When it comes to French cuisine, Americans from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Julia Child and now, to us, have been in a near-constant swoon. We adore croissants, macarons, crepes, ratatouille, and a good Burgundy. We wish our omelets were as creamy and light as theirs. To many of us, Jacques Pepin is a kindly, accessible French culinary god.
But is French cuisine something we cook at home? San Diego chef Bruno Albouze, who has a YouTube channel and website (brunoalbouze.com) filled with recipes and cooking videos, believes that’s exactly what we should be doing.
Albouze grew up in France, began his cooking apprenticeship, focusing on pastry, in Bordeaux, and with his pastry diploma and then compulsory military duty behind him, pursued his pastry career before focusing on bread. Eventually, he relocated to Paris to work at the Ritz Hôtel Place Vendôme and then at the Plaza Athénée as head baker under the renowned Alain Ducasse.
By 2004, Albouze headed to Las Vegas for a job, though he didn’t stay long.
“Vegas wasn’t my cup of tea,” he said, “but I discovered a hint of America.”
Albouze went briefly to San Francisco to work and then was hired to teach at the San Diego Culinary Institute, where he worked for a year before working for catering companies and then at Mister A’s, the fine-dining penthouse restaurant in Bankers Hill. Around 2012, he began to think hard about creating a channel for himself on YouTube.
“I got this idea that I’m going to create my own cooking show,” he recalled. “So, I bought a cheap camera. I had no lights, no microphone. And I had to buy a small computer. I watched videos online to learn how to do it.”

Initially, some of those first videos were so bad he had to delete them, blaming his “very very bad English.” But he learned how to edit and saw the wisdom in doing voiceovers in the beginning, because simultaneously cooking and talking and choosing camera angles was tough. But as he got more experienced, his number of subscribers grew.
His focus has been to share his French food with a more global emphasis — adding an Italian touch or a bit of Asian or Mexican or Spanish Mediterranean flair to his recipes. And while he is a trained pastry chef, he is also well trained — from his mom to his apprenticeship to culinary school — in savory, so he teaches both.
Today, you can find hundreds of recipes — many free — on his website and on YouTube, as well as master classes in intricately constructed pastries such as Opera Cake (layered almond sponge cake with coffee syrup and buttercream), Paris-Brest (choux pastry filled with hazelnut-praline cream), and Fraisier Cake (strawberry cake).
When we first talked, though, we thought it would be good to focus on fundamentals — and is there anything more classic in French cuisine than duck confit and madeleines?
Duck confit, or confit de canard, is a dish straight out of Gascony. Albouze explained that it dates to at least the 16th century, when King Henry IV, a Gascon by birth, was said to have had the dish shipped to Paris “by the barrel-load.” The beauty of the dish is that all pieces of the duck are used to produce it and, along with standing on its own with side dishes, it’s a great addition to cassoulet, a traditional casserole of southwestern France that includes slow-cooked beans and meat.
Albouze suggested looking for ducks that are raised cage-free and on a vegetarian grain diet with no added antibiotics or growth hormones. The best quality duck leg, he said, should weigh just under a pound, which is especially important given that after cooking, a duck leg will lose about half its weight.
What goes well with duck confit? Albouze believes that you want primarily potatoes and porcini mushrooms, which is the larger duck confit recipe we have here.
You’ll want to prepare the actual duck confit at least a day ahead of when you plan to serve it. Confit means “to preserve” in French and it’s done by first curing the food in salt (Albouze prefers using Celtic grey salt, which is easy to find online, including on Amazon) and then cooking it slowly over a long period in oil or fat — as opposed to frying. It’s not only an effective way to preserve foods that range from duck or other poultry to garlic but, done well, makes meat more tender and adds depth of flavor.

