My two greatest culinary passions are a) methods of preserving food- the simpler and more flavourful the better – and b) duck! The former being a tether to the distant past when salting and fermenting meant survival for crafty cooks and the latter being the tastiest damn animal know to man.
Now I know I’ve already done a ton of duck recipes, including the great-granddaddy of all preserved duck dishes: confit du canard, but bear with me one more time ‘cause this one’s a keeper. It’s a technique for preserving breasts that results in a semi-cured, dense and beautifully salty-sweet taste reminiscent of prosciutto de parma. It’s dead-easy and a great entry-level way to get into more serious charcuterie.
The secret to good “duck ham” is sourcing some big, fat duck breasts. The kind that is usually only found on Muscovy ducks. Luckily my Exec Chef Matt and myself were just gifted a couple ‘o Muscovy breasts from our mutual friend Britta direct from our other mutual friend Brian’s Clever Crow Farm… Sometimes it’s all about who you know.
The only things that you have to keep in mind when making this type of air-cured product are space requirements and sanitation. Prosciutto requires a certain amount of open space with freely circulating, below-room temperature air for the product to cure properly. It also requires clinical fastidiousness when it comes to processing and handling. Any bits of rogue food product or micro-bacterial critters that make their way onto the duck during any stage of this game can make the final product inedible. So clean your table, clean your board, your knife, your hands, everything. Then clean it again.
I know this because I’ve properly cured just as many duck breasts as I’ve sent to the compost bin (sorry Britta!) but thanks to all this trial ‘n error I’ve nailed down what I believe to be the easiest, safest and still most badass duck prosciutto recipe you can bang out at home. It is equal parts Ariane Daguin, Michael Ruhlman, Tom Colicchio and tough freakin luck.
Also, don’t hang it anywhere a cat can get to it… Trust me; those beasties will jump tall buildings for a chance to pull down a partially-raw duck breast. *laughs*
Duck Prosciutto (Makes one breast – enough for a handful of people, tapas-style)
- 1 – 8oz. (230g) Duck Breast (approx. 1 ½ inch thick including fat)
- ¾ cup (220g) Kosher Salt
- ¼ cup (100g) Sugar
- 1 tsp. (3g) Whole Black Peppercorns
- 1 tsp. (2g) Fresh Thyme (stems removed)
- 1 Garlic Clove (11g, thinly sliced)
- 1 tbls. (15ml) Red Wine Vinegar
- Butchers Twine and Cheesecloth
- Grab a sharp, thin knife and trim the duck breast of silverskin and excess fat. Don’t take the whole fat cap off though, just shave a bit off and leave about an eighth of an inch (3 mm) all over. Score the fat cap a couple ‘o times just deep enough to reach the flesh and no deeper.
- Mix the salt, sugar, pepper, thyme ‘n garlic all together in a small bowl. Rub this mixture all over the breast, making sure to get a bit into the slashes you’ve made. Lay that salty breast into a plastic wrap-lined container and cover over with the remaining salt mixture. Tightly wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
- Rinse off the salt mixture under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. It should have released a bit of moisture into the salt and turned a couple shades darker in colour. Dab another piece of paper towel into the vinegar and rub the surface of the breast all over. It’s going to give the duck another layer of flavour and form a kind of anti-bacterial shield during the drying process.
- Tightly wrap the duck in cheesecloth and tie both ends with twine. Hang the breast in a cool, dry place. A walk-in refrigerator is ideal, as is a wine cellar or smoke house, but I’ve also had success just hanging them in my laundry room. Anywhere it’s cooler than room temp and away from direct sunlight, pets and foreign food particles will do just fine. Hang the breast for 15 days or until the breast is very firm with a tray underneath to catch any drips.
- Cut the duck down and inspect it for any signs of surface rot. Slice the duck breast very thinly on a bias and serve as antipasti or tapas before a meal with dried nuts, fresh wild berries, cheese and cava.
Music to Salt Duck Breasts To:
The Velvet Underground – Loaded