This stuffed cabbage with salmon is the recipe of Danièle Mazet Delpeuch, the cook of former French President François Mitterrand. Her story inspired a movie called “Les saveurs du Palais”, with well-known actors Catherine Frot and Jean D’Ormesson.
I was intimidated by the recipe, and maybe also by the prestige that surrounds it, but after seeing the movie, I decided to take the challenge.
I was happy I did, because the dish turned out great, and it was really delicious. Wonderful country flavors from the carrots and bacon, combined with subtle salmon flavors and a crunchy cabbage. François Mitterrand loved these traditional, country flavors, and he didn’t like modern cuisine so much.
The dish is also very healthy, with plenty of good fats, protein, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
It does take a long time to make, but it’s well worth it, and it makes a great festive main dish.
Serves 6-8 – Total time about 2 hours
2.2 lb (1 kg) salmon fillets
2.2 lb (1 kg) salmon heads and bones
1 large green savoy cabbage
2.2 lb (1 kg) carrots, sliced
0.5 lb (250 g) onions, sliced
0.5 lb (250 g) bacon dices
1 tbsp goose or duck fat (or lard or butter)
1 bay leaf, 1 pinch thyme
sea salt, black pepper
1 cheese cloth about 1 square yard (1 square meter)
Wash salmon heads and bones under cold water. Place them in a large thick-bottom pan, with 8.5 pints (US) (4 liters) cold water.
Add the bay leaf and the thyme, and bring to a boil. Make sure you skim off the scum. Leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Then, drain through a colander above a large pan. Set the clear stock aside.
Cut the salmon into thin slices of about 0.4 inch (1 cm), and place them on a large plate. Add some salt and pepper, and set aside in the fridge.
Blanch the dices of bacon in boiling water for 2 minutes, and drain in a colander. Place under cold running water for a few seconds.
Wash the whole cabbage under cold running water. In a large pan, bring water to the boil and blanch the whole cabbage for 3 minutes. Drain and place under cold running water for 10 seconds. You can repeat this step a second time.
We blanch the whole cabbage so we protect the leaves inside of the cabbage, and to make it more digestible.
On a thick kitchen cloth, open the cabbage, leaf after leaf, very gently. Set the heart aside; you can use it to make soup.
In a cast-iron pot, gently fry the onions in 1/2 tbsp goose or duck fat. If you don’t have duck fat on hand, you can use lard or butter.
Add the bacon dices and the carrots and fry for about 2 minutes. Add salt and cover the pot. Cook on very low heat for about 30 minutes. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, we will prepare the cabbage. Here are step-by-step pictures so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
First, place the cheese cloth in a large colander (choose a colander that has feet). Make sure you let it hand on the sides, so that you can then fold it to form a bundle.
Line the cloth with the cabbage, starting by 2 large leaves that are placed like this: the second leaf covers about 1/3 of the first leaf. This ensures that we get a nice bowl when we fold everything together later on.
Then, place the salmon slices on the cabbage, like this:
Then, go on and add another layer of cabbage leaves, like this:
Go on until you have no more salmon, and place a double layer of cabbage leaves on top.
Close the cheese cloth by folding it together. Form a bundle. Attach with kitchen string. It should look like this:
Now you can take the salmon stock you made at the beginning, and bring it to a boil.
Take the cabbage from the colander and place it on your kitchen counter.
Gently place the cabbage bundle in the hot stock, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
Now take the cabbage, using both your hands and kitchen spoons; make sure you don’t burn yourself. Ask someone to help you with this. Place the cabbage bundle in a colander above a large pot.
Place the bundle on a plate, cut the string and gently unfold the cloth.
Take the cabbage, and gently add it to the pot with the carrots and bacon.
Cook on very low heat for about 40 minutes, covered. Add some water while it’s cooking if you think it’s drying out.
Add some black pepper at the end of the cooking time.
To serve, take the cabbage out (ask for help if you want) and place it on a cutting board.
Cut the cabbage as you would cut a birthday cake, using a large and sharp kitchen knife.
Serve on the plates, together with the carrots and bacon (picture is at the top of the post).
Enjoy this presidential dish!
For the original recipe in French, go here.