One of my fondest memories as a young teenager was watching the ever charismatic Jacques Pépin on TV as the master conjured up delicious dishes in front of the camera. Little did I know that he (alongside Julia) was not only instructing me with the ability to cook, but also helping me in learning a brand new language. Thinking back it’s a bit funny how a celebrity chef with such a pronounced French accent was teaching me to speak English via food.
A few years prior to immigrating to Vancouver (B.C.) from Lima, Peru, my family and I were on the brink of disaster after being tipped off that my brothers and I were potentially going to be kidnapped for ransom. My parents were pretty well off and at the time many families like ours were being targeted for their financial situation. Our plight was becoming more dire with each week so much so that I was fitted with my own bodyguard.
If this wasn’t enough, my father was also placed on a list of people targeted by the Shining Path terrorist group since at the time he was a top executive for a fortune 50 American company. It had nothing to do with his political affiliations nor views, but rather the fact that he fit a criteria placed upon the insurgents, which fell in one of the following four categories: political figures, top military personnel, religious leaders, and foreign companies’ executives and/or investors. Apparently the fourth category aligned with the Shining Path’s strategy to nationalize our country.
The months prior to our arrival to Vancouver were becoming increasingly tumultuous and perilous, so when I started a new chapter in this haven within Western Canada, I challenged myself to learn English as hastily as possible. In addition to watching cooking shows, I would judiciously read the dictionary every single night. I’d turn to any page, blindly point to words on a few landed spots and recite their meaning prior to falling asleep. Somehow this unfortunate situation made me into a fairly resourceful person with an insatiable appetite to see the world; this chameleonic desire to assimilate has not only become a necessity, but also a passion to quickly blend into any city that I’ve made my home in over the years.
A while back I bumped into this old video where the high priest of French cuisine, Jacques Pépin, surgically prepares a chicken ballotine without skipping a single beat. For an upcoming camping trip with some close friends, I decided to give myself this challenge while channeling my childhood idol, Jacques.
Galantine, Ballotine, or Dodine?
Galantines and ballotines fall within the heading of roulade. It can be served hot or cold and there are countless of variations on the choice of protein, stuffing, and methods for finishing or servicing the dish. The terms have been a debate for years and there is a lot of misinformation out there, but as far as I can discern, and from recalling what I was taught in professional kitchens, Galatines are poached or sousvide, stuffed with forcemeat, rolled, then tied, and served at room temperature or cold. Ballotines, on the other hand, are typically served hot, and roasted or braised. The third and similar term is the Dodine (typically made from poultry), and could be considered a fancier version of a meatloaf.
Chicken ballotine with pesto, salad, and veggies
Leading up to our camping trip to Bark Shanty Creek, in the heart of Oregon’s Tillamook forest, I gathered up all our ingredients for one of the days while our friends prepared the first night’s meal. Since deboning can be time-consuming, I prepared the stuffing and the chicken ahead of time.
When we arrived to our designated spot, we found out that were not allowed to start a fire at this time of the year due to fire warnings, but luckily we had a propane-powered stove at our disposal.
The stuffed chicken was served with a lemon-tarragon vinaigrette watercress salad, a watercress/basil marcona almond and manchego home-made pesto, poached heirloom tomato, sautéed trumpet mushrooms, and padrón peppers topped off with sea salt and bonito flakes. This entire dish turned out better than I expected, and while it can sound laborious from its many steps, it is much easier to put together if some work is done ahead of time.
Preparing at home: Chicken, Pesto, and lemon-tarragon vinaigrette
Mushroom duxelle-stuffed chicken ballotine
Serves 4-5. For the stuffing, you’ll need:
- 1 whole chicken
- 6 paper-thin pancetta slices
- 3 cups of diced crimini mushrooms, but any preference will do
- 2 shallots finely diced
- 4 minced garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp Sherry vinegar
- A fistful of thyme and minced tarragon (equal parts)
- 3 tbsp of unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup of whipping cream
- 1 cup of chopped marcona almonds
- Salt and pepper to taste
You’ll also need butcher’s string to truss the chicken once complete.
First, debone the entire chicken in advance by following Pépin’s instructions. To add some extra flavor to the crispy skin, I added some paper-thinly sliced pancetta underneath the skin. Set aside before preparing the stuffing.
There are a multitude of choices for the stuffing, and for this trip I settled on a mushroom duxelle with cream, a dash of sherry vinegar, tarragon and thyme. First, melt the butter and heat for a few minutes. Once hot, toss in the shallots and sweat for a couple of minutes. Half way through, add in the garlic.
Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms reduce in size. About five minutes in, toss in the minced herbs and chopped nuts before mixing thoroughly. Pour in the cream (while at medium heat), mix and after a minute or so, turn off the stove.
Tip: For safety reasons, a stuffed chicken should be cooked within 24 hours. Since we weren’t eating for longer than that, I set the chicken and stuffing aside, stored separately in our cooler, and assembled right at camp. For the trussing, follow the same video link above.
Watercress/basil, marcona almond & manchego pesto
For the pesto, you’ll need:
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 cups watercress
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup marcona almonds (roasted nuts)
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup freshly grated manchego cheese
- ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 2 tbsp fermented mustard seeds
This recipe is a variation on a classic pesto recipe, with instructions available via this link. For this dish I opted to include some previously fermented mustard seeds to add extra texture to the pesto. This is entirely optional, but it did provide some welcomed acidity to the sauce to play off the peppery and piquant flavor from the watercress.
I love this simple lemon-tarragon vinaigrette, which I made prior to our camping trip and used to simply dress the watercress salad with.
Preparing at camp: Sautéed veggies
Serves: 3-4. You’ll need:
- 2 large heirloom tomatoes
- 3 cups padrón or shishito peppers
- 1 shallot
- 2 garlic cloves
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp bonito flaked
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
The key to this dish is to time the preparation just right. Upon stuffing and trussing the chicken, I proceeded to cook both sides at medium heat on a cast iron pan with olive oil and some thyme and tarragon aromatics to intensify the exterior of the bird. The chicken is ready when the interior temperature reaches 160° F, which in our case took about 35 minutes.
Heat water until it comes to a boil, then remove the pot from the fire. Add in the previously scored tomato to remove its outer skin. The tomato should be in the water for no longer than 20 seconds before shocking in an ice bath immediately after removing from the hot water.
Once the tomato is peeled, cut into 1 to 1½” thick slices, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.
Quickly sauté the mushrooms in olive oil, shallots, garlic, and thyme. I like adding a teaspoon of sherry vinegar to brighten it up. The timing should be right to serve the dish while is hot. Prepare the mushrooms and peppers just before the chicken is ready as it should only take a few minutes to cook.
While the mushrooms are sautéing, add in the peppers in a separate hot pan with some olive oil. Pan fry for a few minutes until the padróns are slightly blackened and blistered. Add some sea salt, drizzle in a few drops of lemon juice, and finish off with bonito flakes just prior to serving to add a bit of smokiness to the peppers.
Around the same time that the mushrooms and peppers are cooking, toss in the watercress with the lemon-tarragon vinaigrette to avoid the salad from welting. Since we weren’t able to grill on an open fire this time around, the back-up stove proved being very useful, but ideally we would’ve cooked all the ingredients right on the embers to release even more of the flavors.
We took this opportunity to try some fly-fishing on the creek before preparing our meals.