Cheeky

Several weeks ago, I had a go at making my own bacon. This was my second foray into the world of simple homemade charcuterie, after duck prosciutto, which I recommend as a good entry-level effort to the craft of curing.

Bacon is pretty easy. Buy yourself some good quality, free-range pork loin or belly… or even better, the loin with the belly attached. Cure it in a mixture of salt, sugar, some cure #1, plus whatever other flavourings you want to add and then massage it into the meat. Chuck it all into a big zip-lock bag and put it in the fridge for a week, turning it every day or so. Once it’s cured, you can hot smoke it or in the absence of a smoker, cook it in a low (120C) oven for a couple of hours.

To make it smoky, you can lightly spray the meat with a liquid smoke before it’s popped into the oven. The one I bought from Misty Gully is great and smells like Cheetos’ Cheese & Bacon Balls. There are a few more steps to it than what I’ve outlined, but this post on the Overclockers Forum is a great resource if you want to give it a go yourself. Kudos to kodo78.

bacon

As for my attempt at bacon – it looked like and smelled like bacon. Finely cut and pan fried, it also tasted pretty bacon-y and damn good between two pieces of bread, butter and a good dollop of HP sauce.

Wanting a greater challenge and with some spare time on my hands at the moment; I sought some inspiration from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie to seek out my next curing venture. As space is a bit of issue at my place, there was a requirement to stick to a smaller cut of meat, so I decided that Guanciale would be the most viable as it could be used in a number of recipes, as well as being delicious on its lonesome.

The direct translation of Guanciale is ‘pillow’, which may relate to the delicate texture, thanks to the higher fat to meat ratio in the cut. Or the simpler inference is that its name is derived from the Italian word for cheek (guancia). Either way, the cured and dried pork jowl is a little stronger in flavour than pancetta and as any staunch Italophile will tell you, is the only meat to use in a Carbonara or Amatriciana sauce.

Now you would think that with all of the various bits of pork we consume regularly, the cheeks and jowls would be a little more omnipresent and therefore easy to find, but they’re not. That is, until they probably feature in a future series of Masterchef and Coles will start to sell them at ridiculously-inflated prices. Alas, it wasn’t as simple as walking to either of the butcher shops on my street. I suspect the local restaurants might get first dibs, given jowl is so meltingly delicious.

After unsuccessfully widening my search to incorporate the surrounding suburbs, the next obvious place was Victoria Street, Richmond. Sadly, after 10 minutes, I was zero from six on Victoria Street and so I decided to cut my losses and head to the most next obvious place – the Queen Vic Markets.

Thirty five minutes, a further nine butchers, eight bucks for parking and a doughnut from the American Doughnut Van later (alright, it was two), I was still jowl-less.

A quick Google search had me back in the car heading towards the next, next most obvious place –  the Footscray market, which in hindsight was probably what I should have done in the first place.

By butcher number five, my luck had changed and the guy was only too happy to hack off a couple of jowls right before my eyes… All for the bargain price of $4.50, later finding out for an extra dollar, I could have purchased the whole pig’s head. Perhaps next time.

Cheeks getting a trim
Cheeks getting a trim

Sourcing the jowls was easy, compared to my next dilemma; to cure or not to cure with curing salt. And if I did use it, which cure do I use? Cure #1 or Cure #2? There were so many conflicting recipes that used different cures, if at all. Now I wasn’t in the mood for seriously harming my family and friends through some serious food poisoning or worse, botulism.

Therefore a bit of research is always a good thing. In Cure #1, the sodium nitrite only keeps the meat safe for a short period of time, as well as imparting that nice ‘cured’ taste. It’s also assumed that anything cured with Cure #1 is cooked after curing. In Cure # 2, the sodium nitrate breaks down over time and transforms to sodium nitrite, which is further broken down to become nitric oxide; the key oxidising agent that keeps the meat safe from that nasty old botulism. This cure is reserved for the likes of salumi, etc; things that aren’t intended to be cooked before consuming.

So knowing which cure was the best for me, the rest of the cure recipe was pretty simple and the one I used was from Nuovo Mondo, by Stefano de Pieri & Jim McDougall.

