Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Duck Prosciutto

So for Christmas I got something I really, really wanted: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. This book is all about prosciutto, pancetta, sausage (fresh and dried), bacon, pâtés, smoking, etc. etc. etc. I've already read the whole thing from front to back and have recently purchased my very own manual meat grinder. For my first stab at the fine art of charcuterie, I wanted something simple, something I wouldn't totally mess up and that wouldn't cost me a fortune. When it comes to artisinal food making, I like baby steps. It's like bread. There's a learning curve there and it's no use trying to overrun it.

So I decided to go with something cured. Curing is simply leaving something in salt long enough that some liquid is extracted and the salt penetrates the meat in order to stop any harmful bacteria from forming (or something like that). Above is a photo of duck aiguillettes which is the tenderloin of the magret which is the breast of a duck raised for foie gras. I decided to go with the smaller aiguillettes first because they're cheaper and smaller which means that there's less chance that I'll mess things up. Or so I thought.

My charcutier friend at the market told me that 1 or 2 hours would be fine for curing the meat. However, this being my first venture into the world of charcuteries, I left the aiguillettes in kosher salt for about 4 hours (the recipe in the abovementioned book calls for magrets and 24 hours). After this, I rinsed the aiguillettes and patted them dry. I then wrapped them in cheesecloth and strung them up. Now the ideal location for hanging drying duck meat is a cool (8 to 15 degrees Celcius), humid place. The only part in my apartment that sort of fit the bill is the drafty window in the dining room. So up went the aiguillettes, my roommates looking on and wondering what in the world I was doing...I didn't tell them.

After 4 days, the aiguillettes were hard as a rock. As you can see above, they were done though they weren't the rich, soft texture of prosciutto but rather the chewy texture of jerky. And oh my god were they ever salty. A white crust of salt had coated the exterior of the aiguillettes which I scraped off thus making the duck edible.

Though I did leave the aiguillettes in the salt too long to start with and didn't use a thick enough piece of meat, I now feel confident in moving onto the full magret. Through the salt the rich taste of the duck came shining through. It was really a decent first taste at the potential of my charcuterie skills.

So next stop, real duck prosciutto and then fresh morning sausage with ginger and sage. Oh yeah!

P.S. Michael Ruhlman, the co-author of Charcuterie, maintains a pretty shnazzy blog at Check it out.

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