So, Cathy at Mrs.Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and Kim at The Yummy Mummy have kicked off a Charcutepalooza – A Year of Charcuterie. The thing has really gotten wild with an expanding list of participating bloggers and ongoing twitter conversations (#charcutepalooza). We will be following Michael Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
Why curing meat? I’ve been interested in attempting to make bacon, because, well, bacon rules my meat world. But, hey, why not expand that to learning all kinds of other techniques as well? From Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen:
There is little doubt it’s time to think about the meat we eat. How we use the animals raised for consumption. How we treat them. How they are butchered. And how the whole beast is used to feed our families.
Stories of meat tainting and commercially farmed animals in hideous circumstances are far too common. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate the appropriate, thoughtful consumption of meat with a year-long exploration of the age-old craft of charcuterie?
But the greatest reason? The Ladyfriend is going to do it with me! Woot! No, she won’t be blogging. But she is doing all the projects with me! How fun is that? I will tell you friends. It is frickin’ awesome. Bacon-love unites us in the kitchen! This is really sweet to me because through the still-too-recent Dissertation Hell, I was flying solo in all-things-kitchen-and-garden. And while those things are fun for me, they are infinitely better with my best lady.
Quack! Quack! Quack!
January’s challenge was Duck Prosciutto. Now, I gotta say, I’m not a real fan of duck. There is an exception. A while back, my dear friend Chuck made the Ladyfriend and me an outstanding meal starring duck confit (and fava beans) that really blew my mind. It was truly memorable and he is an amazing chef. Other than that though – duck is a bit too… ducky? Rich? Heavy? I really don’t know.
But, I want to learn about charcuterie. And a little duck breast (hopefully) never hurt anyone. Right?
Fake ducks seem to be big at our house (*see more at post end.) I can’t really explain it. And I should come clean and admit that I can’t think about this challenge without half muttering-half singing a little song. A song that quacks on incessantly around here because of the Babylady.
This seemed easy! Pick up your duck breasts. Score the fat (which there is loads of) and bury in kosher salt for 24 hours. Rinse, dry and rub with spices. Wrap in cheesecloth, weigh and hang for about 7 days.
And it was easy, but, like most things, not without mystery. First, not familiar with duck breasts it seemed to us there was a shocking lack of actual meat in comparison to the fat. But, we went on.
After 24 hours they were rinsed and dried. The spices we used were garlic, pepper and coriander (thanks again Chuck for the recommendations!)
Next up was wrapping in cheesecloth. This perplexed me. How much cheesecloth? Leave airy holes like I’m fermenting something? Less so it is more covered? We decided more was better and wrapped it up good. At this point they were weighed to determine starting weight and hung in the basement. Ideal temperature is 50-60°F with decent humidity. We didn’t have a thermometer down there at that point, but felt confident that since our upstairs is kept at 62-64°F that our frigid (finished) basement was in range. And, in Seattle, I felt it would be impossible not to have enough humidity.
Now, this is where things got mysterious. It said 7 days, however at 8 days our breasts still felt maybe a bit too squishy? Uncertain. At 9 days we weighed them and they seemed to have only lost about 12% weight (instead of ~30%.) I fretted. I sweated. I did what one does in 2011, I consulted the twitter-world (a world, btw, that I’ve yet to figure out.) It seems many blogger’s breasts had lost less than 30% and were done, maybe over done. I was advised to pull at 10 days. So, I did.
This is where I got skeeved out. You see I’m a nurse. And while I have an awesomely low-gross-quotient at my current job, I’ve had some pretty intensive wound jobs in the past. And looking at this:
made me think of one thing and one thing only: packing wounds. Pulling the sticky gauzy cheesecloth off did nothing to alleviate this memory.
Bravely, we persevered. But it didn’t help.
However, we made it to the prize! It turned out gorgeous!
I wish I would have been able to slice it thinner, but it looks perfect! I took a little nibble. And it was… um, ducky. Good and not overly salty, but rich. At that moment, with all my job memories, I couldn’t quite stomach it. And couldn’t figure out what I would do with the heaviness of it. So, I offered it up on facebook to anyone local. I had a taker from a friend Sarah who wanted to exchange some raspberry rhubarb compote. Nice! A little bartering!
However, I found out I could freeze it so I’m going to keep some to freeze and be able to slice very thin when it is thawing. My mind is now open to the possibilities of a bit on top of pizza. Or crumbled in a pasta dish. Or sautéed and added to some vegetables. I’m coming around to the duck. (Don’t worry Sarah, I’m still holding on for some for you if you want it!)
Some Learning & Questions (& More Ducks!)
- I think we should have actually weighed the duck breasts before we salted them rather than before we hung them. Anyone know?
- How much humidity is ideal? I got a thermometer and we are fine at 53°F in the basement. However, the humidity was 76% in that area of the basement. Anyone know if that is too much? We have drier areas of basement available.