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.
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.
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.
Add a layer of kosher salt to the dish. A half an inch or so should be fine.
Place both duck breasts on the salt. Make sure that the duck breasts are not touching each other.
Then add another layer of salt over top of the duck breasts, so that they are completely covered.
Cover the pan in plastic wrap and place in a refrigerator for 24 hours or so.
After a day packed in salt, remove the duck breasts, rinse them well under cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels.
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.
It’s time to wrap the duck breasts in cheese cloth and hang them for a week to cure.
We’ve never done anything like this, thus we wrapped the duck breasts the best we could.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.