Duck Prosciutto

duck prosciutto on knækbrød

The first project for Charcutepalooza, also known as The Year of Meat, is duck prosciutto.  I was excited to hear this as I’ve been wanting to make it since I read about it in Ruhlman’s and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie.  The finished prosciutto is fantastic, and it has been a real pleasure to share this beautiful food with family and friends.

I learned about January’s duck prosciutto endeavor just in time to make this tasty cured treat by the challenge deadline, and I was lucky to be able to source two beautifully fat duck breast halves from a good friend.  Actually getting the duck breasts involved a twisty drive along snow-covered Vermont back roads in freezing weather as dusk fell, and a driveway exchange which included the duck breasts, cold hard cash, and a giant can of really nice cornichon pickles.

When I got back home, I packed the breasts snugly in a dish just big enough to hold them without touching, with salt underneath and piled on top, covered the dish with cling-film, and put it in the fridge for around 30 hours.

duck breasts in salt, ready to cure in the fridge

The next evening I rinsed the salt off the breasts and patted them dry with kitchen towels.  I chose to use two different and pretty basic spice mixes: one was a mixture of freshly ground white pepper and fresh thyme, and the other was a mix of black pepper, bay leaf, and allspice.  I dusted each breast with its respective spice mix, and wrapped each one in a two-foot length of cheesecloth, and then tied each one with butcher’s twine.  In the picture below, the unwrapped breast is the one rubbed with white pepper and thyme:

duck breast after fridge cure, wrapped in cheesecloth

I hung the two wrapped breasts in my curing environment, a cobbled together affair involving a garden crate and a cracked window (illustrated here) and put a pan of water underneath.  I soaked a thick towel in water and draped it over the crate with the end resting in the pan of water.  This worked pretty well, bringing the humidity up from around 24 to around 45 within an hour or two.  The temperature ranged from 45 to 55 during the six days that the breasts air cured.

When you are new to curing meats, one of the big questions tends to be: is it done yet?  And with meat curing, there are a number of variables involved which don’t make answering this question as straightforward as, say, baking.  With baking you have a few variables as well, and experience teaches you that a loaf of bread is done when it’s achieved the right golden brown color, for instance, or when it sounds just so when you knock on it with your knuckle.

I expect that experience will also teach me what to expect and what to look for if I closely observe the particular variables in a given charcuterie project.  In the case of this duck prosciutto, the variables were temperature, humidity, and time.  As I described above, the temperature where I hang meats to air cure varies from 45-55F, and averages 49F.  From my research, this is on the lower side of an ideal range of 50-60F.  My humidity in this location is naturally quite low, in the mid-twenties, and so I do my best to alter that upwards with my pan of water, the water-soaked towel draped over the crate, etc.  I read a post by Michael Ruhlman where he described some duck prosciutto he made where the meat side of his duck got a bit dry and jerky-like.  Since I know that my environment is drier than is ideal, I made a point to wrap my breasts in a longer piece of cheesecloth, hoping to slow down the drying-out of the surface, so that the moisture loss from the whole breast would be slower and more stable.

I also paid close attention to the breasts as they cured.  At six days they felt nicely firm, but not too stiff –I could bend them slightly when I felt them through the cheesecloth.  I had weighed the breasts just before wrapping and hanging, and they weighed in at 440g and 435g.  At this point I unwrapped them, and weighed them again: they had each lost 12.5% of moisture, which was substantially less than the recommended 30%.  I looked carefully: the meat side was dry and firm, and just this side of being too hard and too dry.  I sliced one of the breasts in half, and the texture across the cut surface was fantastic: dense and rich looking.  It also smelled wonderful, and when I tasted my first slice it was delicious!  The meat part was tender and felt great on my tongue, exactly as salty as I could hope for, and the fat part, wow, it was slightly fragrant of the spice rub and perfectly unctuous; it just melted on my tongue and suffused my mouth with ducky fatty goodness.  So although my overall moisture loss was less than the suggested ideal, my particular set of variables still ended up providing me with a nearly perfect prosciutto.  Here’s how they looked before I started in with a sharp knife –the fat side:

the finished duck prosciutto, fat side

..and the meat side:

the finished duck prosciutto, meat side

My first few slices, though I tried to cut them thin, weren’t as thin and uniform as I liked, so I talked my deli manager friend Geoff to slice me some on his machine.  They were maybe a shade too thin, but almost perfect, and when I got them home, I laid them out on sheets of butcher paper, and then into a ziplock.

thin slices of duck prosciutto

I had another reason to be happy that I could call this project finished on Wednesday –my mom and her sweetie and I have a standing date for Wednesdays: I pick up our winter CSA veggie and fruit shares as well as jugs of yummy raw Jersey milk in the afternoon, and then we get together for cards, dinner, and our film night.  This particular Wednesday mom and I had planned for a major Danish smørbrød fiesta with creamy herring, lox with my own honey-mustard-calvados sauce, my liver paté, beef tartare, and freshly baked breads, knækbrød, and cheeses, and I really wanted this duck prosciutto to join the party too.  Success!