Guanciale (for 2 cheeks)

2 pork cheeks
300g table salt
300g caster sugar
5 garlic cloves, smashed
30g black pepper, lightly crushed (I only had white pepper on hand)
½ bunch thyme, chopped (stems and all)
2.5g Cure #2

The cheeks needed a bit of a trim up for starters. Mainly to get rid of some of the flappy bits, as well as to remove some of the glands that still may be attached to the jowls. The glands are pretty obvious-looking things; they’re grey in colour so they are usually pretty easy to distinguish from the fat or muscle.

Simple ingredients
Simple ingredients

Once trimmed, they were ready for the cure, which was as easy as combining all of the ingredients together. As for the amount of cure, I used the cure packet as a guide. The 100g pack was enough to cure 40kg of meat, so using my trusty brain and a calculator, I worked it out to be 2.5 grams of cure per kilo of meat. My jowls weighed in at around 1kg after trimming, so 2.5g of cure was mixed well into the salt and sugar before adding the thyme, garlic and pepper.

As the cure was going to draw out moisture from the jowls, I added an extra base of salt to the bottom of my container before rubbing down the cheeks with the cure mix and placing them into the container. I also made sure that the cheeks were only in contact with the cure mix and not the container or each other.

See you in a week
See you in a week

There was nothing left to do, other than pop them in the fridge and let the cure do the rest, for about a week. Every day or so, I check on them and ensured that they were happy and the cure was still covering each cheek.

After a week, it was time to wash the cure off the cheeks, but not with water. So, unless you were a magician, like Jebus, white wine was the traditional method for washing the cheeks and I thought I’d do the same thing. I can’t remember the last time I’d bought a cask of goon and sadly, I thought Fruity Lexia might be a tad too sweet for washing the cheeks, so I opted for a drier, more highfalutin Semillon Chardonnay.

Goon-ciale
Goon-ciale

Once the cheeks were well washed in the good stuff, I patted them dry with paper towel, ready for the next step. They had firmed up in the cure nicely and now they were ready for a rub down of spices, ready to hang. I used a combination of juniper, green peppercorns, fennel seeds and chilli. I went for green peppercorns as I wanted a milder pepper flavour. Juniper, fennel and chilli are fairly traditional spices as far as Guanciale goes.

Ready for hanging
Ready for hanging

The last step before hanging was to weigh the cheeks. I’d read that the same principle I’d followed when making duck prosciutto was also relevant to making Guanciale; that was when they’d lost 30% of their initial weight, through loss of moisture, they were done.

Actually, a precise figure of 30% is a little subjective. Jowls that contain a lot of fat won’t lost as much weight as the moisture is lost. I guess I just had to wait and see. My cheeks had lost around 100 grams in the fridge cure, so I was aiming to lose around 120 grams. In my little wine fridge, set at 13 degrees Celsius and with a humidity of around 65 percent, this could take anywhere from four to eight weeks.

Patience
Patience…

Fast forward to just shy of six weeks later and my impatience had gotten the better of me. On the scales, they hadn’t met the ’30 percent’ rule (closer to 20%) and since I first checked on them at the one month mark, there had been very little additional weight lost over the past two weeks. However, they were nice and firm; I was pretty sure that they were ready.

Worth the wait
… is a virtue

From the first cut of the knife, I knew my impatience was justified. The flesh was a rich and red in colour and the fat was lovely and firm. It smelled fantastic and tasted even better! Rich, buttery and a little nutty. A little bit of sweetness lingered from the cure and the spicing rounded it out perfectly.

A wee favour called in at Maria’s Deli (a few doors down from me) and soon enough their meat slicer had transformed one of my cured cheeks into paper-thin slices.

Patience truly is a virtue.

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Thrifty

They say that 2015 is going to be the year of recession, so maybe we should get in early and start to tighten our belts. As I’m not working at the moment, I’m already trying harder to not be so frivolous with my money. I am not yet at the stage where I am making my own moonshine or clothes, but I am spending far more time planning when it comes to grocery shopping, so there is less spent on the weekly shop and as a bonus, less weekly wastage.

