Pete’s Charcutes’: Duck Prosciutto

A new blog category after a couple-week break for some summer travels and general busyness.  You would think posting once a week would be relatively easy, but at least five times a year I hit a case of writers block despite a bunch of meals to blog about.  The break was really for the best, though, since charcuterie takes some time to cure properly.

About two months ago I started the process of curing something that will either end up being an interesting new food discovery for me or a tremendous time consuming failure never to be spoken of again.  In order to do so, I had to clear out a few shelves in our wine fridge to give a cool, appropriately humid curing environment in the midst of a hot summer.

This friggin kid, gets into pretty much everything she isn’t supposed to play with.  She’s also already figured out how to give me a look that takes away any frustration with what she is about to do just before she does it.  I am screwed

Just behind the mischevious child pictured above is the dual zone wine fridge that Kristi has graciously allowed me to conduct my experiments in.  The bottom half has thick cardboard on the inside to block any sunlight from the inside since light makes fat rancid apparently.  Makes sense.  Definitely explains the progressively worse BO I’ve developed over the years when exposed to direct summer sunlight.

Anyhoo, I had minimal space remaining with the other project already in the wine fridge, and I was hoping to make something with a relatively short curing time.  After some consideration of a sopressata or liver sausage, I ended up going with the item that seemed like the easiest home cured charcutes’ to make by far; duck breast prosciutto.

After extensively researching the method laid out by Michael Ruhlman, I started with a couple surprisingly difficult to find duck breasts.

The good camera is back but Kristi wasn’t wielding it right away, so expect subpar results until she takes over.  In other news, duck breasts always look like all fat and skin.  Way too soon for another joke about my appearance

These duck breasts were purchased from a Shaws in downtown Boston after we struck out at multiple specialty stores looking for Magret duck breasts.  Magret breasts are far meatier and larger since they are from ducks fattened for foie gras.  Apparently Boston’s gourmet food stores are hiding from the recent controversy on these ducks.  I really want to launch into a poorly informed 3,000 word rant covering hundreds of topics related to this issue but persuading on none of them.  So, lets just move on.

I scored the skins of the breasts a bit and laid them on a thick bed of kosher salt in a Pyrex dish before covering with a solid top layer of additional kosher salt.

$18 worth of duck breasts and I get stingy with the $.85 worth of kosher salt I used.  I acknowledge that I am extremely illogical when it comes to cooking, but luckily I am completely logical at all other times

I covered the Pyrex tightly then placed it in the fridge for what I planned to be 24 hours but it ended up being 36 hours due to needing bed more than late night meat prep when 24 hours came up.  Never a good idea to start a 24 hour curing cycle at 10PM on a weeknight.  Put that in the notes app on your iPhone and make it your wallpaper.  Thx.

The next morning Kristi and I got up and spread out some cheesecloth for wrapping the duck breasts when they came out of the salt.

Kristi resumes control of the camera and all is right in the world.  Janet is crawling around there somewhere, probably playing that game where she seeks out tiny dangerous items to ingest before we can sprint towards her and remove it from her grasp.  Her parents are winning, but she’s started to throw some Ray Rice moves our way recently

With the cheese cloth setup, the duck breasts come out of the salt one at a time.

I was amazed at how different and deflated the breasts looked after 36 hours.  Always good to get some encouragement that things are going in the right direction early in the process

I rinsed the breasts under cold tap water to remove all excess salt because by this point the salty flavor should have been (and was) well infused into the meat.

I know I scored the skin a little too deeply, and it led to the salt penetrating more than I had hoped, but give me a break since it was my first try and I have no idea what I am doing ever.  Way to make me feel self conscious!  Jerks!

The rinsed breasts went onto some paper towels to dry, at which point I could see how much the fat and skin had deflated and become more balanced with the meat.

This was around the time I recognized that a bigger breast would definitely be better.  Sigh.  Stupid family-friendly blog that I can’t build out with stupid puns and double entendres related to the previous statement.  Once again, let’s move on

I placed the duck in the cheese cloth and wrapped it so that it was covered with a few layers of the thin cheese cloth on all sides.

