Dec 08

Homemade Duck Prosciutto

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If I keep this crap up, my spouse might disown me ... but I can't help myself. He dubiously accepted my homemade coconut extract. He's been mildly suspicious of my icky looking bread starter. Home cured duck-breast was possibly the last thing he wanted to see whenever he looked in the refrigerator for the past two weeks. I don't think it's *quite* the final straw, but I bet I'm getting close.

duck prosciutto slices

A few months ago, inexplicably located in the pages of my trusty Cooking Light magazine, was a recipe for making your own duck prosciutto. Reading through the steps, it seemed straightforward enough. And the preparation being what it was, I felt comfortable that I wasn't about to poison us. Like prosciutto ham, there are two steps in the curing process - 1. salting and 2. drying. And if you're paying attention, you'll realize that never is there any indication of cooking. Just as with prosciutto, the duck will effectively be raw, though the salt and lack of moisture make for an extremely inhospitable environment for bacteria. And seriously, it's the bacteria you have to worry about - not the "raw".

I purchased a single duck breast, taking care not to remove the skin. After thorough washing and drying, it was packed in a couple cups of kosher salt in a glass 8” x 4” baking dish and allowed to cure for 24 hours. Once the 24 hours was complete, the duck was removed from the salt and carefully rinsed and dried (I honestly forgot to then sprinkle it with black pepper as the recipe indicated). It's interesting to note at this point that now that the salt has had a chance to do its job, the duck breast was much firmer than it had been when I purchased it.

The next stage was at least somewhat problematic. The duck breast had to be wrapped in cheesecloth and hung to dry and finish curing in the refrigerator for two weeks. The cheesecloth was easy enough – it's readily available at most grocery stores. Hanging the duck in such a way that nothing was resting against any of its surfaces, however, was a bit more difficult. After considering a variety of increasingly inane solutions, I eventually rigged up a couple of old wire hangers to suspend the duck. By bending the hangers in half, I could stand them up. I hung the duck from the little nubby thing that results from the closing twist just underneath the hook. I know it doesn't look like much, and it certainly wouldn't hold a lot of weight, but it worked like a champ for my small piece of salted duck. I stuck the whole apparatus into an 8” x 8” glass baking dish for added stability and to make it easier to move. (And yes, this contraption was taking up valuable refrigerator real estate over Thanksgiving.)

duck prosciutto rig

Yesterday was the great unveiling. I carefully unwrapped my long-waited-for prize, and like all good cured meat, it just didn't look like much. But it was sufficiently dried and there was no off odor about it, so I was feeling pretty confident. I grabbed my sharpest knife (they really need to make a trip to the sharpener) and carefully sliced the thinnest slices I could (which were probably a bit thicker than they should be). With Sean looking on in mild wonder, I popped the first slice into my mouth. The overwhelming first flavor was salt – I'm worried that I didn't rinse it quite so thoroughly as I thought I had after that 24-hour rest in the kosher salt bed. On further consumption, the wonderful duck-fat flavor and the aroma and flavor of the duck itself came shining through. I offered some to Sean, but he politely informed me that he wanted to be well enough to drive me to the hospital if I needed it, so he'd hold off for now. I'm thinking that if I make it another day or two he might be brave enough to try some for himself.

whole duck prosciutto with knife

Immediately, I'm feeling the urge to try it again (though I'm a little loath to give up my recently reacquired fridge space), only next time trying harder to rinse the duck breast clean after that initial salting. And I want to try and crush up some flavorings to sprinkle on it during it's two week dessication in the refrigerator (in addition to the black pepper, I'm thinking juniper berries and / or fennel might be really fantastic). And I want to branch out. I've already been digging around Amazon for charcuterie books. There's naturally “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (with forward by none other than Thomas Keller). Another one that interested me was “Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game” by A.D. Livingston.

I'd be curious to know if any of you out there have any other recommendations?

pile of duck prosciutto slices

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  1. Jonathan says

    wow very cool!

