Homemade Duck Prosciutto – Another Charcutepalooza Project!
So here’s another Charcutepalooza project – Duck Prosciutto! This was actually the first month’s project, but since I joined towards the end of January, I had to wait to work on this cured and air dried duck.
At it’s very core, this is a stunningly easy project and I think it was fitting as the first challenge. Charcutepalooza is not just about challenging yourself to expand your culinary horizons, it’s also about educating us home cooks on some very historical methods of preparing and preserving meats and other foods. The process for making duck prosciutto simply involves covering the duck breasts in salt for a day, until a lot of the moisture comes out. Then you air dry it with herbs and spices until it loses 30% of its original weight. That’s the technique. It doesn’t get much simpler. If you think about how they make Italy’s amazing prosciutto di parma, Spain’s indulgent serrano ham, or even our own American country ham – this is how it’s done. You salt meat and then let it air dry. Obviously for large hams it could take a few years to lose that 30%, but the technique is the same.
And I’m sure after that you’re really just wondering – Vivek! Just tell me if it’s good! Well, sadly, I did not particularly enjoy my duck prosciutto. It wasn’t so much that I failed in execution – it came out looking like it should have. My problems was in failing to procure a good source of meat. I bought a whole duck from Whole Foods (a reputable store, with which I rarely have any issues). I figured I would get some bank for my buck by butchering the duck myself. I made a nice duck ragu with some pasta, used the carcass/wings for some stock, and figured I’d use the breasts to make the prosciutto. When I first tasted the ragu, I noticed an intense gaminess, which was off putting to me. Having already bought the duck, I figured – what the hell? The curing and subsequent air drying of the duck breasts led to that gaminess becoming even more pronounced. I tasted a slice and let’s just say it wasn’t very good because besides the taste, this was a puny slice of duck. Ruhlman, the author of the book Charcuterie, says it’s best to use moulard duck breasts, which are taken from ducks raised to produce huge livers (or foie gras).
So, although this version did not come out great, I definitely expect to give this another go. But the most important thing I have learned is that one must carefully source the food that they eat. The more you know about where your food comes from, the more you know about it’s quality. I definitely messed up on this one, but it’s not a mistake I intend on repeating. I’ve been searching around the internet for some great producers. So far, I’ll be working with Doug Bagwell from Walnut Hills Farms for March’s challenge (brining!) I met Doug at the Nashville Farmer’s Market Night Market – an amazing event to say the least. He raises all of his cattle humanely, they are grass fed, and all dry aged before being given to consumers like me. I’ve never really eaten to much grass fed beef, but it is quite lean and more environmentally friendly than grain/corn fed beef. Dough speaks passionately about what he does and enjoys every minute of it. Him and his wife, Sue, have been raising cattle, pigs, chickens, and goats for many, many years. I’d rather buy my products from him than a grocery store. Maybe it just took a little failed duck prosciutto experiment for me to realize it. I’m a changed man. Now, to find some good duck….