Duck, Duck, Goose! Part 1

Just duck, actually. No geese involved here. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve received Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman rather recently and have marked a few things that have caught my eye. For those of you who don’t know me, duck is probably my favorite protein in the meat category. When I was growing up, duck would always be served at special occasions and events, I think that’s why I have such fond memories of eating it. Peking duck, roast duck, salt water duck – yum! So of course when I saw a recipe in the book for duck prosciutto, I was super excited.

For one thing, I don’t think I’ve actually had prosciutto before. I had stopped eating pork before I could actually afford to procure more pricey cured meats such as prosciutto. The fact that this was a cured meat from duck and that I could make it at home – I couldn’t resist making a project out of it. I purchased a whole duck from my local Costco for $2.99/lb. I took it home and butchered it into breasts and quarters, saved the excess skin to render out the fat, and saved the bones for stock.

Michael Rhulman actually has an article on how this is done on his own website. Therefore I don’t feel it’s really necessary for me to repeat what he’s already stated – and it really is that easy. The most difficult part is waiting for the dehydration process to complete. Luckily for me, summer time in the San Francisco Bay Area allows my indoor temperature to be in the range of 60-70ºF, even during the middle of August so I could just hang the breasts in the kitchen.

One thing that bothers me a bit about the website is that he instructs you to weigh the meat before you hang it. Perhaps I am reading too much into this – but it seems some other around the internet have taken this to mean weighing after salting. To me it would make sense to weigh before the salting process because there you would be able to track total weight loss, not just weight loss after salting. To keep track of the dehydration progress, I weighed my duck breasts at approximately the same time every day.

My two duck breasts started out weighing 240g and 256g. I trussed one and left one alone to see if that would make any difference in its dehydration rate. After the 24 hour salting process, they had lost 10% and 12%, respectively, of their original weight. After wrapping with cheesecloth and tying up with butcher’s twine, I weighed again to take account of the weight of the wrappings. Over the first 2-3 days, they lost about 7g daily, then by day 7 and onwards only lost about 3-4g per day. It wasn’t until Day 11 that the 30% dehydration level was obtained when compared to the original, pre-salted weight. The weight of the non-trussed and trussed versions seemed to decrease at the same rate without any significant differences other than the 2% original loss from the original salting. If I had the patience to wait until the 40% dehydration mark for one of the breasts, it would’ve taken another 8-9 days assuming that it would continue to lose around 2-3g per day – which would’ve been closer to a total drying time of 3 weeks instead of the 1 week originally estimated. Based on this data, I’m leaning towards the belief that the meat should be weighed prior to salting and not after.

The breasts were definitely firmer and were leathery on the outside. It wasn’t completely dried out as there was still some moisture further inside that had a nice firm but chewy texture, and the flavor was unmistakably duck. It was distinctly salty and I don’t think more than 24 hours in the salt would be needed.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, this is raw meat that we’re leaving out for days on end. So how am I still alive and kicking and not in the hospital? The salting process in the beginning basically makes water completely unavailable to any microbes or pathogens that are living on the surface of the meat. Since the inside of the meat has not been exposed to the air, it’s pretty much sterile. By salting the surface and removing all surface moisture, it makes a uninhabitable environment for pathogens to grow. That being said – be careful not to unwrap and re-wrap the breasts once you start curing. If you’re not careful, the water from your fingers could start mold growth on the surface of the meat. It’s best not to unwrap it at all until it’s ready. That doesn’t mean you can’t touch it through the cheesecloth, I found that to be fine.

So how can you eat this? I suppose you could use it as you would regular prosciutto. Wrap it around fruits and stuff. I don’t know – all I’ve done so far is saute it with green beans, which was pretty tasty.

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