Home > Meat, Techniques > Charcutepalooza: Duck Proscuitto, Step 1

Charcutepalooza: Duck Proscuitto, Step 1

Better late than never, I always say.  Right before I left for Nicaragua at the beginning of February, I learned of an incredible… “movement” I think is the word.  Mrs. Wheelbarrow, of Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen fame, along with her pal at the Yummy Mummy, dreamed up a contest.  A wonderful contest they call Charcutepalooza.  The gist of it is that they lay out a charcuterie challenge every month, which is then taken up by food bloggers all over the country.  We blog about the results, and somebody wins a trip to France.  A trip to France… for making cured meat.  Is that great, or what?

Well, to win the prize, you have to do the challenge every month, and blog about it by the 15th of the month.  Since I found out about the thing on February 1st, and was out of the country till the 14th, I missed the February challenge.  For me, this is a blessing in disguise.  Since I no longer qualify for the prize, I can just enjoy participating.  I kinda like it that way, especially since I already spend a lot of time in France.

This past Friday, I looked at the 10-day weather forecast.  Rainy and cool, the weatherman said.  And as I thought about it, I realized this would be the perfect week for me to make the January challenge: Duck prosciutto.  Prosciutto is a simple salt cured, air-dryed meat, but you do need temps in the 50-60 range, and it helps if the humidity is high.  I do not have (or want to build) a curing chamber to make charcuterie, and in North Carolina, we don’t get a lot of weeks like that, so the timing is great.  Also, I recently traded a customer some coffee for one of her locally-raised Muscovy ducks, so I even had the starting materials.

So this afternoon, a rainy Sunday, I tackled step 1 – break down the duck and salt a breast.  Here’s the pictorial:

One big ass duck. This one came from one of the customers of our coffee business. It is a beautiful specimen. But this guy needs to be broken down - it's nearly impossible to cook a whole duck well as long as it's in one piece, and I need one of the breasts uncooked for my project.

I'll spare the detail, since I think most people can break down a bird. Breaking down a duck in no different than a chicken. Remove the leg and thigh as a unit from each side. Then the wings. Now cut the breat free from the breast bone, cutting carefully along the bone. Takes about 5 minutes.

Here's the breast, skin on, ready to be salted. Score the skin so salt can penetrate. You'll want to weigh it, since the way you know it's done 7 or 8 days from now is when it's lost 30% of its weight. This breast was 461 grams. I'll weigh it again after salting and start my calculation from that weight, since the salt draws out moisture (that's why this works!). But the raw weight is a good data point to have.

You're going to salt the breast liberally, then put in in a non-reactive dish on a bed of salt, and cover it entirely in salt. That's quite a bit of salt. Use a container about the same size as the breast to minimize salt use. I used a French gray sea salt that contains peppercorns and herbs - coriander, thyme and rosemary - that I had received as a gift. I don't like this salt for cooking, but it's perfect for making salt cured meat, as the spices add a lot of flavor. I used 250 grams of salt (the entire jar).

Salt the entire breast liberally, rubbing it into the skin and meat.

Here's the breast in my Pyrex container, totally encased in salt. It will stay in here, covered, in the fridge, for 24 hours. Then I'll take it out, rinse, dry, wrap in cheesecloth, tie, and hang till done. I'll show that process tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I’ll rinse it, wrap it, tie it and hang it.  I have between now and then to learn how to respectably tie the thing.

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