Recipe of the Week: Julia Child’s stuffed duck, baked cucumbers, and blackberry flan

IMG_1139sm Today’s post is the ninth in a series of weekly Julia Child recipes. Kudos to this week’s contributors, project manager Ann Burrola and her friend Lucinda, who not only prepared Pâté de Canard en Croûte (Boned Stuffed Duck Baked in a Pastry Crust), but also made baked cucumbers AND blackberry flan. 

 “ the procedure may take 45 minutes the first time because of fright”—Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume I, p.570 

This week’s recipe for the Pâté de Canard en Croûte covers 7 pages in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. This is certainly not a record for a Julia Child recipe (French bread covers 22 pages) but, based on this alone, the recipe could be considered daunting to any cook. What are we saying? A recipe that requires deboning a duck, preparing stuffing, sewing the stuffing into the duck, making a pastry crust, wrapping the duck in the pastry, and then decorating it with pastry cut-outs, is daunting! However, Julia provides detailed written instructions and clear illustrations so that anyone will know exactly how to accomplish the simplest and most complicated dishes in her cookbooks. “You’ve got all the directions and if you can read, you can cook,” she wrote. 

Trussing These are some of the trussing needles Julia kept in a drawer along with other small tools and gadgets. Although she used the “French needle and string system” for trussing poultry, she recognized there were many ways to tie a chicken together to prevent it from falling apart during cooking. She advised using any system that appealed, and if cooks didn’t have a proper trussing needle, they could use “a sailmaker’s needle, a mattress needle, or a knitting needle with a hole bored in one end.” From Julia Child’s Kitchen, pp. 219-20.

Where to Find the Master Recipes 

Pâté de Canard en Croûte (Boned Stuffed Duck Baked in a Pastry Crust)

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I, pp. 569-76 
  • From Julia Child’s Kitchen, pp. 369-71
  • An adaptation from The Boston Globe
Concombres au Beurre (Baked Cucumbers)
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I, pp. 499-500
  • An adaptation from the La Fuji Mama blog
Clafouti aux Mûres (Blackberry Flan)
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I, pp. 655-57
  • A blueberry version from the Kitchen Caravan blog 
Ann’s Story 

When the call went out to write about cooking from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I signed right up. Then I e-mailed my friend Lucinda and told her “WE” had signed up to cook out of Julia’s book. She wanted to make the most complicated recipe in the book and I wanted to make the easiest one. We made them both and threw in dessert. Since Lucinda blogs, I told her to write the post and I would do the pictures. So here goes… 

Lucinda’s Story 

When I saw Julie & Julia, someone asked me if I had ever made the stuffed duck. I hadn’t, but thought I might give it a try. “Great,” Ann said, “you make the duck.” Ann didn’t know the recipe is seven pages long, with an eighth page for the farce or forcemeat stuffing.

The recipe has three main components. The farce, which is stuffed into a de-boned duck, which is then wrapped in a crust. I made the forcemeat and the crust and set about to de-bone the duck. 

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De-boning a duck takes about 45 minutes. 

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Julia says if you de-bone a lot of them you can cut your time by 25 minutes. 

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One was enough. Ann timed it. It took 45 minutes. 

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Once I had the duck de-boned, I stuffed it with the farce

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Then it needed to be sewn up. 

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At this point, I was really glad that I never went to medical school. 

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Once the duck is stuffed you brown it. 

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Then wrap it in a pastry crust. 

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Of course, Julia wants the crust decorated. 

Now the duck goes into an oven for 2 hours and time marches on…. 

Let’s recap: 

  • 15 minutes making farce
  • 15 minutes for pastry 
  • 45 minutes for duck de-boning
  • 15 minutes for trussing
  • 15 minutes for browning
  • 25 minutes for cooling
  • 2 hours for baking
  • 2 1/2 hours for resting 

About 5 1/2 hours into Pâté de Canard en Crouté, it was time to start the vegetable. Ann peeled, seeded, and cut her cucumbers for her Concombres au Beurre—basically, cukes baked in tons of butter! 

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In keeping with the “Julia aesthetic“, Ann ventured to Washington's Eastern Market in search of a fromagerie to acquire the proper butter. Sticks of American butter from the Safeway, with their skimpy 80% fat content, would not do. For Julia, we needed a block of European-style butter with its slightly higher fat content. 

IMG_1125sm During all the baking and resting, there was dishwashing, table setting, and gardening. In the garden, I picked some blackberries. Ann said she saw a blackberries recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. “Let’s make dessert!” 

We found the recipe for Clafouti aux Mûres and gathered the ingredients. While the cucumbers baked, we made the batter for the clafouti and got it ready for the oven. 

In the movie Julie & Julia, Julie talks about de-boning her duck but she never mentions the presentation. After you bake and cool the duck, you have to carefully cut it out of the crust while leaving the crust in tact. You take the now cooked duck and remove all the trussing string. Then, you re-stuff the duck into the crust for a lovely presentation. 

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Voilà … 

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Dinner is served. After dinner is served and the dishes are washed and the trussing needle is stored away and Julie & Julia is gone from the theaters and the DVD grows dusty on a shelf one might ask, “Why take on such an exercise?” 

The key to the long-lived appeal of Julia Child was her ability to get us into the kitchen without fear, to move us out of our comfort zone and try something new, and most importantly to have fun. I love a challenge and nothing says “challenge” like ten pages of recipe! Ann wanted to take part in the blog and have fun in the kitchen. What could be more fun than taking plain old salad cucumbers and transforming them into Concombres au Beurre

Now when people ask me, “Have you ever made Julia’s stuffed duck?” my reply will be, “But of course.“ When they ask Ann if she actually ever used Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she’ll say, “Sure!” 

I may never make Pâté de Canard en Crouté again, but when I see a non-descript salad with slices of cucumber tossed on top I will think of how much better they would be had they been cored and sliced and baked in rich butter the way Julia taught Ann to do it. I will remember the unctuous duck, the succulent cucumbers, the clafouti with blackberries from my garden and the sound the wine glasses made as we toasted Julia. 

Do try this at home! 

We invite you to join with us in this celebration of Julia Child’s life, work, and contributions to American culinary history. Please share your experiences making Julia Child’s recipes by posting your story, photos, or video on our Tumblr page for this recipe series. Don’t forget to check back next week. 

Ann Burrola is a project manager at the National Museum of American History.