leave your inhibitions at the door
My nephew recently graduated from college and I got him a new chef’s knife. He’s always enjoyed cooking and was excited to have a high quality knife. For those interested, it’s a MAC Professional which was the best knife I’ve ever used before I bought Gwyneth Paltrow’s. Almost immediately he sent me a picture of how thin he was able to slice the duck prosciutto he just made.
Whoa, whoa, whoa… homemade duck prosciutto?
I didn’t know that was possible to make at home. He sent me Rebecca Marsters’ recipe and it not only was possible, but was super easy. It took me a while to get around to it (and just as long to write this post about it), but I did it.
I always that thought that prosciutto was strictly the thinly sliced imported Italian ham you see at good delis. But, as the recipe points out, the word is derived from “prosciugare,” which means to dry thoroughly. So while that can technically mean any meat we mainly see the pork variety because… you know… PORK ROCKS.
I would’ve totally done the pork variety but this was my first attempt at this. Plus, I don’t have a fridge big enough to hang a whole pig leg. Yet. But duck breast is relatively cheap and manageable. And I don’t have to wait months and months for it to dry out – just a couple weeks.
Here’s how to do it
First, score the skin and fat so that the salt and spices can get into the meat. Make sure to get the exact weight of the duck breasts at this point. It’s important to track how much moisture was lost in order to determine if it’s sufficiently dried.
The recipe calls for juniper berries, fennel seed, peppercorns, bay leaves, and coriander seeds. I used the same blend of spices as the recipe, but feel free to use different ones.
Lightly toast them in a pan, grind them all together, and then mix with 4 cups of kosher salt and 2 cups of sugar.
Pour enough of the cure to cover the bottom of a container, add the breasts and then cover with the rest of it. Seal the container and place in the fridge.
Marsters mentioned that the usual cure time is 24 hours, but she waited four days because her breasts were big (the duck breasts, not her sweater meat although they could very well be oversized as well). Seeing that the whole point of prosciutto is to dry it out to kill any microbes, I figured I better go that long as well.
After four days, the breasts will have started to shrivel a little and will be dark colored –
Rinse off the excess salt, dry, and wrap them individually in cheesecloth –
And then hang in the fridge for two weeks –
When completed, weigh the breasts to make sure enough moisture was lost. She mentions the industry standard is 30%, and hers only lost 18%. Mine lost 23%, so I figured that was safe.
Now all that’s needed is to slice it as thinly as possible and enjoy!
I still can’t believe it was that simple. I have to admit that I was a little concerned about the whole food safety part of it – “sketchy” was how my son described it. After all, it is really still raw. But hey I’m still standing!
The meat itself was firm and the duck flavors came shining through. But the best part was the buttery layer of fat that decadently melts in your mouth. My family doesn’t really like duck, but they all thought this was delicious.
I can’t wait to make another batch. Next time I may experiment with other spices like red pepper or star anise.
Or heck, I may just do a whole pig’s leg.
Have you ever made your own prosciutto or cured meat?