I was inspired to try this prosciutto as part of a bánh mì sandwich, and it was fantastically delicious:  On a home-baked bun (King Arthur’s beautiful burger buns, in fact, made for some old-school sloppy joe’s for yesterday’s dinner) I buttered one side, mayo’d the other, then a good shmear of my liver paté, some pickled carrots, thinly sliced cucumber, a mound of the duck prosciutto, and a few drops of my Caribbean-style habanero sauce.   It was perfect.

A bahn mi sandwich with duck prosciutto

I will be making more of this Duck prosciutto, without a doubt.  I’m very interested to try taking Kate Hill’s Gascon approach of using less salt as I’m drawn to being sensibly thrifty, and I look forward to building a real curing chamber one day as I’m curious to see how a longer air cure and a full 30% weight loss will impact the flavor.  Excellent first charcutepalooza experience!

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About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
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36 Responses to Duck Prosciutto

  1. blorgie1 says:

    Oh you are so adventurous! You are learning to cure and I am learning to culture – I started with fil mjolk, buttermilk and simple herbed farmhouse cheeses – next is feta and chevre. M I think I’m in love with goats! I just read Brad Kessler’s beautiful Goat Song. He lives in Vermont too!

    Your product looks so jewel like in the finish and you write so well. I love the passion and the detail. I had to giggle a little though when I read, “I made a point to wrap my breasts in a longer piece of cheesecloth…” Very, very, immature of me I know. I will go to the corner and stand there until I have learned better manners. Seriously though the process intrigued me because of cheeses being bandaged in muslin…

    Have you watched the BBC series Jimmy’s Farm? Such a treat all about raising rare breed piggies.

    There are some kangeroo prosciuttos being made here – interesting but so lean there is no fat to carry the flavour! Yours on the other hand is making my mouth water!

    Oh please can I come over for Wednesday nights?
    Bx

  2. Thanks for your detailed post. Ours are in our wine cellar and we were worried the other day that they have not lost nearly the 30% but perhaps “feel” ready. I’m gonna go and check them again now. Your photos are very helpful and I love that you got the butcher to slice your meat for you – I admit that’s one of the things I was wondering about – how to get lovely slices…

  3. Jennifer k says:

    Your prosciutto looks beautiful! I’m off to check on like now.

  4. mosaica says:

    B.: Lovely comment, thank you dear! I think that there are a whole slew of us Charcutepalooza folks who are channeling our inner 12-year olds what with the breast jokes. Wait ’til we start making sausage!

    I’m going to go try to find Brad Kessler’s Goat Song soon –I remember hearing about him/it very fuzzily, so thanks for the reminder. I’ve also been making cheese & yogurt lately. Mostly chevre with goat milk from down the road (really gorgeous farmer, mrowr), and then yogurt & paneer from my weekly raw milk. I love making paneer and then preparing saag paneer for dinner.. yum!

    Hmm, I haven’t seen Jimmy’s Farm, but thank you again for a good tip! I know I haven’t thanked you adequately for turning me on to Hugh (my secret boyfriend: even Hugh doesn’t know) whose every programme I’ve devoured. I have his meat book! I also loved watching Matt Evans’ Gourmet Farmer from Tasmania. Matt’s no Hugh, but I still really enjoyed it 🙂

    Have you watched any of the MasterChef programmes? I’d love to know what you think. I can tell you that I really liked that scruffy Chris from the Oz version, and it was he who inspired me to start searching for a pig head for roasting a lá Fergus Henderson.

    Because of Hugh, I now describe my garden/farm/market situation as a `patchwork tinyholding,’ sort of like a smallholding only tinier and spread out over several towns.

    xoxoxo

    P.S. You have a perpetual dinner/lunch/breakfast invite 🙂

  5. mosaica says:

    Hello Mardi –thanks for your comment! I’ve been looking at others of the January charcutepalooza posts, and I can see how a drier and denser version could be desirable, and though I still love my tender version, I will try this again once I have a better means of keeping a more humid environment.

    Regarding the slicing: it was a mixed result; while I asked Geoff to slice them vertically across the breast, somehow they got sliced horizontally across the breast. So I got one slice of only fat, and one slice of only meat, and in between were lots of slices that had a bit of each. It wasn’t ideal, but it was only half a breasts worth. And it still tasted yummy! Plus, that fat slice is going to be perfect to fry some breakfast potatoes in.

  6. Lynn says:

    Such a great sandwich idea. I know what I’m having for lunch!

  7. eda benjakul says:

    beautiful. i can taste it through the screen! and the care you took in making it is admirable. thank you for sharing. i am going for a do-over on my hastily hung breast…

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks Eda 🙂 I can’t imagine doing all that you parents do AND cook AND work.. wow! It’s just me and Mouse (my cat), and often I feel as if I can’t keep up. Looking very forward to seeing your duck prosciutto and also exploring your recipes. Cheers!

