Sunday, February 13, 2011

Duck Prosciutto

Welcome to my first adventure into air cured meats.  It's a scary world to enter - I went the majority of my life not knowing that cured meats technically meant uncooked meats.  The idea is hard to grasp at first:  relying on salt to create an inhospitable habitat in order to ward off nasty bacteria, but it's how some of the tastiest meats on earth are made.  It's also one of the classic methods of preservation, so if people were doing this for centuries prior to refrigeration, why shouldn't I be able to pull off some fun stuff in my kitchen?  

I saw some duck breasts at Whole Foods and it crossed my mind that I could make the duck prosciutto from Charcuterie.  It's probably the easiest air-cured meat in the book, the only seasonings are salt and white pepper, so it's really all about the duck breasts.  If you like having lazy afternoons with a couple cheeses, olives, and bread around, then I highly suggest you give this a shot.

Duck Prosciutto
(from Charcuterie)

2 duck breasts
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 ground white pepper

Start by putting 1 cup of the salt in a dish that is just big enough for both duck breasts to fit in without touching each other.  Place the duck breasts on the bed of salt and cover with the rest of the salt.  You want the duck breasts to be completely covered by salt.  Cover the dish with baking salt and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Remove the duck breasts from the salt, rinse thoroughly and pat dry.  The flesh should have turned a deeper red and will have firmed up.  Dust the breasts with white pepper.

Wrap each breast individually in cheesecloth.  Hang the breasts for about 7 days, until the flesh is firm throughout.  In my next attempts at making this, I will try to find a better hanging system.  I wrapped each breast like you would wrap a present with ribbon at Christmas.  It worked fine from a functionality standpoint, but because there were only 4 tie points, it caused some imperfections on the final cure.  I'd like to spend some time coming up with a better way to hang it so that I get a more presentable final product.

After the breasts are fully cured, just remove them from the cheesecloth and store them in the refrigerator in plastic wrap. Some of the cheesecloth filaments may stick to the duck, they can be easily pulled off.  I had some white mold on one corner of one of the prosciuttos that had a structure similar to cotton candy.  I actually emailed Michael Ruhlman to see if that was ok or a sign of rancidity, and he suggested simply wiping the section with some vinegar (he also responded within 2 minutes of the sending of my email, how's that for speedy response from a guy who no doubt gets hundreds of dumb emails from people like me per day).

To serve, slice very thinly on a bias and serve with anything you want.  Charcuterie suggests serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano, arugula, and lemon juice.  I served it with a cheese plate that included Camembert, Uniekaas Reserve, and sliced baguette.

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