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.
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.
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.
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.
With the cheese cloth setup, the duck breasts come out of the salt one at a time.
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.
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.
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.
With the salt cured breasts fully wrapped they headed to the wine fridge (set to 54 degrees) to hang for 7-10 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.