When I was introduced recently to jambonnette in the kitchen of Le Cerf in Marlenheim, France, I observed what appeared to be a small, faux jambon, or ham. The dish was a boned-out chicken leg stuffed with a mixture of various ground meats and vegetables in a shape similar to a small ham.
But before I saw my first ready-to-serve jambonnette in that kitchen, I had an opportunity to prepare the farce, or filling. At Le Cerf, the filling contains raw pork jowl; finely diced, cooked mushrooms; finely diced, cooked onions; raw duck foie gras; minced flat-leaf parsley; raw chicken livers and hearts; jellied pig’s feet; salt; pepper; and white bread softened in milk. The pork, duck, chicken, and bread were finely ground and mixed with the other ingredients.
Unfortunately, I never witnessed or participated in the boning and stuffing of the chicken legs so I could only imagine what the process was like. I did, however, see the final dish prepared a number of times. The final cooking consisted of reheating and glazing the jambonnette in a very hot oven. The stuffed leg was apparently precooked as part of its initial preparation. Thus, when the word came to the kitchen that a guest had ordered a jambonnette, one was removed from the refrigerator, plopped in a small cast-iron pan, and placed in a very hot oven. Periodically, the cook would turn the jambonnette and baste it with a little demi-glace. When heated through, the jambonnette was sliced on a bias into a couple of thick pieces and served with the basting sauce and a vegetable garnish.
On one occasion, there was a mistake in an order and the jambonnette became a snack for the kitchen staff—one that we quickly ate with our fingers between other tasks.
I decided that I wanted to learn to make this dish in my own kitchen, but I quickly realized that finding out the details of the recipe was going to be difficult. The cook I was working with spoke very limited English and my French was even worse. When we made the stuffing, no measurements were used. I participated in preparing it twice. On both occasions, the ingredients and their quantities differed.
Back in my room at night, when I checked my various French-English dictionaries, I found that the dish was probably better called a jambonneau instead of a jambonnette. A jambonneau was defined as a cured pork knuckle or a stuffed poultry leg shaped like a pork knuckle. A jambonnette was defined as a cooked charcuterie dish of minced pork shoulder and bacon with herbs, wrapped in caul fat and shaped in the form of a pear. It seemed like we were preparing a jambonneau not a jambonnette.
When I returned home and checked though my many French cookbooks, I found only a couple of recipes for jambonnette—none of which resembled the dish I had tasted in Marlenheim. And I found no recipes for a stuffed poultry leg called a jambonneau. Nonetheless, I felt I had enough information to attempt to recreate the dish.
The following recipe for jambonneau de volaille aux abats rouges is my version of the dish from Le Cerf. The recipe is broken into seven phases. When completed through the fourth phase, the jambonneau can be refrigerated or frozen until needed. The quantities in the ingredient lists below will produce 6 servings.
Phase 1 : Farce d’abats
finely minced yellow onion
common mushrooms, 3-mm dice
chicken livers and hearts
pork belly, cut into strips
leaves from 5 sprigs
fresh, flat-leaf parsley, minced
pink salt (6% sodium nitrite) [optional]
freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook, without coloring, until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender. Spread the mixture out onto a small plate and cool rapidly in a refrigerator or freezer.
While the onions and mushrooms are cooling, grind the meats. First grind the livers and hearts through a fine grinder plate. Next, grind the pork belly strips in the same manner. (Be sure to allow for a little extra pork belly because some will be lost in the grinder.)
Place the ground meats, the cooled onions and mushrooms, parsley, salt, pink salt [optional], and black pepper in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the paddle running at low speed, thoroughly combine the ingredients until the fat just begins to smear. Set the mixture aside in a refrigerator until needed.
Phase 2 : Désossez les poulets
3 (about 1.25 to 1.75 kg)
Place a chicken on its back on a cutting board. Using a small, sharp knife, make a short cut through the skin directly over the center of the breastbone. Slide your forefinger into the opening and move it around to separate the skin from the flesh on both sides of the breast.
Use the same knife to continue cutting the skin the full length of the chicken along the breastbone. Then cut the skin away from the neck opening and around the wing on one side, all the way to the midline of the back.
