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Duck Isabel

Duck Isabel

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Serves 6 to 8.
By Dennis W. Viau; an original recipe.

When I heard that Clarissa Dickson Wright of the BBC cooking show Two Fat Ladies passed away, I wanted to do something as a tribute to her and Jennifer Paterson, who passed in 1999. In one episode, “The Cambridge Eight,” Clarissa made a Rabbit Isabel. I used the idea to create a similar recipe. Although complicated, it makes a delicious and beautiful centerpiece for a special dinner.


1 whole duck, about 5 pounds (2.25kg)
¼ cup (1½ ounces/42g) wild rice
2 tablespoons oil for frying
½ medium (5 ounces/140g) onion, chopped
¼ pound (113g) pork sausage meat
5 to 8 fresh sage leaves, depending on size, chopped
4 to 5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 egg
Salt and pepper
1 or 2 tablespoons bread crumbs or panko, if needed
8 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto, more if needed to patch holes
¼ to ½ cup (60 to 120ml) dry white wine
2 heaping teaspoons plum sauce (optional)


Thaw the duck in the refrigerator for a day or two, if frozen.

Start cooking the rice in a cup (237ml) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pan. Simmer 30 minutes. The rice will be al dente, but I like the texture in the stuffing. When done, drain and set aside, covered.

While the rice is cooking, remove the skin from the duck and fillet the meat from the legs. It doesn’t need to be done carefully because it will be ground (minced) later in a food process. However, carefully fillet the breast meat away from the ribs to keep each breast in one piece.

Sauté the chopped onion in a skillet heated with about a tablespoon of oil. Cook until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little.

Cut the leg meat into smaller pieces and place in a food processor with the sage and basil leaves. Chop briefly until the mixture resembles ground beef. Transfer the meat mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the cooked wild rice, pork sausage meat, onion, and the egg. Mix well. If the mixture appears to be too wet to hold a shape, add a tablespoon or two of bread crumbs and mix well.

Season with salt and pepper. You can test for seasoning by cooking a small dab of the mixture in the skillet and tasting.

Arrange a long piece of kitchen twine on the counter (I do this on a piece of parchment paper) and then arrange three shorter pieces, crossing the first, about 2 inches (5cm) apart. Carefully separate the prosciutto slices, trying not to tear them and arrange them on the strings, two on each crossing string, with the ends overlapping, and one at each end on top of the longer strings. If any of the slices tear, the hole can be patched with a cut piece of prosciutto.

This is a procedure in which photos help. You might want to download the PDF for this recipe. Use the "Get the PDF" button above.

Place one of the duck breast pieces in the center of the prosciutto, aligned along the long string. Arrange the ground meat mixture on top of the breast meat, shaping the ground meat into a loaf. Then top with the remaining piece of breast meat.

Carefully wrap the loaf with the prosciutto slices, starting with the pieces that are on top of the others. Try not to tear the prosciutto. Holes can be patched with a piece of prosciutto.

Then tie the loaf with the strings. Do not pull the strings too tightly, as this could tear the prosciutto. Meanwhile, starting heating the oven to 350°F (177°C).

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Brown the loaf lightly on all sides, turning it carefully. I found the best way to do this was to arrange the skillet off center on the burner. By pushing the loaf against the side of the pan and tilting the pan to hold the loaf in place, the rounded edges along the bottom of the skillet helped shape the loaf. Browning will also strengthen the prosciutto wrapping on the loaf, making it easier to handle.

Transfer the loaf to a baking dish or pan and pour the wine into the bottom. Cover the baking dish and bake to an internal temperature of about 160° (71°C) when tested with a meat thermometer. My loaf baked for exactly one hour to come up to this temperature. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. The outer heat will continue to migrate toward the center, bringing the final temperature to about 170°F (77°C), a safe temperature at which to serve.

Transfer the duck loaf to a carving board. You can strain the cooking liquid after removing the fat and flavor the drippings with a couple heaping teaspoons of plum sauce, if you prefer. Orange marmalade might work well instead. You can be a little creative with this sauce. Heat and use as a garnish when serving.

Slice the loaf into thick slices at the table and garnish with sauce. Serve with your favorite vegetable.