Our household still produces its fair share of waste; but more recently, it’s been a case of an increasing awareness to minimise what is getting binned. Any bananas that are still around at the end of the week are chucked in the freezer and when there are enough, I’ll make banana bread. The abundance of lemons that are often given to us are turned into curd and any vegetables that look like they only have another day left are easily turned into pakoras or okonomyaki with a few other pantry staples.

It’s led me to think more about the things that we would normally throw away; things that could easily have a second chance as something else to enjoy, rather than simply becoming landfill or worm food. Stuff that we simply do not think about or most likely; couldn’t be bothered doing anything about. Using vegetable peelings for stock is one that comes to mind. Sadly, I’m just not that driven to be that overtly conscious, although I should try harder.

With summer fast approaching, my kids love nothing more than eating their bodyweight in watermelon and I’m quite partial to the stuff too, particularly as a salad with marinaded goats feta, mint and olives. I hate the wastage though. Over half of what is bought usually gets dumped in the bin or at the very least, if you buy a whole melon, you can make a zany helmet to wear to the cricket.

Using watermelon rind for a jam or pickle has been in the back of my head for a few months. A friend of mine in Adelaide is running a stall at a local market that sells a range of naan breads and other home-made treats. Their preserves and pickles have been big sellers and their watermelon jam is a winner.

This was enough for me to give it a go and see for myself. Is this the epitome of turning waste into a delicious commodity of a condiment?

So, what to make? A Pickle, preserve or chutney? What would I use more? I opted for a pickle to start with. It’s pretty interchangeable with chicken, pork, charcuterie or even with a good, crumbly cheddar.

The recipe is pretty basic. No more than 10 minutes of prep and 15 minutes on the stove.

Pickled Watermelon Rind (makes approximately 500ml)

Rind from one mini watermelon (mine was the size between a lawn bowl and a bowling ball), including some of the red flesh
1 cup cider vinegar
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick

I used a boning knife to cut the flesh from each half of the watermelon, leaving about half a centimetre of flesh on the rind, before using a vegetable peeler to remove the green skin.

After cutting the flesh from the rind and using a vegetable peeler to remove the green skin, I cut the rind into a half-centimetre dice. One mini watermelon gave me a little over four cups of peeled rind.

The rind was paced into a medium-sized saucepan with the other ingredients and simmered over a medium-high heat for around 15 minutes, until the rind becomes a little translucent.

If you leave it to cool, then refrigerate for a few hours, it’s ready to go. Otherwise, you can pop it into a sterilised jar, where it should keep for a couple of weeks. It’s a reasonably small quantity, so hopefully it won’t last you that long.

I’ll never be as inventive or inclined as Joost Bakker, but this is a great step forward in turning potential waste into deliciousness… one recipe at a time.

The things I love

I haven’t posted anything since last September. Time tends to get away from you a bit… family, work, moving house. One month becomes two, then six. I haven’t really been eating out as much either. A few places, but nothing new… except for a trip to New Zealand. Cibo in Parnell, just out of the Auckland CBD, was great, but I forgot to take photos, otherwise I would have written a review.

There have been a few articles of late that spruik the latest and greatest food fads, which are more or less titled [insert number here] of the [best / weirdest / latest] foods you need to eat before you die. I don’t want to think about dying in that way. On my deathbed, with tubes inserted into every orifice, connected up to a machine that goes ‘ping’, the last thing I’d be thinking about would be a truffle-filled cronut wrapped in lardo. Maybe.

But it did get me thinking about my top 5 things that I love. The things that I tend to revert back to and revere. They’re not necessarily fancy or expensive, nor would they rate too highly on someone’s culinary bucket list (some might).

My Top 5... make that 4

So, without trying to sound like John Cusack in High Fidelity, here is my all-time, desert island foodie top 5…

5. Bread
Coeliacs, look away now. I’m not talking about your standard Wonder White variety that I feed to my kids. I’m talking about bread with character. Stuff that’s been made with love. A Treat of France is a Boulangerie and Patisserie that is only a few doors down from my place. They make the best olive sour dough I’ve ever eaten. Hit that shit up with some Myrtleford Butter, Pepe Saya or at the very least, Lurpak.

