Hats off to you. Never deboned a whole bird before.

  2. Strangely addictive reading, albeit very gruesome indeed. Also slightly unnerving how you seem to be so Hannibally precise&efficient with your small sharp knife; no mess on worktop & clear instructive photography as well. I've boned soles but a duck is a whole different kettle of fish.

  3. I resent the implication that I'm some sort of serial killer. The worktop gets more messy as I go along, I'd like to point out.

  4. Thank you for all of these pictures. I always find that most cookbooks unhelpfully leave out about 3/4 of the steps in their sketches of the process leaving me standing in my kitchen knife in one hand, bird in the other, praying that whatever hideous torture I'm conducting on the bird's corpse is correct since as a city-bred, new millenium-type woman, I have no idea what a properly butchered bird should actually look like.

  5. That really looks impressive by the end of it. Halfway through there I was beginning to think I wouldn't bother but the last three photo's swayed me. It looks grand!

  6. if you flick down the page quick enough its like a cross between a duck striptease and some kind of snuff movie for poultry... delicious!

  7. I've boned duck about four times over 30 years (for Ballotine of Duck.) It always takes about an hour and a half per duck (including drumsticks.) It's got to be for something or someone really special. Never made Duck en Croute, though, so this might inspire the fourth time ... Looking forward to the next installment!