I was rather inspired by our last visit to The Estelle. In particular, I fell for the duck prosciutto…which is a bit of a misnomer, given prosciutto is the Italian word for ham and as much as I love duck, it’s just not pig. Hmm, now there’s a t-shirt waiting to be printed.
Wikipedia says that the word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsiccatus (perexsicco), which gave way to the modern Italian word prosciugare, meaning “to thoroughly dry”. For the sake of even attempting to pronounce “duck prosciugare”, regardless of whether I’ve been drinking or not, we’ll call it duck prosciutto until someone comes up with something more appropriate.
So, I decided to have a crack at making my own duck prosciutto. After a little research it was apparent that duck prosciutto is by far the easiest of the charcuterie disciplines to attempt at home. More so, I would have probably tried to make this at home much earlier than now.
It makes me think, are we (or me, in this instance) endeavouring to do more with food, than simply buying the ingredients and following a recipe?
It’s got to be said that for what I create in the kitchen, I take a lot of pleasure getting compliments from friends and family when I’ve made stuff from what I call ‘beyond’ scratch. Take hamburgers for example; fresh homemade buns, grinding your own meat for patties, homemade tomato sauce or chutney, throwing in whatever you’ve grown in your own garden, etc.
Although I haven’t yet gone as far as Heston Blumenthal to make my own ‘processed’ cheese like he did in his In Search of Perfection series, nor attempt to make every single element of the burger from scratch like some guy did.
So why are we doing this? To show off? To be more sustainable? Or is it to get a better understanding of how things are done, which in turn gives you a greater appreciation for not only the food you’re eating, but also what goes into it… or more importantly what doesn’t go into it. My money’s on the latter… although keep the compliments coming.
So in the last 10-15 years… maybe more, we’ve gone from bog-standard salami (and if you lived in South Austalia, you were probably brought up on German mettwurst), Maggie Beer’s Pheasant Farm pate (which is still great) and your cheap, crappy prosciutto was done to death, by being wrapped around everything from asparagus spears to
Britney Spears… phwoooar! chicken fillets, stuffed with goat’s cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes… ugh!
Now, with more knowledge, people with generally more developed palates and greater access to things that were once too foreign or simply unavailable, we can far easily obtain the bestest prosciutto in the world; di parma and san daniel, or Spain’s Jamón ibérico… you know the black pigs they eat nothing but acorns, procotechino, cacciatore, confit duck, guanciale, bresola, chorizo, paté, mousse, terrine, roulade, rillettes and so on.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, my own duck prosciutto… Most of the blogs I researched via Google were American-based. It seems that the rest of the Western world, or Australia for that matter, isn’t all that interested in making their own charcuterie. Maybe they are and they’re too busy making it to document it on a blog? Maybe I just have too much time on my hands?
Australia’s weather could be a disadvantage. Melbourne’s either too hot or too cold and weatherboard houses aren’t all that well-known for their temperate climates. But, duck prosciutto was more than doable. Loosely based on Michael Ruhlman’s recipe in Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, all I needed was a couple of duck breasts, some salt, cheesecloth, my choice of spices, a wine fridge and some time.
The key to ensuring success was not stuffing up the salting and ensuring the meat didn’t get a nasty black mould (white is OK). Most of the American blogs called for Kosher Salt. USA Foods stocked Kosher Salt, but surely I could use something else More commonly found in Coles? After a bit more research on salt, I came to the conclusion that I could use relatively inexpensive, uniodised sea salt, a.k.a: rock salt. It even said on the bag it was suitable for curing, so that put me at ease.
We are blessed to have good access to all duck-related products and produce, thanks to Luv-A-Duck. Fortunately for me, it would appear that duck wasn’t too popular at Coles in Northcote… Two breast fillets for $7.50! According to the package, they were due to expire that day, but as I was curing the meat, I didn’t think it would matter so much. This exercise was working out well. $2.39 for a 500g bag of rock salt and $7.50 for duck. If this thing turns pear-shaped in any way, I was only out-of-pocket less than a tenner and to date I’ve made many more mistakes in the kitchen that have cost more (in particular that fucking pizza).
The method itself was pretty easy: Place a good layer of salt in the base of a container large enough to hold both duck breasts, so they weren’t touching the sides or each other. Place the breasts into the container and cover with the remaining salt. Cover the container with some cling wrap and chuck it in the fridge for around 24 hours. Voila! Stage one was complete.
After curing, I took the breasts out of the salt. They’d firmed up a little, so far so good. I washed the salt off and thoroughly dried the breasts with paper towel.
Some recipes I’d read opted not to spice the breasts at all, wrapping them straight up in the cheesecloth after they’d been washed and dried. Other recipes called for nothing but a little white pepper on the skin side only.
I decided to select a few spices that compliment duck. I toasted of some bits of star anise, coriander seeds, a few juniper berries and some chilli flakes and ground them up in my mortar and pestle. I scored the skin, crossways and rubbed the spice mixture well into the skin.
After wrapping them in cheesecloth (which was actually muslin because I didn’t have any cheesecloth) and tying them with kitchen twine, I weighed each breast and took note of their respective weights (140 grams and 148 grams). The aim is to reduce their weight by 30%, which can take a week or longer, depending on your conditions.
Apparently, wine fridges are perfect for dry curing as the constant temperature (12-14 degrees celsius) and humidity (55-65%) is ideal for an even cure, where the moisture isn’t lost too slowly at a colder temperature, resulting in a loss of flavour and the temperature isn’t too high, which will ruin the thing completely.
My breasts took 3 weeks to the day to reach the desired weight. A little longer than anticipated, but a longer hang resulted in some intese flavour. There was absolutely no mould eveident, so the conditions were perfect.
With some deft precision and a sharp knife, I shaved off my first paper-thin slices to have my first taste of my own handcrafted charcuterie… my own. Sure, I’ve made things in the past that have required more skill, but this is definitely a more fulfilling result. More importantly, 12 hours later there were no ill-effects of botulism… success all round!
Duck prosciutto – done and dusted. What’s next? Pancetta? Breasola? Watch this space.