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Duck Breast Prosciutto

2011 January 15
by Dan

Apparently, January is the time for new culinary experiences here at FoodieLawyer.  First, we made bread.  Now, we’re curing meat in our garage.  We are participating in “CharcutePalooza,” which is a year-long collective effort of a group of bloggers to execute monthly challenges using “charcuterie” — a collection of ancient methods for preserving meats.  Michael Ruhlman’s book on charcuterie is the guide for each of the challenges.  First up, duck breast prosciutto.

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Prosciutto is a cured ham popular in Italian cooking, and we’re big fans.  We use prosciutto in many of our recipes, including our Easy Veal Saltimbocca.   And no proper cheese and cracker plate is complete without a few pieces of prosciutto.  Ruhlman’s recipe for duck breast prosciutto is simple and uses only a few ingredients — two boneless, skin-on duck breasts, lots of kosher salt. and white pepper.  You’ll also need a flat, nonreactive dish (glass works great), kitchen twine, and cheesecloth.

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Score the skin side of the duck breasts with a sharp knife.  This allows the salt to penetrate just a bit better into the duck breast.

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Add a layer of kosher salt to the dish.  A half an inch or so should be fine.

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Place both duck breasts on the salt.  Make sure that the duck breasts are not touching each other.

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Then add another layer of salt over top of the duck breasts, so that they are completely covered.

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Cover the pan in plastic wrap and place in a refrigerator for 24 hours or so.

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After a day packed in salt, remove the duck breasts, rinse them well under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels.

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The duck breasts, after a 24 hour salt cure.  This is an exciting part of the process, getting ready to wrap and truss the duck so it can dry for a week.  I explained to Kelly that preserving meat in salt has been a technique used for thousands of years, but she wasn’t really buying into the excitement of this new experience.

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It’s time to wrap the duck breasts in cheese cloth and hang them for a week to cure.

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We’ve never done anything like this, thus we wrapped the duck breasts the best we could.

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The duck breast wrapped up, ready to be tied up and hung in the garage.

Yes, you heard me correctly.  Kelly is letting me hang two uncooked duck breasts in our garage.  For a week.

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The tying of the wrapped duck breasts was a minor challenge, not really knowing what we were doing.  (If anyone knows of a good online tutorial on trussing meats, we’d love to for you to share it in a comment below.)

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Trussing…

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Two wrapped and trussed salted duck breasts.  They need a fairly humid environment, with an ideal temperature between 50 and 60 degrees.  I thought the garage would be our best option.

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To keep tabs on the temp and humidity in our garage, I purchased a small weather station and put the “outside” sensor in the garage.  Kelly finds this amusing, as she does most of my gadget purchases.

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I weighed each duck breast and calculated the weight each one should be when it is fully cured.  The duck prosciutto is finished curing when it has lost approximately 30% of its weight.  We added tags to each breast so we would know the starting weight and the weight it should be when it’s ready.

Then I hung the duck breasts from the handle of my shop vac in our garage.

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As of today, the duck breast are not quite ready.  The one above needs to be 115 grams, but currently weighs 142 grams.  We’ve had unseasonably cold temperatures here in Dallas this week, thus the garage was much colder than the 50-60 degrees ideal temperature for curing proscuitto.  So we’ll let the duck cure a little bit longer.  We plan on updating this post in a few days with the results of our first charcuterie efforts.

This has already been an exciting culinary month for us.  Our first homemade bread was a success, and we were amazed not only at how easy it was to make incredibly delicious bread from scratch, but also how satisfying it can be to create something so seemingly elaborate from but a few simple ingredients.  And no matter how the duck turns out, this has been a fun adventure, and we’re excited for future Charcutapalooza events.  (Spoiler Alert — we’re making homemade bacon next month!)

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Sunday Update!  Based upon the advice of Mrs. Wheelbarrow, one of organizers of Charcutepalooza, we decided to try the duck breast prosciutto on day 8.  Success!  The prosciutto was excellent, with a very subtle but delicious flavor of salted duck.  One side of the prosciutto was just starting to dry out, so it’s good that we tried it today instead of waiting a few days, as we may have ended up with duck jerky.  Thanks again for the great advice.

We sliced half of one of the breasts as thinly as possible, and served it as a mid-afternoon snack with some aged manchego cheese, green olives and crackers.  We froze the other duck breast for future use.  We’re not sure what we are going to do with the rest of the fresh prosciutto — maybe try cutting it into chunks in an alfredo sauce.  We’ll keep you posted.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. January 15, 2011

    I can’t wait to try this, although I am afraid the rats who sometimes inhabit our garage fight find them especially toothsome as well. As for the trussing, I don’t think Martha Stewart could have done a better job.

  2. January 15, 2011

    Oh, and be sure to take pictures if you intend to slaughter a pig for bacon.

    • January 17, 2011

      Thanks, Mark! (And apparently Mrs. FoodieLawyer has indicated that there will be no “Home Butchering” projects in our household. She’s no fun at all.)

  3. January 16, 2011

    Great photos! One of our participating bloggers, as well as a contact at D’Artagnan, have stated that the larger duck breasts have a thicker layer of fat and therefore may lose only 20-25% of their weight. I recommend checking now – and look at the other blog posts (linked at my site) to see if your duck is ready. I bet it is. You’re in for a little slice of heaven.

    • January 17, 2011

      Thanks for the great advice! I’m glad that we tried the duck prosciutto when we did, or it would have been waaaaaay too dried out.

  4. January 18, 2011

    What a lovely post! Loved it….My duck breast is hanging in the garage. I thought it needed 30D F, but now it seems in the 40s is good. Will let you know how it turns out. I am looking for other cured meat recipes…cant do pork…but will substitute. What a great way to preserve. btw, little wierd, but these are ducks that was born in our barn, I raised them, processed them and now onto this experiement. It will be fully organic and home made Proscuitto : ).

    Happy New Year!!

  5. Stephen permalink
    March 3, 2012

    How diid you come up with the figure that the breast needs to lose 30%of its weight? I am very excited to try this out, and being a culinary student i think that it will be a great treat to share with the class! however i dont want to do this wrong and look like a fool in front of the whole class! (not to mention chef is a duck connoisseur!) I would really appretiate your feedback! Thanks

    • March 13, 2012

      Hi Stephen,
      The 30% comes from Michael Ruhlman (see his post here http://ruhlman.com/2009/03/duck-prosciutto/). He and Brian Polcyn wrote the book “Charcuterie” that served as our guide for all the Charcutepalooza challenges, so we definitely trust him as a source. Good luck and let us know how it turns out if you try it!

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