Chicken ballotine with morels, polenta cake and glazed carrots

20 June 2018

Chicken ballotine with morels

Fresh morels come along at this time of year, and I feel it’s been a year wasted if I don’t get to use them just once. I nearly missed it this year. Mid-June is pushing it, time wise. It’s just not easy to get them. In Norwich, even those places that might occasionally carry fresh porcini or other wild mushrooms don’t seem to get morels. And, for some reason, I’ve not been to London with enough spare time to get some from Borough Market.

Luckily the excellent Fine Foods website still has them. My apologies if this recipe lights a fire for you and you find it’s too late for the year. My bad. If that’s the case, dried morels will reportedly do just as well. I’ve never used dried so I can’t speak from experience on this.

Morel mushrooms

At the end of the day, they’re only mushrooms. Morels do taste good, though probably not enough to justify my obsession. Let’s be honest, that’s the well-known marketing principle of scarcity at work. Whatever. I got morel mushrooms. I’m happy.

But what to do with them? Such an occasional treat requires something a bit special. Many recipes with a morel sauce go with pork, but my partner is averse to porcine products, so I needed a different vehicle.

For some time, I’ve been meaning to have a go at making a chicken ballotine. It seems like a good way to do something more interesting with some pretty basic (always free-range) chicken, and I thought that maybe this would be the opportunity. And it would mean I could use the morels both for the sauce and for the stuffing, so that made sense.

Add to that, the fact that I had some polenta sitting around that needed to be used up, and you get the birth of this particular dish.

If you don’t have the appetite to ponce around with this stuff though, simply produce the morel sauce and pair it with a pork steak, or indeed a beef fillet steak. You’ll be glad you did.

Chicken ballotine with morels

Chicken ballotine with morels, polenta cake and glazed carrots

Serves: 2

For the chicken ballotine

2 free-range chicken breasts
1 portobello mushroom, finely chopped
125g fresh morels
35g unsmoked streaky bacon
25g unsalted butter
1 banana shallot
1 clove garlic
A few sprigs of fresh thyme

For the polenta cakes

240g polenta
500ml good quality chicken stock
700ml water
1 clove garlic, minced
115g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons mascarpone
2 tablespoons chives, finely chopped

For the morel sauce

125g fresh morels
15g unsalted butter
100ml dry sherry
300ml whipping cream
Lemon juice to taste

For the glazed carrots

Small chantenay carrots
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
25g butter
1 tablespoon honey
250ml water


Make the polenta cake mix. Bring the chicken stock, water and garlic to the boil. Remove from the heat and pour in the polenta, whisking continuously. Return the pan to the heat and cook the polenta gently over a very low heat, stirring occasionally. It should take 25 minutes or so for the polenta to become thick and smooth.

Once the polenta is cooked, stir in the butter, mascarpone, chives and salt and pepper until fully incorporated. Spread the polenta on a baking sheet and let it cool to room temperature. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to fully set.

Wash the fresh morels carefully in two or three changes of water to get rid of any sand or grit that may have collected in them. Pat dry, and finely chop half of them, cut or quarter the remaining half according to size and set aside.

Cook the bacon gently in the butter until it is golden brown, and then remove from the pan. Add the shallot, garlic and thyme and gently cook in the butter until softened but not coloured. Add the finely chopped morels and the portobello mushroom and continue to cook. The mushrooms will release their liquid. Continue to cook until the liquid has all evaporated and you are left with a mushroom paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the chicken breasts almost in two, so you can open them out like one thin sheet. Cover with clingfilm and flatten with a rolling pin. Then spread the mushroom paste over the top and carefully roll them up. Wrap in clingfilm and twist the ends to make them a tight roll. Put into the fridge to help set the shape.

When you’re ready to do the final cook - Drop the chicken ballotines into a pan a barely simmering water and cook for 20 minutes. 

While those are cooking, cook the carrots in a small frying pan with with the butter, thyme and some salt and black pepper. Cook for about 7 to 8 minutes until starting to soften, then add water and a tablespoon of honey and continue to cook until reduced to a glaze - about 15 minutes.

To make the sauce, put the butter in a pan and sweat the half morels for two to three minutes. Add the sherry, and boil to reduce by half. Add the whipping cream, and simmer until the sauce has thickened to a nice consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Once the chicken is cooked, allow it to cool a little and remove it from the clingfilm. Cut out two polenta cakes per person with 2 inch rounds (or whatever size you want). Fry the chicken and the polenta rounds in separate pans in a little oil, 2 minutes on each side until lightly coloured.

To serve - put some sauce in the centre of the plate and top with the polenta cakes. Slice the ballotine into rounds, and place a round on top of each polenta cake. Place some carrots on the plate, spoon a little more of the sauce with the morels and serve.

Food waste

You will have more polenta than you need. Cut out the remaining mixture into more cakes and freeze them on a tray, putting them into a food bag once they’re initially frozen.

If you don’t grow your fresh thyme as a plant, then you will have plenty left over. Thyme is robust and freezes perfectly well without much coddling. Just put the leaves into ice cube trays, fill them up with water and freeze. Add these to soups or stews for a hit of thyme goodness.

This recipe uses one portobello mushroom - many supermarkets sell them in packs of two. If you have one left over, remove from any plastic packaging and wrap them in paper towels or put into a paper bag. They should keep in the fridge for up to a week - long enough to use for mushrooms on toast. In fact, if you put some thyme aside, you could cook some shallot, sliced mushroom and thyme, throw in a glug of sherry vinegar towards the end and have a fantastic mushroom on toast.