I was talking a HUGE game at this point about how the hardest part was yet to come and there was no way either of us were going to be able to tie up the wrapped breasts correctly.  Which led to…

…Kristi eagerly accepting the challenge of tying them.  Look, I’m not a conniving genius or anything, but tasks like tying these up properly are not my cup of tea and Bill Cosby’s Parenthood-era reverse psychology tends to work remarkably well with my rather competitive wife.  All it takes is some acknowledgement of defeat at the end, and she’s ready for the next challenge to be issued

With the salt cured breasts fully wrapped they headed to the wine fridge (set to 54 degrees) to hang for 7-10 days.

Ignore the background, nothing to see there, move along

About a week later I started to check the hanging duck breasts to see if they had firmed up a bit.  The idea is that the duck breasts should lose a third of their weight and be firm though not overly stiff.  It was really just guesswork, but I knew that a week should be enough to completely cure the meat.  I gave it some extra time since I prefer a dryer prosciutto and figured this was a learning experience.

After 10 days, I unwrapped the first breast to find this.

Had all the color I was looking for and smelled/looked like the duck prosciutto I had in the past and enjoyed.  All that said, cutting into it and eating the first bite was surprisingly scary

My first bite was a little tough; A) it came from the thinnest, most dried out end and B) I wasn’t slicing it thinly enough or on a proper bias at first.  Also, the thin breasts and longer time than planned in the salt made it much saltier than expected.  At the same time, the cured flavor and overall texture were great.

After a little practice I started to figure out how to slice thinly enough to make the fat ore translucent.

The slivers at this point were a little small, but I wasn’t working with a full sized pork leg that had to cure for 12 months, just an easy ten days to this point.  And this looks as good now as it did then

As I dug in a bit further I realized that the over-salty flavor wasn’t going to subside completely based on the thickness of the meat.  Yet, I could not stop eating it.  As I got towards the center and continued slicing on a greater angle making the slices thinner and larger I was able to appreciate the texture and flavor more.

Although it was definitely one of the saltiest prosciuttos I have tasted, the cured flavor and texture were exactly what I hope for when I buy charcuterie.  Plus, it looked nice on a cheese plate.

I was tempted to yell, “Hey!  See this prosciutto!?  Over here on this side of the platter!?  No this one!  Yeah, I made that!  No, like I cured it myself!  OK, have a nice evening.” to every person who walked by our Long Beach Island cocktail hour, but was able to restrain myself

If I had to do it again, and I will be doing it again soon, I would stick closely to the 24 hours recommended for the initial salt cure and also look for bigger duck breasts.  Both of the ones I used were about .4-.5 pounds, but I think the Magret-sized 3/4 pound breast would be better for this execution.  I think a goose breast would be a good experiment to execute since they are usually a bit meatier and might be a cheap/easy replacement for increasingly expensive duck breasts.  Hint, hint hunter friends.

I am home the next three weekends (I think).  Feel free to bombard me with taunts and occasional compliments if I haven’t posted by next Wednesday.

8 thoughts on “Pete’s Charcutes’: Duck Prosciutto

  1. Pete – the duck breast looks great – can you give out the info for the clamming site that you went to last year at Long Beach Island? We are going there this summer and would like to go clamming. it looked awesome.

    • Jim,

      The clamming was in Little Egg Harbor between Long Beach Island and Manahawkin. If you are staying on Long Beach Island, the clamming grounds are in the bay behind Fantasy Island (the giant ferris wheel). Rent a boat at Pollys boat dock (off center street on the bay) and ask Pat (the surly tiny man) for thoughts on where to clam. You can buy a license in advance online. Let me know if you have more questions!


      • Thanks! Hope to have as much luck as you guys – you had a good load of clams! Cheers

  2. Great stuff. Really great stuff. Keep on the Pete’s Charcute’s…going to be big. And, please write the 3000 words about Magret duck controversy. We need it.

  3. Pete – I realize I’m super late on reading this post, just wondering if you can provide the details on what brand/model your wine fridge is. I’m looking to buy a small one for curing meats and I’d be interested in the features yours has since you had good results. Thanks!

    • Josiah, I have a dual zone Whynter wine fridge which let me set a temperature for the meat curing section while still keeping wine cool. Thanks for reading and good luck!


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