Here, we’re using duck legs to confit in their own fat. They can be prepared either by leaving the knuckle end, as shown, or by frenching, which simply means chopping off the knuckle — a cleaver makes easy work of this — and removing the skin, cartilage and tendon from the bone for a cleaner presentation. To remove the extra tissue, you make a circular cut above the first leg joint and grab the knob firmly with a towel and give a nice pull. Save the scraps. They’ll be part of what’s cooked down for fat. Once that’s off, trim the duck legs of as much excess fat as you can without cutting into the meat. Save those trimmings, too, to cook down for fat.
At this point, you’ll brine, or salt, the duck legs with flavorings such as garlic and herbs. Once they’ve been in the fridge for a day, you start the cooking process by roasting the duck at a low temperature for about 3 hours. You can cool the legs and refrigerate after that in duck fat for up to 3 weeks or freeze them until you’re ready to use them. At that point, you’ll reheat the legs in duck fat: Heat a frying pan and add a little duck fat, searing the legs skin-side down for 4 minutes until crispy.
The dish also includes a duck glaze, or gravy, made with either chicken or veal demi-glace (a rich brown sauce) or low-sodium chicken stock. Combine with vegetables and duck jus that’s reduced by half and then blended with reduced port.
This accompanies Albouze’s Potato and Mushroom Sarladaise. Traditionally, Pommes de Terre Sarladaise is made with just 3 ingredients: potatoes, garlic and fat, usually duck or goose fat. But Albouze adds thyme to brighten the dish, and persillade.
The latter is a French parsley sauce, sort of like oil-less pesto, that here is made with parsley, shallots and garlic. You’ll add this mixture first to the pan-fried potato slices — use Yukon golds here — and then the sauteed mushrooms.
To serve the dish, you’ll start with the Potato and Mushroom Sarladaise on each plate, adding the seared confit duck and spooning the glaze around the duck leg.
Is there anything more classically French than a madeleine? Sort of a cross between a cookie and cake, these ridged buttery treats are notable, not just because of Proust but also for their distinct hump, which Albouze explained, is the result of chilling the batter. A chilled batter creates a temperature difference between the oven and the batter that creates a burst of steam, resulting in the hump.
Madeleines are pretty easy to make. You’ll need a madeleine pan, with its ridged forms, which can be easily found online at Amazon or at stores such as Target and Walmart. And, said Albouze, you’ll need a pizza stone to get the most out of the heat. The ingredients are straightforward: butter, lemon zest, eggs, sugar, all-purpose flour and baking soda. Melt the butter and add the lemon zest, then beat the eggs and sugar together, sift together the flour and baking powder, and mix all 3 components with each other before refrigerating for at least 2 hours.
Now, you can use either a pastry bag to pipe the batter into each form or just use a tablespoon, but make sure no more than an ounce goes into each form. You’ll put the madeleine pan onto the pizza stone into a preheated oven and bake. When they come out of the oven, be sure to shift each cake to its side to rest in each form as it cools. Store them in a sealed container or freeze.

Duck legs and duck fat can be found locally at Iowa Meat Farms in Grantville and Siesel’s Meat & Deli in Bay Park (call first to verify availability), and duck fat can also purchased at Whole Foods or ordered online. Duck confit should be prepared days ahead of serving it.
Makes 6 servings
FOR THE DUCK CONFIT:
6 duck legs (5 pounds)
¼ cup grey salt (or coarse kosher salt)
12 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs
5½ cups duck fat
FOR THE GLAZE:
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock or ¾ cup chicken or veal demi-glace and 3¼ cups water
cup carrots, chopped
cup white part of leeks, chopped
cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoons (20 g) orange peels from half an orange
cup mushroom stems
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
3 peppercorns
¾ cup rendered duck jus
¾ cup ruby port plus 1 tablespoon for the slurry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
TO SERVE:
Potato-Mushroom Sarladaise (recipe follows)
½ cup English peas, blanched (optional)
Brine the duck: Start by trimming excess fat from duck legs if needed, leaving skin intact over meat. Save these scraps. Knuckles can be left on or removed by frenching. Arrange duck legs on a large, shallow dish or tray lined with parchment, flesh side up, and spread salt all over along with the crushed garlic and fresh thyme. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate to brine for 12 to 24 hours. Salt-curing the meat acts as a preservative. Thoroughly rinse salt from duck. Discard garlic and herbs (or save the garlic to confit in duck fat, cooking on low heat for about 45 minutes). Pat dry duck legs.
Gather the scraps and cook in a saucepan on low heat to render fat. Drain and save. Discard solids.
Cook the duck legs: Preheat conventional oven to 225 degrees. Arrange duck legs skin side up in a Dutch oven or a large deep roasting pan. Cover them with melted duck fat and bring to a boil. Seal with parchment and lid or foil and place in the oven. Cook duck until meat is tender, about 3 hours. Remove from oven, take off lid and leave the legs to rest for an additional hour on the stove top. Gently transfer legs from the fat to a wire rack lined with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, carefully strain the duck fat into a bowl and leave it to cool until it reaches about 95 degrees, then refrigerate. Note: Under the duck fat is a thick layer of rendered duck jus, which is a concentration of flavor and collagen you want to save for the glaze. Once completely chilled, the fat and the rendered jus can be separated and both can be refrigerated. Save the jus for making the glaze.
To preserve the duck legs in fat, arrange legs standing up in a clean container bone side up. Pour in lukewarm duck fat, completely submerging all but the tip of the bone. You can refrigerate the legs for up to 3 weeks. Duck confit can also be vacuum-sealed and kept refrigerated for weeks, or frozen for longer.
Create duck confit with glaze: Mix together demi-glace with water or use low-sodium chicken stock. Add carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, mushroom stems, and herbs, then bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer. The goal is to reduce it by half, which should take about an hour. Add rendered duck jus and continue to simmer.

