I have always had a love affair with Pork. Ribs, Sausage, Ham, and the almighty BBQ? Come on. The pig is indeed a noble animal that has given us so much joy and sustenance. As I’m writing this post, I’m realizing that my love of prosciutto probably comes from Country Ham. Growing up in the South, Country Ham was a breakfast staple. Slabs of salty ham fried on a flattop grill and served up hot and crispy…oh man (hell yes the photo is from Waffle House). That being said, Country Ham today has come a log way and makes me realize that most of the cured ham that I grew up eating, was total crap. I’ve had Country Ham in restaurants recently that would rival any imports that one could come up with. But I digress, that is where my love of cured ham comes from.
I would love nothing more than to attempt to make Country Ham myself. Take a whole leg and cure it to delicious, salty goodness. However, I live in a rather small apartment, making the space to cure an entire pig leg for months would not go over with the significant other. I’m more than happy to have the house smell like ham, she on the other hand….not so much.
So while doing some research for this blog, I stumbled across an idea that hit me like a ton of bricks. Duck Prosciutto. Duck has some gamey qualities that are closer to pork than poultry. It’s also much smaller and easier to obtain, which is a plus for those of us that space is an issue. It was settled, I ran to the store to find Duck breast for the project. Turns out, I had to buy a whole Duck, fine. I can find other things to do with the rest (see my post on stock…please?), confit the legs ect.
The duck took about a week to totally defrost in my fridge. You could rush this process, but why? Were all friends here. No rush.
I then carefully removed the breasts from the duck. This is similar to a chicken, remove the wishbone and cut down the center, then carefully peel the meat away from the bone. Ducks are built a bit different than a chicken, the breasts are much longer and do not have the same divining lines that a chicken has. It pretty much goes from breast to thigh, so careful around the thighs. You can do it, I promise. If you’ve never broken down a whole chicken, now is your chance. It’s considerably cheaper than buying chicken parts unless your buying a ton of wings, and you’ll have leftovers for stock! Once again, see the post on stock. Also, here’s a link to a helpful video about breaking down a chicken (including the snazzy airline breast shown in pic), its the same way I learned in culinary school, so its the same way I do it at home. I’m sure there are people out there that say its not the same as a chicken, but it works for me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeIaOUPF7jk
Next, you need a large non-reactive container that can hold both breasts plus salt, without the breasts touching. Time to get out your trusty food scale and weigh out the following:
480 grams of kosher salt
2 grams freshly ground pepper
two or three sprigs of Thyme
Four Bay Leaves Crushed
Mix all of that together well and lay down about half the mixture on the bottom of your container. Place your duck lovingly on the salt and cover both breasts with the rest of the salt mixture.
Cover the container with some plastic wrap and store in the fridge for a solid 24 hours. You’ll notice after some time in the fridge, a lot of liquid has been removed by the salt and that the salt is essentially one giant salt clump. That’s what you want. The transference of salt from outside to in is what keeps bacteria from building up in the meat. Yay Osmosis!
After 24 hours, remove the breasts from the fridge and give them a good rinse to remove all the seasoning. Pat them dry and wrap them in cheese cloth for hanging. I know hanging meat in your house sounds strange, but its easier than you think. Shoot for somewhere that does not get a lot of light, is humid, and doest get above 70 degrees. For me, thats my laundry room (sounds weird but its true). To make this easier, I took a coat hanger and tied butcher twine to the notches to hang the duck. It actually works really well and keeps them apart and air circulating.
Let them hang for 7 full days. After seven days, give the breasts a squeeze. They should feel dense, if they feel raw and squishy still, give them another day or two. After that they are ready for consumption and the refrigerator. Just cover whatever you don’t eat in plastic wrap and save for later. Believe me, it will last a while. A long while. Thats kid of the point.
For serving suggestions, take your pick! Of course it can be eaten raw all by its self. Add it to your next appetizer board or throw it in a nice Arugula salad. The possibilities are endless.
This is another great example of how you can flex your culinary muscle at home. Something that seems fancy and complicated is actually fairly easy. Impress you family and friends with you new found skills, it will also make you a lot harder to impress the next time you get served charcuterie that was made in house.
James Beard used to toast “All for the good life!”