November 2008

Caul Fat, aka The Original Combi-Oven - Technique from Chef Vuong Loc
Chef Vuong Loc of Portage – Seattle, WA

by Heather Sperling

ombi ovens can roast and steam, but Vuong Loc’s got something better. Well, not necessarily better…but certainly smaller and more traditional. It’s caul fat, the spider web of fatty membrane that encases the internal organs of pigs, cows, and sheep, and it can be used in a variety of meat-friendly ways.

At Portage in Seattle, Loc uses caul fat to wrap ballotines and crepinettes, and to bind verdant parsley-chicken mousse to lamb chops. But it can also be wrapped around lean meat – like venison or pheasant – to introduce extra fat (and thereby flavor) to the cut. Monkfish benefits too, especially rubbed with Café de Paris butter (a spice compound butter), wrapped in caul fat, and roasted.

Loc calls it "kind-of like the original combi oven,” because: “It allows the meat to roast and steam at once. It can get to a super hot temp because it’s fat, but it also keeps the moisture locked inside. It gives the meat a unique texture."

Caul fat can be sourced from a butcher, and Loc prefers pork to veal or sheep, saying pork is finer. It tends to be available in large batches, but its high percentage of fat (nearly 90%, according to Loc) means that it’s easy to freeze and store. It can be wrapped in plastic and foil or vacuum-sealed, and kept in the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost overnight in the cooler before using, rinse (to get the offal odors off it), and dry well. Once defrosted, it can sit for 3-4 days before being used.

And what about squeamish diners not initiated in the offal cult? “For people who aren’t familiar [with caul fat], we explain that it’s very mild and even say it’s like bacon in that it adds flavor and richness. And once you say ‘like bacon,’ you’re good.”

Step 1: Lay caul fat on a flat surface.
Step 2: Season chicken skin and lay on fat.
Step 3: Lay mousse and then tenderloin in the center, and more mousse.
Step 4: Wrap the skin around mousse. Use caul fat to roll it and make the cylinder shape. Pull caul fat back, trim caul fat to shape, and then wrap ballotine in caul fat, like a package.
Step 5:
Sear seam side-down in a hot pan with a little bit of oil, and roast.
+ click images to enlarge

Video Techique Demonstration

Length: 00:57 seconds

Chicken Ballotine with Wild Mushrooms and Pickled Butternut Squash Salad
Chef Vuong Loc of Portage – Seattle, WA
Adapted by

Yield: 8 Servings


    Pickled Butternut Squash:  
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt
  • Garlic
  • Dried chilies

    Chicken Ballotine
  • 1 3-pound chicken
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 egg
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • ½ pound wild mushrooms
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • Salt and pepper
  • Truffle oil (optional)
  • Caul fat

    To Assemble and Serve:
  • 1 head frisee
  • Olive oil
  • Aged Sherry vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

For the Pickled Butternut Squash:  
Peel and dice squash. In a pot, combine vinegar, sugar and water, and salt, garlic, and dried chilies to taste. Add squash, bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and let cool. Remove squash from liquid when cool and reserve for salad.

For the Ballotine:
Remove skin from chicken in as entire a piece as possible. Cut breasts from chicken and remove and reserve the tenders (the extra flaps of meat on the side of the breast). Remove rest of meat from chicken, and put in a food processor with cream and egg. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and add thyme leaves, mushrooms, shallot, and chives and mix with a spatula until incorporated.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lay caul fat on a flat surface. Season chicken skin with salt and pepper, and place on one end of thecaul fat. Spoon a layer of chicken mousse in a horizontal line across the chicken skin. Lay reserved chicken tenders down the center of the mousse, and top with the remaining mousse. Lift edges of caul fat (as though it’s plastic wrap) and use it to wrap the mousse in chicken skin and shape the mousse into a log.  When ballotine is shaped, pull back caul fat and trim it with a knife so you have just enough to wrap the ballotine. Heat an oven-safe pan with a small amount of oil. Wrap caul fat around the ballotine (like it’s a package) and transfer to the pan, seam side-down. Brown seam side then rotate to brown the ballotine on all sides. Transfer to the oven and roast for 15 minutes per pound (30 minutes for this recipe). Let rest at least 1 hour, and serve at room temperature.

To Assemble and Serve:
Slice ballotine in half-inch slices. Toss squash and frisee with olive oil and sherry vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Plate salad and lay two slices of ballotine on top.



  Published: November 2008