Meanwhile, reduce the port by two-thirds so it is syrupy. Remove stock from heat and pour through a sieve to eliminate solids. Pour the liquid into the reduced port and stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper, then let simmer for another 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and reduce further if needed.
Whisk together the extra port and cornstarch in a small container to make a smooth slurry. Whisk half of the slurry into the simmering sauce and bring to a boil. Check the viscosity of the sauce and swirl in more slurry if needed. Stir in butter to give the glaze a glossy finish. Do not bring back to a boil. Set the glaze aside.
To put the complete dish together: Slowly reheat the duck legs in duck fat if refrigerated. For vacuum-sealed legs, immerse in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Once the legs are reheated, heat a frying pan and add a dash of duck fat. Sear the legs, skin side down for about 5 minutes or until brown and crispy.
To plate, arrange the Potato and Mushroom Sarladaise on warm plates. Add a seared duck leg to each plate and garnish with blanched peas. Spoon the glaze around the duck leg or serve in a gravy boat.

FOR THE PERSILLADE:
1 bunch parsley, washed, drained and chopped
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
FOR THE POTATOES:
1½ pounds Yukon gold potatoes
3 tablespoons duck fat (from cooked duck legs)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
5 sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons persillade
FOR THE MUSHROOMS:
1.2 pounds mushroom medley, stems trimmed and saved for glaze above
1 tablespoon duck fat (from cooked duck legs)
3 tablespoons persillade
Salt and pepper to taste
Make the persillade: Mix together the parsley, shallots and garlic. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Make the Potatoes Sarladaise: Peel the potatoes and cut into ¼-inch slices. Keep potato slices in cold water until ready to use.
Drain potatoes and pat dry. In a large skillet, heat duck fat and arrange potato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Add a couple of thyme sprigs. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes, covered by lid. Flip potatoes and continue to cook until golden brown. Flip again. Add 2 tablespoons of persillade and cook until fragrant, shaking the pan every so often. Keep potatoes hot until ready to serve.
Make the Mushrooms Sarladaise: Saute trimmed mushrooms in duck fat at high heat for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Season to taste with persillade and cook until fragrant. Lower heat and keep hot until ready to serve.

Madeleines are a traditional, small, shell-shape cake from the Lorraine region in northeastern France. What makes a “true” madeleine compared with other versions is the recognizable hump, the result of the batter being chilled prior to baking. Indeed, approximately 15 percent of the CO2 gas is released in the cold stage. Eighty-five percent of the CO2 gas is released in the oven. The temperature difference between the oven and the batter creates a burst of steam that results in a hump.
Makes 30 small cakes
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
4 large eggs
¾ cup white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:
Madeleine pans and a pizza stone
Melt butter and add lemon zest. Gently beat eggs with sugar (but do not overwork). Sift together flour and baking powder. Incorporate the sifted powders and warm butter with the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate batter for a minimum of 2 hours.
Place oven rack and pizza stone 8 inches from the bottom of the oven. Preheat conventional oven to 500 degrees. Butter and lightly flour nonstick madeleine pans. Shake off excess.
Fill a pastry bag with a large plain pastry tip or if using a plastic bag, cut an inch off the tip. Pipe no more than 1 ounce of batter into each madeleine form. (Alternately, you can skip the pastry bag and use a tablespoon instead.) When the pan is filled, place it onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 5 minutes. Then lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for about another 5 minutes until the edges are brown.
Remove from oven and cool, moving each cookie to rest on its side in each form. Store madeleines in a sealed container, or freezer bags for a few days. Madeleines can also be kept frozen for a few weeks.
Recipes from Bruno Albouze.
Golden is a San Diego freelance food writer and blogger.
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