Random bread pic from Google

Northcote Bakeshop make the bestest, densest fruit loaf. Cut thin and crisped up in a low oven. Forego butter and opt for a tangy, creamy blue or a perfectly ripe triple cream brie.

Toasted sandwiches also rate a mention… on Wonder White if that’s all you have. I originate from Adelaide, so it’s not a jaffle either. Nan used to make us toasties with that Kraft processed cheese that you bought in the aisle, near the Vegemite or with tinned braised steak and onion that was so hot, you couldn’t taste anything else for a week until your tongue healed.

 

Kraft Cheddar anyone?

These days, simple ham and cheese is just fine or at the very least, the perfect medium for left-overs… like the meat from the previous night’s lamb shanks with cannellini beans. The best baked bean toastie there is.

4. Coffee
I only started drinking coffee when I started my first full-time job in 1994; nearly half my life ago and of course, it was Nescafé from one of those cafébar things where one click of the dial dispensed the recommended amount.

One click or three?

Way back then, I think my three clicks into a plastic disposable cup bred my love of a strong coffee. Fortunately, my tastes in coffee have matured, as has my passion for making the best coffee I can. I use St Ali’s Steadfast Blend, (formerly known as Orthodox and before that, known as Chompy) and with my Breville Smart Grinder and Gaggia Classic, I can belt out a most very decent, rich creamy shot, time after time. It seems more satisfying with the more tactile process of making an espresso with a manual machine. People may scoff at the rest of the process. Skinny milk in my favourite rabbit mug, heated in the microwave for 70 seconds, topped with a double shot and half a teaspoon of panella sugar. Hey, that’s how I like it.

STSKFW 0.5

I also feel like a bit of a wanker when it comes to ordering my small strong skinny flat white with half a sugar. I always have this feeling that then they write STSKFW 0.5 on my coffee lid with a sharpie it could also mean stupid skanky fuck wit. I hope they don’t mean that.

3. Condiments
I know that’s a pretty broad brush to paint with, but life without condiments would be joyless and somewhat less tangy, fruity, sweet and delicious.

I moved house recently and it was a good time to take stock of what lived in my fridge. Six kinds of mustard; Sweet Alstertor Mustard (that comes in the small beer mug), which we slather on sausages to get our German on, Maille Dijon and wholegrain mustards for cooking, Masterfoods Mild English for Lily’s ham and cheese roll for school, Hot English (Colman’s, of course) and that yellow stuff you put on hotdogs.

condimentspoons

There is also Gochujang chilli paste, hoi sin, miso, pickles in many forms. Countless jars of preserves, chutneys, sauces. Hank’s Chilli Jam goes with practically everything. They will all be required at some point… maybe to make up a quick BBQ sauce for ribs with tomato sauce, mustard, plum sauce and sriracha. I also keep a big jar of homemade chimichurri sauce in the fridge too. It goes with everything. I start with this recipe from Matt Preston, but vary the heat and herbs depending on how I’m feeling at the time.

2. Asian Food

And you thought condiments was a pretty broad brush. Unfortunately there’s no better way to describe so many dishes that I love that cross Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai borders. There are probably more too. It’s safe to say that of the 14 lunches and dinners available to me per week, some form of Asian cuisine would take up at least 10 of these spots.

I love dumplings. But then if I just had dumplings on my list, I couldn’t have pho or sashimi or bibimbap or any of the meats that feature in the window of a good Chinese restaurant.

Mmm... window meats

Other favourites are Hainanese chicken and rice, Korean fried chicken (and beer) with pickles and kimchee, a laksa that blows your head off, crispy crunchy Vietnamese coleslaw and rare beef salad with roasted rice, broken rice with a perfectly cooked pork chop and a punchy nuoc cham, freshly made banh mi with lots of coriander, pickled carrot and chilli, gua bao, agedashi tofu, My discovery of the raw prawn dish, Gung Chae Nam Pla, Karē Raisu, okonomiyaki, satay, red duck curry, chicken skin yakitori… any yakitori!

