Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dry Cured Duck

Another small step for
So, Christmas is over and Santa Claus brought yours truly a whole heap of new cookbooks to explore and drool over.
Christmas Eve's crown roast of
We've also experienced some serious feasting! A good bit of extra padding feasting, as it were. There was a roasted crown rack of lamb, covered in a compound butter of garlic, parsley and thyme. There was a fluffy rice pilaf, which I make almost every year in honor of my lovely Armenian grandmother, chock full of delicious pine nuts and sweet chopped, dried apricots. Then, my amazing in-laws set up a feast of my favorite spinach dip ever, plus introduced me to a family tradition of meat fondue. My own talented mother, awesome as ever, made a sweet potato pie for the books, and then there was also apple pie and cheesecake. Overall, it was all delicious, and I am thankful as ever for another wonderful winter holiday.
Dry curing ingredients
There were a couple new contributions I made to this year's feast that I'd say are going to become "look forward to" favorites for years to come. Now, when looking for new recipes to introduce at family feasts, I seek out dishes and appetizers that are easy, and a little different. How many people do you know that dry cure their own meat at home? I don't know any. And it's definitely something I wanted to try, and thought people might enjoy. Frankly, it's also something that can only get better with additional experimentation. Hell, it might become my new years resolution... dry curing lots and lots of meat.
For this particular adventure, after much searching for basic recipes where the general logic of curing meats might shine through and produce results, I settled on a recipe for "Duck Prosciutto" by Bon Appetite.
Curing mixture
Since my local butcher, the good folks at New England Meat Market, didn't have the two 1 lb duck breasts the recipe called for, I opted for four 1/2 pound duck breasts that were available in the freezer section near the meat counter. I cleaned each of the breasts, cutting off bits of meat that looked like it had a little sinew running through it. I also tried my best to trim a bit of the fat off of the one side of each breast, so that what looked like 1/4 inch of fat was reduced to about 1/8 of an inch.
Now to prepare the salt mixture. Just like the recipe called for, I smashed up 5 juniper berries, procured at the Pickle Pot down by Pickering Wharf in Salem, MA. (If there is any spice you need, but can't find, or are simply looking to wander around a store that smells a bit like exotic far away places, you should take a drive down to the Pickle Pot.) I also gave 3 bay leaves and a teaspoon of peppercorns the mortar and pestle treatment. With these ingredients smashed up, in a large bowl, I added 1 1/2 cups of kosher salt, and a cup of dark brown sugar.
Duck and curing mixture
That's really as hard as it gets. Mix and combine. At this point, it was just a matter of spreading out four sheets of plastic wrap, placing about 3/4 cup of the salt mixture on top of each, adding a duck breast on top of each salt pile, and then topping off each with an equal amount of the remaining salt mixture. Tightly wrap the breasts with the plastic wrap, place on a disposable cookie sheet just in case they drip, and place in the fridge for seven days. There's no turning. There's no re-wrapping. It's done. You just have to wait.
I'll admit that I was nervous, especially as the days progressed and the meat appeared to shrink up a bit. The curing mix actually began to get a little wet, mainly from the meat releasing its moisture. But I waited it out, and by the seventh day, which was Christmas Eve, these babies looked really promising.
Wrapped and ready for the fridge
Time to try. Unwrap a duck breast, and use either a toothbrush, or a mushroom brush, or paper towels, or any combination of the above to brush off the remaining curing mixture. You want to get as much salt off of the duck breast as possible, and despite any urges to, the recipe specifically states to not rinse the duck breast. After cleaning off the duck breast, take a sharp knife and thinly slice the meat.
Sliced duck prosciutto, dry cured
For a first try, and a foray into a world that takes a hell of a lot of practice and patience, I thought the duck breast ended up pretty darn flavorful. Unfortunately, it was a touch salty, which may have resulted from the fact that I had used smaller duck breasts. (Learning experience: seek out those bigger breasts... that's what he said.) The flavor of the juniper berries and the bay leaf gave the thin sliced meat a bit of a spiced punch. It was sweet and earthy. It was also still pretty darn tender, pulling apart between ones teeth with ease. I definitely recommend giving this easy recipe a try, and I'll be giving it second and third tries, reporting on the progress each time.


::sigh:: Now just waiting
until it's the season for
one of these again...
2 1-pound boneless Moulard duck breasts with skin (because I couldn't find duck breasts this large, I went with 4 1/2 lb duck breasts)
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
5 juniper berries, cracked
3 bay leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

No comments:

Post a Comment