or, The Tale of the Anorexic Duck
Charcutepalooza kicked off with duck prosciutto and progressed to bacon and pancetta, about which I posted on February 15. This is a catch up post on the duck prosciutto (the deadline was graciously extended to accommodate those of us who heard about the challenge late).
Since I got such a late start on the charcuterie quest, I didn't have time to order a fancy duck from D'Artagnan, so I headed to an Asian grocery. (I live in a small town where it is difficult to find duck.) The Asian market didn’t sell duck breasts, just whole ducks, and when I say whole I mean it - the heads and feet were still attached. I’m sure you won’t find that at your local Walmart. It reminded me of the Christmas dinner scene from A Christmas Story.
Perhaps it is a misconception, but I think many other cultures treat their food with more respect than Americans do - perhaps since it isn't always as readily available. The meats on display at this market were well trimmed, not sloppily butchered like I often see in the supermarket. The fish case did not smell fishy. The staff was willing to answer my questions about where they get their meat (local processors for the most part, with the exception of unusual ingredients that have to be imported). And, of course, they had duck.
Since I had never purchased a whole duck before I didn’t know what to expect. I grabbed the one I thought looked best and placed him (her?) in my cart. Behold, Pat*, the anorexic duck:
I say anorexic because my mother, who grew up on a farm where they raised duck, geese, and chickens, said that was the skinniest duck she had seen. The label did not indicate what breed it was, but it must have been the supermodel breed. I hoped this wouldn't ruin the prosciutto.
I did my best at dissecting the duck. I am sure Jacques Pepin would cringe, but this was my first duck dismembering, and I don't even take apart chickens that often. On the upper left are the legs and wings, which I confited (more on that later), below them the skinny breasts to be made into prosciutto, and to the right the back, neck and other parts. I roasted these parts to render additional duck fat to use in the confit. I declined to use the duck head since I'm not familiar with how to use it. And call me wasteful, but I can't get into poultry feet. I used to watch the chickens scratching in the dirt and know what their feet have been in.
Making duck prosciutto is almost absurdly easy. You layer the breasts in salt for a day, then wrap them in a layer of cheesecloth and hang them in a cool, moist place for about a week. That's it. Here are the breasts on top of the salt:
I fully covered them with another layer of kosher salt, and into the fridge they went. I'll wager that I am the only person to have used Longaberger pottery to make duck prosciutto but please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
I have cursed the inhospitable climate of Minnesota for several months now, during this long, bitterly cold and snowy winter. However, the inhumane cold has one redeeming feature: my upstairs bedroom closet is the ideal place to hang charcuterie. It hovers around 50 degrees with 55 percent relative humidity. You couldn't ask for anything better, although I would like to be able to actually use the bedroom for sleeping. Call me fussy.
I checked on the breasts every day. My husband took a nap in the bedroom (he is crazy and enjoys sleeping in the cold) one time when I came up to look in on the duck breasts. He was a bit miffed that I wasn't coming up to snuggle with him. It was too darn cold!
Salt is a natural preservative and hanging allows excess moisture in the meat to evaporate. This results in longer storage times before spoilage, in part because moisture is needed for most nasties to grow. After about a week, the ducks breasts dried sufficiently to become firm when touched (wish I could just put salt on my breasts to firm them) and I took them down. I dug out my handy-dandy Kalorik meat slicer and behold, duck prosciutto:
There's just one teeny, tiny problem. Ummmm...erm...please don't spread this around, but I don't really like it. Maybe it will grow on me as I find new ways to use it. It took me some time to appreciate cilantro, for instance, but now I can't get enough of it. This proscuitto is quite different than anything I've made before - rich, and a bit gamey. But it's definitely interesting and I think the strong, salty flavor could be used to great effect in the right application. Perhaps it needs a sweet or acidic foil to the richness. I'll keep trying it since it's going to keep for awhile, right?
*Remember Pat from SNL? When in doubt, name it Pat...or Chris...