Duck Prosciutto v.1.0 February 24, 2013 19:50 1 Comment

Duck prosciutto is gaining some notoriety as an easy first foray into curing whole-cut meat. Is it really prosciutto? If you mean "is it pork leg lovingly dry-cured over many months or years" then no. But by all accounts it has much of the same rich flavour in a package that is much more accessible in scope than its traditional namesake. So without further ado, I present my first effort: Duck Prosciutto version 1.0.

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Just the right fit!

Step one: take a skin-on half duck breast and pack it in salt.  I've used sea salt here.  It helped to find a tupperware that was just larger than the breast.

 2013-01-26 17.38.34curing in its salty tomb

Give it a good coating with salt all over, then put the lid on and pop it in the refrigerator for a week.  It's probably not a bad idea to flip it once.

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the underside of the breast

Step two: remove from the salt and rinse it thoroughly.  I ended up leaving this for about ten days because I forgot about it.  More on that later.  The colour has darkened a bit and the texture is firm.  

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look at all that moisture we removed!

After ten days, significant moisture has been extracted into the salt.  If I were a better scientist I would have weighed the salt and/ or breast before and after this process, but I didn't think of it until after the fact.

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check your spice cabinet before you remove it from the salt!

Step three: rub the salt-cured breast with seasoning.  The recipe I had called for white pepper, but I used what was on hand: a mix of poultry seasoning and pickling spice.

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lovingly wrapped in muslin

Step four: wrap the duck breast in muslin and tie it to hang.  This is the trickiest part of the process, because you want to hang it somewhere cool but not cold, and (counter-intuitively) with fairly high humidity.  The goal is to hang the duck breast to dry-cure for about a week at about 15 Celcius and ~70% humidity.   How to achieve this?  See below!

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my humidity-regulated curing chamber

 Step 5: Behold Rick's Presto Dry-Curing Jar.  It is a gallon jar with a hole poked in the top to allow the wrapped cut of meat to hang inside without touching the edges.  That's salt in the bottom - regular old sodium chloride - wetted with a bit of water to create a super-saturated solution.  This will automatically equilibrate with the air in the jar to keep the humidity steady around 75% - perhaps a bit higher than ideal, but probably close enough.  Apparently scientists do this all the time to calibrate sensitive instruments.  See an explanation here. So, did it work???  At the time of writing, I've sampled a small piece of this duck prosciutto and found it tangy, chewy, and extremely salty.  It was also a bit less firm than I'd like which made it hard to cut very thinly- so I put it back in the jar to keep aging.  Hence I don't have results for this project yet, but since I know you're on the edge of your seat, here's a parting thought:

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similarly cured pancetta

 This is a roll of home-cured pancetta (courtesy of the Beginner Bacon and Sausage Class 101 at Save On Meats) which spent about six weeks hanging inside a similar jar set up in my refrigerator.  Yeah, that's mould growing on it, but the nutty-yet-tangy aroma was a bit reminiscent of a ripe Camembert, not decay.  I'm no mycologist, but my favourite Charcuterie book says white mould is generally OK.  So I brought it over to my girlfriend's place and we ate that sucker in a nice carbonara.  Boy was it ever good. So perhaps the jury's still out on the duck breast, but Rick's PDCJ is 1-for-1!

**Updated June 2015**

I finished eating the duck and have a few notes to add:

  1. 75% is really a bit too humid for proper curing, and the refrigerator is a bit too cool. See my June 2015 entry about curing pancetta in a wine fridge for solutions to these problems!
  2. The duck stayed pretty soft in the jar for another week or so, and I ended up removing it and hanging it from the ceiling. Having a good head start, it firmed up nicely within a few days. It was still tough to slice neatly, so I'll do three things next time: remove more of the fascia/silver skin (seen in the 3rd picture above), use a sharper knife (I started sharpening mine properly), and cool the breast in a fridge or freezer before slicing.