    December 3, 2008 11:33 AM
  2. Jessie says

    OK. I think you're my new hero. This looks amazing! I haven't done nearly as much of this type of thing as I would like. If you do get a book, I'd love to know if you like it, etc. (Hooray!)


    a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

    December 3, 2008 12:30 PM
  3. April says

    @Jonathan - thanks! It was fun to try (and I'm aching to try more). And I'd like to report that it's been more than a day since consumption, and so far, I'm feeling fine :-)

    @Jessie - aw shucks - I really kinda figured if a magazine with the distribution that Cooking Light has was willing to publish it, odds were good that it'd come out okay. Definitely if I get the book(s) and work through any of it, I will document it fully!

    December 3, 2008 2:08 PM
  4. katie says

    Aaacckkk what happened to my comment?

    December 4, 2008 8:57 AM
  5. Tara says

    Please, could you post the recipe? This looks absolutely heavenly, but I need details! Please.

    December 4, 2008 9:39 PM
  6. April says

    @Katie - argg - I'm sorry - I'm still trying to get an answer as to why my comments intermittently flake. I would love nothing better than to hear what you have to say on this topic though.

    @Tara - There's a link to the recipe in the second paragraph, but here it is again:

    It was fun to try, and I'm happy to report, that since I've lived this long, my husband was willing to try as well. He had similar comments to me - a bit on the salty side, but otherwise wonderful ducky goodness.

    December 5, 2008 8:52 AM
  7. saucymomma says

    I love this and am so encouraged by your efforts. Since you've clearly made it through the danger zone...what have you done with your yummy prosciutto?

    December 5, 2008 7:31 PM
  8. April says

    Honestly, I've mostly just been eating slices of it plain. I did use some last night in a pasta dish with some parmesan sauce - it added a nice salty, ducky flavor but may have been a bit overpowered by the cheese.

    There's a canape recipe from the Eric Ripert Market Table Dinner that called for duck prosciutto (which I didn't have at the time and used regular pork prosciutto instead):

    December 9, 2008 9:38 AM
  9. Peter says

    This IS a beautiful creation. I've taken note of your procedures.

    December 11, 2008 11:25 AM
  10. April says

    Thank you! I'm really wanting to try more. The Charcuterie book is on my xmas list :-)

    December 11, 2008 5:46 PM
  11. mike says

    Definitely pick up a copy of Charcuterie - it is a fantastic resource. We've made a bunch of recipes from it.

    Your duck prosciutto looks great! We tried making it once, and while the meat tasted great, the fat went a bit rancid on us (we hung it at too high a temperature, I think - maybe we'll try it again but use the fridge like you did).

    December 13, 2008 9:50 PM
  12. April says

    Thanks! I was sort of surprised by the recipe advising to hang it in the refrigerator. I thought it was supposed to be a bit too moist of an environment, and that you really should cure meat at a bit higher temp. That said, it seemed to work out well.

    And thanks for the advice on the Charcuterie book. Are there any other references that you're partial to?

    December 14, 2008 10:25 PM
  13. Chris says

    @April: The modern 'frost free' refrigerators actually pose a 'too dry' problem for the home curistas. There are some hare-brained ultrasonic humidifier + humidistat contraptions out there to simulate the caves of yore...

    March 4, 2009 11:12 AM
  14. April says

    I had learned about that more recently, and have been doing some research on DIY methods of controlling temperature and humidity so I could cure larger pieces of meat. Apparently if the environment is too dry, the outside of whatever one is curing becomes this impenetrable dry crust that doesn't allow moisture to make its way out from the inside of the meat. I'm guessing the duck breast was so thin that it wasn't an issue, but anything larger would require a different environment. Thanks for the information!

    March 12, 2009 8:15 AM
  15. Sergio says

    hey, i started with my duck prosciutto yesterday and i'm about to wrap it with cheesecloth, but first i want to know if the refrigerator is the best place to put the magret, and how would i know if it's ready or not??

    thanks, your experience was very helpful for me.

    May 10, 2009 2:49 AM
  16. April says

    The Cooking Light recipe I used specified hanging in the refrigerator. Ruhlman suggests just hanging it at room temp. I have four cats, so an enclosure of some sort was the only viable option for me.

    As for knowing when it's ready - it'll steadily firm up as liquid evaporates from the prosciutto. Ruhlman says the general rule of thumb is that dried meats are done when they lose about 30% of their weight.

    May 15, 2009 1:29 PM
  17. Steve says

    Thanks for that I will try it out.I have just started making my first presunto.

    March 8, 2011 10:03 AM

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