Another non-pork post! Don’t worry, I’ll be back on pork soon but in the meantime, more duck! This post is a follow up to my confit duck leg post from before Christmas and it’s doubly exciting because it’s my first bona fide attempt at charcuterie. Over the next few months, I’m determined to learn to make charcuterie proper and this is my first tentative step.
Finished duck ham. Meaty.
If you’re following on from the previous adventure with the duck then once you’ve confited your duck legs, you’re left with the jewels of the bird, the breast. Plump and rich tasting, with a delicious thick and creamy layer of fat on top, this cut lends itself to be being made into prosciutto. It’s also fabulously easy; one of the first recipes in Ruhlman’s Charcuterie bible. It’s so easy, in fact, that it was chosen as the first challenge in last year’s Year of Meat: CharcutePalooza. blog challenge so I’m a bit late to the party on this one.
First things first though, if you’ve made the confit duck recipe mentioned a few weeks ago, you’ll be left with a legless duck carcass that needs a mastectomy. My butchery skills are pretty good but when it comes to birds, they don’t come anywhere close to Liz’s and so I handed over the bird…and this blog to her for this part.
Once you’ve removed the legs and wings from the body of the duck, you’ll just have the body remaining. The breastbone runs between the two fillets, which lie over the bird’s rib cage. With the duck breast-side up, and the neck end facing away from you, take a small, sharp knife and cut from the outer edge of the breast in towards the breast bone. Your aim is to separate the top of the fillet from the wishbone.
Run the knife down along the breastbone, using the tip of the knife to cut the breasts away from the carcass. I find it’s helpful at this point to turn the carcass around so I can keep the knife in my right hand and use my left hand to pull the meat out of the way. Use the tip of the knife and a light hand to carefully free the meat from the rib cage. You should end up with the fillet just attached to the body at its outer edge – cut through to remove it, then repeat on the other fillet.
Liz carving off the duck breasts.
When you’ve finished dismembering your bird you’ll be left with two breasts, a duck carcass that you can use for stock and various odds and sods that I’ll tell you how to use up at the end of this post. The actual process of curing duck breast is incredibly simple and so you can have a lot of fun experimenting with different flavour combinations without actually changing the basic recipe very much at all. For these two breasts, I decided to cure one plain and one with a few extra flavourings.
Jon’s Duck Prosciutto
2 Duck Breasts
200g or so of salt. (enough to completely cover the duck breasts)
8 -10 Black Peppercorns, roughly crushed
A couple bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
You will also need some cooks muslin, string, and a cool place to hang the meat.
Take a non-reactive bowl large enough to comfortable accommodate your two duck breasts. Pour a layer of salt into the bottom of the dish and lay the duck breasts on top skin side up. Pour over enough salt to completely cover the meat, then cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
Pouring salt on the ducks
Leave the breasts in the fridge for twenty four hours to cure and draw out any excess water. By this time a brine will have devloped around the duck portions and the meat itself will be a slightly darker colour. Remove the meat from the brine and rinse thoroughly before carefully patting dry.
Cut a piece of muslin large enough to comfortably wrap each duck breast. Lay the duck breast on your cut pieces of muslin and season however you would like. I sprinkled thyme, crushed juniper berries, peppercorns and a couple of bayleaves on one and for the other I just gave it a few twists of fresh black pepper.
Wrapping the duck breast
Wrap your duck breasts completely in the muslin and tie off firmly with string (butcher’s string is ideal) Now take the breasts and hang them in a cool dark place for a minimum of one week. It’s worth weighing them and this stage and making a note of it.
You want to hang them in a place with a humidity of around 60% and a temperature around 12°c (but no higher than 15°c.) Mine went in a clean empty cupboard in the unheated spare room along with a cheap hygrometer to keep an eye on the conditions.
The duck breasts wrapped in muslin and hung in the cupboard to dry. Hygrometer in the background.
I left my duck breast to cure for 10 days by which time they had lost about a third of their starting weights and were firm to the touch.
Now it’s simply a case of unwrap, slice, and serve, maybe with some rye bread, cornichons and some fiery mustard. Its a delicious dish that looks impressive and tastes wonderful with its mix of gamey savouriness and creamy, salty fat.
Cured duck prosciutto. Plain on the left, flavoured on the right.
If you’ve made both the confit and the duck prosciutto then you’re going to be left with a duck carcass, some skin and some odds and sods of meat. All this will make beautifully rich gelatinous stock if you simmer it for an hour or two with some onions, carrot and celery. You can then use this as the base for a damn fine soup or use a few spoonfuls to enrich sauces.
Even better than that is if once you’ve made your stock, you pick over the carcass and tear off any scraps of skin and meat that remain. Fry these until good and crispy in some duck fat along with a few new potatoes. Stir through some salad leaves and serve with a poached egg and some hollandiase (or just a decent vinaigrette) and you have one of the greatest salads known to man, you can even bang in some lardons if you’re feeling really decadent.
Mmm duck salad.