Roulade of Duck Breast with Butternut Squash

This is the second of a three part series which utilizes indigenous foods and traditional cooking techniques as inspiration, placing indigenous traditions into a new context. We are taking direct inspiration from the work of Sean Sherman aka The Sioux Chef (see some of his ideas here), and we continue our exploration with duck. (Our first piece on Elk is here)

There are numerous varieties of wild duck in the Great Lakes region, a fairly comprehensive list of common types and their Ojibwe names is available from Decolonizing Diet Project, which we’ve adapted here. One of our frequently quoted blogs, Hunt Gather Cook by Hank Shaw, recommends wood duck and mallard as his favorites. Not hunters ourselves, we elected to utilize a breast from Maple Leaf Farms, one of the largest duck producers in the US, based in Indiana. If we were getting real technical, the White Pekin duck featured at Maple Leaf Farms is actually a distant relative of the mallard which is ubiquitous across the globe.

We have adapted a recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller (p.172). His restaurant, The French Laundry, was voted the World’s Best Restaurant in 2003 and 2004. Keller is noted for taking the best available local and in-season ingredients and elevating the dish through meticulous preparation and stunning presentation. If you want a very detailed description of how this dish comes together, we would heartily recommend Keller’s book. We will simply details the adaptations we made for our purposes here.

Our major difference from the Keller approach is the use of a fire-roasted butternut squash rather than the creamed corn in his approach. The creamed corn would have perfectly acceptable in our indigenous approach, as corn is traditionally consider one of the “Three Sisters”, along with common beans and winter squash which represent some of the most important cultivated crops of early North American native peoples. We went with the other sister: winter squash.

We were inspired by these images shown online by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. These photos were taken by Revered Gilbert L. Wilson, who captured them in his trips to Like-a-Fishook Village, North Dakota starting in 1905.

Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0332

Here a native woman is preparing a variety of winter squash for preservation by drying. She is using a bone knife, from the shoulder blade of a bison.

Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0326

The rounds of squash are speared on a long stick and then allowed to dry outdoors, out of reach of animals. Squash were also prepared by roasting in the ashes of a fire and that is the approach we choose to pursue. In the glowing embers of an evening fire, we placed three varieties of winter squash, then placed a cast iron pot over the top, weighed down with another larger stone to prevent any uninvited diners.

We allowed the squash to simply roast overnight. In the future we might buffer the squash with soaked corn leaves or another material which would elevate from direct contact with the coals. Nevertheless, we were pleased with the results.

The butternut squash slightly caramelized through the skin, creating a deep smoked flavor. We have used this same approach on sweet potatoes in the past, by simply tossing them in the coals of a ceramic charcoal grill after an evening’s dinner is complete and shutting the grill down completely. In absence of either of these approaches, roast the butternut squash whole like this.

Roulade of Duck with Butternut Squash ala Keller

  • 1 Butternut squash
  • Salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 Duck Breast, apprx. 12 oz.
  • Salt, pepper
  • 12 Wild leek leaves (or 2 Leaves of Swiss chard)
  • 4 oz. morels, or other wild foraged mushrooms (see note)
  • 3 Tbsp corn oil
  • 12 Wild leek bulbs (from leaves above), minced
  • 2 cups roast vegetable broth

Note: To go fully indigenous, foraged mushrooms would be the play here. Morels have such a short season, and there are a variety of other options which are nicely detailed here for Wisconsin and here for Michigan. Or go with Golden Oak mushrooms like we did for this dish.

Prepare the butternut squash per the commentary above. When cooled, cut in half, discard the seeds (though they are edible), and scrap out the flesh into a food processor. Add only as much warm salted water as needed to puree the butternut squash. The resulting puree should be as think as mashed potatoes.

For the duck, remove the skin and duck fat and save for the mushroom preparation. Trim the ends to form a rectangle and cut into two equal pieces, save ends for mushroom preparation. Salt and pepper the duck. If using Swiss chard, blanch for 3 minutes in a pot of boiling salted water, then chill. If using wild leeks, omit this step. More on Wild Leeks here. On a 20 in. long piece of plastic wrap, arrange the 6 of the leaves in one uniform layer, then place one piece of duck on one end the leaves. Wrap the duck with the leaves, pulling the plastic wrap back as you go (so it does not roll inside the leaves. Once fully rolled, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and tightly twist the ends. You will have a fully wrapped log of duck; a roulade. Repeat with second breast piece. Place in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

To prepare the “duck broth” for the morels, add 1 Tbsp of oil to a small sauce pan over medium high heat. Add the duck fat, diced skin, and diced ends and cook until the skin renders most of its fat. Reduce the temperature if it begins to darken past a caramel color. When the skin has rendered its fat, add 6 minced wild leek bulbs and reduce to low heat. Cook until caramel colored. Add 1 and 1/4 cup of roast vegetable broth, bring to a boil, then reduce to low and allow to reduce by half. The longer and slowe you go on this step, the deeper the flavor of the resultant sauce. Strain mixture, discarding the solids. Set “duck broth” aside.

To complete, heat a large saucepan to a boil and then reduce to a simmer (looking for exactly 190 degrees if you have a thermometer handy). Place the roulade, still wrapped in plastic, in the water for 7 minutes for medium rare. Add 2 minutes if it was refrigerated longer than an hour. Then aside to rest for 3 minutes.

While the duck cooks, heat 2 Tbsp of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add 6 minced leek bulbs and sliced mushrooms. When the mushrooms are cooked through, add 1/3 cup of duck broth. In a separate pan, warm the butternut squash puree.

Slice one end of the roulade, and slide the roulade out of the plastic. Cut each roulade into three uniform pieces. Place a dollop of butternut puree on the plate, top with a piece of the duck roulade, cut side up. Top with a spoonful of mushroom mixture.

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