Gung Chae Nam Pla

A fresh Thai dish that can nail the perfect combination of hot, sour, sweet, bitter and salty can be just as exciting as a simple and comforting congee. I love it all – I’m enjoying a Bulgogi Hot Pot for lunch even as I write this; rich, sweet stock, a little heat from chilli, slippery sweet potato noodles, tender beef… You don’t get that from a salad sandwich or something from Red Rooster.

So what’s number one? Number one is tough. There are many things I’ve missed, like beer, potatoes in many forms, good hamburgers, ice cream, eggs, pigs, fresh strawberries at their prime, roast chicken, a perfect steak, ribs… or fancy stuff like truffles or even the Chinese deliacy tong zi dan, where every spring in the city of Dongyang, eggs are boiled in the urine of young schoolboys (I’m not making this up).

Sadly, there is no number one. Yet… and this remains a top 4 for now (sorry John Cusack). Fact is that there are so many things in the culinary world that I revert back to and revere and I guess that’s part of being a so-called foodie.

Merricote – 81 High St, Northcote 3070

I love my birthday. Not as much as I used to when back in the day, I’d exploit it to the hilt, spreading it across nine days (two weekends and five weekdays). Nowadays I’m lucky to milk it for no more than the day itself and the closest weekend to it.

This means that invariably, quality reigns over quantity and so my choice of restaurant for my Friday night celebration was to be a good one. But I also wanted to go somewhere that I’d been yearning to try, rather than heading back to familiar digs. Merricote was high up on the list of ‘my next place to go’, so the choice was easy.

The recent winner of the 2012 The Age Good Food Guide’s Best Short Wine List, Merricote has come on to the scene in a big way over the last seven or so months, yet when you walk in your first thoughts are… well, it’s quite unassuming. A simply decorated dining room features some large prints on the walls of the ‘staple’ animals we like to devour: pig, cow, chicken… and some quirky figurine farm animals feature here and there. To add to the simplicity, there is no bar or counter, allowing for more space between tables of this 30-seater, making the room feel totally devoid of that claustrophobic feeling you can experience at some places. It works very well in this relaxing, laid-back, lounge-room setting. Ideal for dinner with good friends. 

Bronwyn, co-owner (with other half, Rob, slaving away in the kitchen), sommelier and front-of-house made us feel very welcome from the moment we stepped in the front door, ushering us to our table promptly and offering us a choice of Northcote’s finest tap water (as featured in the drinks menu) or Antipodes sparkling mineral water.

Over a couple of glasses of pleasant French bubbles ($19) we perused the menu which featured four dishes each under the categories of charcuterie, small bites, starters, mains, sides, desserts and a highly anticipated cheese trolley. A degustation menu was also available at $65 for six courses.

Some exceptional house made bread rolls were offered; a choice of a seeded brown, dark beer-based roll or a floury white roll with fennel. Being ever so health conscious, I stuck to the brown roll which was outstandingly fluffy and even better with a generous spread of softened butter, which if I was a betting man looked and tasted like Naomi’s butter from Myrtleford.

Settling on the a’la carte menu, our first choice was a clearly obvious; a selection of charcuterie ($22). We were promptly presented with a board laden with thinly sliced handmade salami, capicola and some other tasty cured meat, served with some house made piccalilli and cornichons. I found the piccalilli a little too salty, K disagreed. Each to their own, I guess. We popped the top of a jar of the most delicious duck rillettes – the best rillettes I’ve eaten to date! A well judged ratio of duck fat to the slowly cooked and well-seasoned duck meat, which was chunkier than what you’d expect. It was more like pieces of confit duck than the finer shred of meat you’d expect from rillettes. Not that I was complaining.

A slice of pigs’ head terrine was paired with an excellent, chunky sauce grebiche. I also decided that I wasn’t a big fan of pigs’ head, which is absolutely of no disrespect to the kitchen. I’ve tried a number of times now; as brawn / head cheese, plus a number of variations. I don’t know… maybe it’s a texture thing. Anyway, that was my problem. Some (again) house made lavosh was on hand to scoop, spread and devour what was a great start to our night. In hindsight, the charcuterie selection was probably a little ambitious for just the two of us and probably better suited for 3 or 4 like-minded carnivores.