Flip the chicken over so it is resting on its breast on the cutting board. Use a small, sharp knife to cut through the skin from the neck end to the small muscles (gluteus muscle) on the back just before the legs, along the midline, through to the bone. Use the tip of the knife to scrape the muscle from the carcass in a single piece. It is important that this piece of muscle remains attached to the thigh. Then continue cutting the skin down the rest of the length of the midline.
Flip the chicken onto its back again. Pull the leg gently away from the carcass to expose the joint where the thigh is attached. Cut through the ligaments holding the thigh bone in place to release the bone from the carcass. Cut any remaining areas where the thigh meat is attached to the carcass. You should now have one complete hindquarter along with a large piece of skin separate from the body of the chicken.
Repeat this process on the other side of the chicken. Reserve the remaining meat and bones of the chicken for other uses.
Work with each hindquarter separately. Place a hindquarter on the cutting board with the skin side down. Spread the skin out as flat as possible. Scrape and trim as much visible fat from the meat as possible. Be especially careful to not cut through the skin while you are trimming the fat.
Using the tip of a small, sharp knife, cut the tendons that attach the thigh muscles to the thigh bone where they are connected to the tip of the bone. Next, scrape all along the bone towards the drumstick to detach the meat from the bone. Continue scraping until the bone is fully visible.
Use the tip of the knife to cut the ligaments that hold the two bones together. Discard the bone or save for stock. Fold the skin and muscle back to clearly expose the joint that was just severed and carefully cut out the piece of cartilage (patella) sitting next to the joint.
For the remaining steps, be extra careful to not cut through the skin. With the skin and muscle still folded back, scrape the meat from the bone. Cut any remaining tendons close to where they attach to the bone. Stop when just the tip of the bone is still attached to the skin and meat. Lay the bone on the cutting board and chop through the bone near the tip with a heavy cleaver or knife.
Repeat the boning process for the other hindquarter and the full process for the remaining chickens.
Phase 3 : Farcir les cuisses
Lay a boned-out chicken leg flat on the work surface with the skin side down. Using a couple of fingers, force some of the farce
into the cavity where the drumstick bone once was. Lay a “plug” of farce on the thigh and close the meat over it to make sure that there is enough to fill the space, but not too much.
Fold the thigh meat together to even out the farce
and check that the amount if proper. Roll the skin over the leg. Trim the excess with a knife or scissors. Maintain an overlap of about 2 cm (0.75 in).
Wrap each of the stuffed legs tightly with plastic wrap. As the leg is wrapped, fold the gluteus muscle inward to “seal” the end of the leg. Place the stuffed legs in individual plastic bags and vacuum seal. Note: if you don’t have a vacuum sealer, double wrap the legs tightly in plastic wrap and secure the wrapping with a couple of lengths of string.
Phase 4 : Pochez les cuisses
Fill a large pot with water and heat to 90 °C (195 °F). Add the stuffed chicken legs, still in their vacuum bags. Maintain the water at about 80 °C (175 °F). Poach until each leg is firm, about 15 to 20 minutes, and the internal temperature reaches at least 75 °C (165 °F). Cool in an ice water bath. The cooked chicken may be prepared a number of days in advance, but be sure to leave it sealed in its vacuum bag until the final cooking. Note: if the chicken packages were not vacuum sealed, steam them until firm, and cool rapidly in a refrigerator.
Phase 5 : Préparez le sauce
shallot, peeled and minced
finely cubed carrot
finely cubed red bell pepper
fine salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot, carrots, and bell pepper. Sweat until soft. Add the demi-glace, reduce heat, and heat through. Season with salt and black pepper. Set aside and keep warm until needed.
Phase 6 : Faire dorez le jambonneau
In the meantime, heat some oil in a heavy frying pan over high heat. Remove the stuffed legs from their packaging and dry thoroughly with absorbent paper. Quickly fry the legs on all sides until the skin is brown and crisp. Transfer the frying pan to a 230 °C (450 °F) oven and continue cooking until the legs are warm, about 50 °C (125 °F), all the way through.
Phase 7 : Présentation
Slice each leg, on the bias, into four or five pieces and arrange on individual, warmed serving plates. Spoon the sauce over the meat.