I would like to tell you that my participation and interest in Charcutepalooza stems from a rich fascination and appreciation with cured meats. Sadly, though, it stems more out of cabin fever and a type-a need to keep stimulated during the grayer months. It comes from not only environmental duldrums but from a general itch to pick up a new skill. When the buzz started hitting the online communities, and Kate passed on the link, I signed up immediately without thinking. I don’t have a smoker, a grill, a Kitchen Aid(for meat grinding and sausage stuffing) or really anywhere to hang cured meats. Hell, I didn’t even own the book, that was to be our bible, until the first week of February and, by then, I was playing a quick game of catch up and relying–when I could–on others posts about their duck breasts and bacon ideas.
But, I had access to very good local meat, good knives, pink salt, an amazon account and a very supportive Missus. So, a little while after the ones first to the party had already published their stories of duck breasts and salt, I signed up and gave myself a year of getting to know meat, and all of it’s beautiful preservation possibilities, a bit better.
Luckily, the women behind this endeavor–Cathy, from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen, and Kim from The Yummy Mummy Gourmet–started us all very simply with a call for Duck Proscuitto. Brilliant as I love the Duck Proscuitto that I’ve gotten locally from The Cheese Iron. And you say I can make my own at home? Even more brilliant.
Now, the challenges here aren’t so much about the recipes used to cure/preserve the meat but what we’ve taken away from each step–our failures and successes–and what we’ve created with the meat that we’ve made. This first challenge, like when I planted my first garden seeds and something green sprouted from the dirt, showed me that I could do it–unlike the emotional disaster that was an attempt at corned tongue. This would be my redemption.
A Bell and Evans duck breast was purchased, several cups of salt were used and a dubious hanging room was created. This is the room before we moved in this past summer:
Good friends of ours, CIA graduates and chefs, had this as the bedroom for their first born son. She, a co-worker of mine, found it all too appropriate when I turned it into this:
This was, until very recently, the Missus’ office and actually looks like this:
Some improvisation had to be made to adjust temperature and humidity to make the climate in the room more hospitable to the breast. But, just as the room transformed from a bedroom to an office and then my curing room, the duck evolved from this:
with the help of some coriander seeds, dried orange and lemon peel, mustard seed and oregano.
and then finally, to this:
All with a few cups of salt, cheese cloth, butchers twine and a weeks worth of patience.
Upon first smell, when I finally got to cut it down, I exclaimed,”It smells just like proscuitto!” Honestly, I was shocked that I had gotten it right and that it didn’t smell putrid. I had, just days before, joked to the Missus that, “No one has gotten food poisoning yet, maybe we’ll be the first.” But, we wouldn’t get sick that evening, when I eagerly sliced thin strips off of the tiny breast. Thankfully, though the taste of the meat was much too gamey for either of our palettes, we would make it through the evening without a single stomach gurgle.
But, what to make with this prosciutto that I now had on hand?
“You could make risotto,” this Missus suggested, “You haven’t made that in a while and you were getting good at it.”
So, there it was. I gathered up my Mario Batali book, “Molto Italiano” and my ingredients
and went to work.
For a good 15 minutes, I stirred and stirred and stirred away
Glancing back over my shoulder constantly to check exactly how long I needed to keep stirring according to this particular recipe:
And then, just before my arm got tired or I was distracted by something shiny, it was done
The duck, which we had shrugged off when it was first done curing, turned creamy and tamed by the Parmigiano Reggiano and Taleggio cheeses and the slight sweetness of the peas.
So, I apparently can do it. While the coming weeks will bring harder challenges and financial strains(a smoker and a meat grinder/sausage stuffer MUST be procured), the hardest challenge is out of the way–not being afraid.