We also ordered the beetroot, walnut and goats cheese salad ($14) to share, providing an extra foil to the rich proteins. We were both unanimous in declaring this as a most perfectly balanced salad. Pickled baby turnips and baby beetroots featured with some very fresh pieces of walnut, twice shelled broad beans and various micro herbs – all atop goats cheese foam, which had all of the full flavour of the cheese combined with the lighter-than-air texture of a whipped mascarpone. Delicious.

Our choices for main dishes ($29-$32), as well as they were executed, seemed a little out of place as they would be much more suited to a Winter menu, as opposed to it being half way though Spring.

K chose the ‘nose to tail’ lamb; a couple of perfectly cooked and seasoned cutlets, some braised meat combined with mushroom and shaped into a cylinder, then pan fried, a crumbed and fried nugget of brain (which immediately found its way to yours truly) and, served separately en papillote, was a rich and robust braise with white beans. 

I opted for the rump of  beef, cooked to medium rare and served on a ragu (of sorts) of chickpeas, mushrooms and braised ox tail. The cooking of the rump was to order, although one piece was a little on the chewy side. By and large, the execution was bang on, but it just seemed a little too hearty for October.

We selected a refreshing shaved cabbage, mint and barrel-aged fetta salad, which was lightly dressed with tangy vinaigrette. An excellent counterpoint to our mains. We drank a 2008 Whistling Eagle Sangiovese. As a choice between the aforementioned and a Tuscan Sangiovese, we asked the advice of Bronwyn, whose recommendation did not let us down.

As much as we were already close to satiation, we had to see the famed cheese trolley. An awesome selection of 15 cheeses were wheeled over to us: soft, semi-soft, hard, goat, cow, sheep, washed rind, ashed, blue mould, wrapped in stuff… take your pick! There were too many to mention (or remember for that matter). If only we knew, we wouldn’t have made pigs of ourselves earlier. Still, we settled on the Holy Goat Veloute. Bronwyn took our selection from the trolley and deftly proceeded to slice the top off like a skilled surgeon. We selected a few dried figs and some more of the house made lavosh. The figs were a perfect accompaniment to dip into the ripe, creamy, sweet and slightly nutty gooey goodness.

Maybe the cheese gave me a second wind. Maybe it was birthday magic. Maybe it was just plain greed and the hope K was paying. I was determined to push on through to dessert. And I’m glad I did.

The aptly titled Dutch messhomage to all things orange lived up to its name. It was probably also the most carnival-esque and fun desserts I’ve had. A well thought out combination of bitter blood orange segments and jelly surrounded a disc of creamy vanilla ice cream. Delicate orange and yellow flower petals were visually stunning but added nothing to the flavour (perhaps some peppery nasturtiums instead?) and were a little feathery at the back of my throat. On top of  the largely bitter ingredients, a contrasting layer of light and airy orange blossom-flavoured Persian fairly floss and a precise scoop of orange sorbet featured. No one ingredient dominated another and alas, my life was a little less bright once it had disappeared.

A well made espresso rounded out the night and my birthday feast.

Questionable seasonality of the main dishes aside, Merricote is an absolute gem of a place and we’re quite spoilt to have it at the bottom of Ruckers Hill and The Estelle at the top. High Street, Northcote continues to the up the ante and the best thing is that us locals get to reap the rewards with good, honest and unpretentious food that’s combined with an extensive, well sourced wine list – all of which is excellent value and all of which Merricote delivers with aplomb.

Thanks for making my birthday special.

Merricote
81 High St, Northcote 3070
(03) 9939 4762
http://www.merricote.com.au/ (website coming soon)

Good For: Sticking it up the people on the other side of the river; we’ve got it better than them
Not Good For: Seasonal confusion

Merricote on Urbanspoon

Quacktastic!

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.

Giving the chicks from ‘4 Ingredients’ a run for their money

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).

Now you see them...

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.

… Now you don’t!

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.

Give your breasts a good rub

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.

Ready for hanging

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.

The end result… Quacktastic!

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.