  8. This is really so appealing especially since I cannot eat pork so this is an amazing alternative!! What an undertaking!!

  9. mike says:

    Lovely prosciutto! We’ve tried making it a couple of times without complete success. We need to give it another go.

    • mosaica says:

      Hey, thanks Mike! It’s been a pleasure to make, and even more to share the process with you & all the charcutepaloozies. I’m having a breakfast-for-dinner tonight of potatoes fried in a bit of the cured duck fat, a few fried eggs, and probably a bit more of the prosciutto itself. Yum!

  10. Karen says:

    I love your thinly sliced cucumber! It looks delicious 😀

    Sis

  11. birthemor says:

    Your description and pictures of making the “andebryst” prosciutto is beautiful and I am honored to be one of the first testers. It is utterly scrumptious and was a great addition to our Wednesday smørgåsbord. Good work! birthemor

  12. Sarah says:

    Yum! Your banh mi looks and sounds delicious . . . might be just the thing to finish up the rest of our duck prosciutto! We still have an extra breast and a few pieces around! 🙂

    Looking forward to reading more on this journey!

    Best,
    Sarah

    • mosaica says:

      Hasn’t today been great?! Making the prosciutto was fun, posting about it was fun, and reading all the other charcutepaloozies posts is just a blast! And yep, it was a great sandwich. I can’t wait to make these in the summer when I have more access to fresh cilantro & scallions. Yum!

  13. Cathy says:

    Totally utterly completely genius idea, the bahn mi.

  14. Elitist Meatist says:

    Great post. Although I had good results with my duck prosciutto, it left me wanting to see how much difference a curing chamber would make as well.

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks! Yeah, I wish I could implement a DIY used-fridge version tomorrow, particularly with the pancetta that I’d like to make for the next project, but it’s not in the cards for a few months at least. So I’ll make pancetta tesa, or flat pancetta this time around..

  15. Eclipse says:

    I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that you are writing and posting again, and especially about your food adventures. You write so well and your photos are great. I am always delighted to see a new post from you come up in my Google Reader! Not to mention that I daydream about feasting at your table someday… 🙂

    This duck prosciutto is totally divine looking.. you make me want to try making this myself! I’m just drooling over here.

    Keep up the awesome, inspiring blogging. Love you!

  16. mosaica says:

    Oh, Eclipsie! Thanks for the lovely warm comment 🙂 I was just looking at my bento set on Flickr yesterday and kind of marveling that *I* made those lunches, and you must have felt all the rosy vibes I was sending at you, remembering when that outrageously happy-making package arrived. I’ll never get over that. I am having the best time with this new blog, and I’m glad you’re enjoying it too. I noticed that you were on the road the last few days, and I’m sending hugs your way.

  17. What beautiful big slices you got out of your duck breasts! I would have never thought of putting duck prosciutto in a bahn mi. Now it seems like a perfect idea with those pickled carrots and fresh cucumbers. And that long drive to get your duck breasts… the things we do for food 🙂

    • mosaica says:

      Thanks Miss Bean 🙂 These were really large breasts to start with, and in fact they got sliced all wrong –horizontally instead of vertically, but since the fat layer was substantial and sort of curved around the meaty bit after the meat reduced in size, I ended up indeed with rather large slices, each with a succulent edging of fat. So it was a win in the end!

  18. Rachelle says:

    I’m going to have to get in on the Charcutepalooza, else it’s going to be 12 months of drooling! Great post!

  19. birthemor says:

    Hi you creative daughter of mine, I am still enjoying the wonderful Mexican ice cream topping you made for last wednesday, what a treat. Wonder if you have a new fabulous treat next wednesday. I might experiment with Mormor’s chicken soup with melboller!!
    Enjoy, birthemor

  20. Deanna says:

    Hi, it was really great to meet you at Cochon555 and your blog looks like a great resource! I am bookmarking it for sure.

    Just in case you are wondering who I am, I am the Le Cordon Bleu student who made the terrible joke about at least you have a place to sit! I have a way with words. Unfortunately, usually, they are the wrong words.

    Thanks again! Deanna

    • mosaica says:

      Hello Deanna! It was lovely meeting you –that event was the best adventure I’ve had in ages, and the best part was meeting so many agreeable & like-minded pig-lovin’ people. If you have a blog, I’d love to read it; I’m particularly interested in what it is/was like to be a LCB student!

      • Deanna says:

        I actually don’t have a blog! I started one over Christmas and ended up deleting it. I think sometimes the random thoughts in my head are better off not making it to print. 🙂

        If you’d like to email, I am certainly open to that. I’ll be reading your blog for sure.

        I got back to school on Monday and saw a flier where one of the chefs is getting a whole Berkshire pig to teach charcuterie as a private weekend thing. I am in! Starts 2/12…

  21. Mairi says:

    Your curing chamber is impressive! And the proscuitto looks amazing. I am hoping to give it a try when it gets a little cooler, no problem with humidity in Auckland but the warmest summer on record so not ideal!

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