Tuesday, 19 February 2013

First Fail - Duck Prosciutto

The second attempt at making anything closely resembling real-world charcuterie came in the form of duck prosciutto. I aimed for the duck for two reasons. Firstly, it seemed simple and needed little more than a square of muslin and a piece of string, with regards to equipment. Oh, and a bowl, which I also had knocking around in the kitchen. Secondly, I had some duck. A few months ago a leading supermarket that has ideas above its station, with a name that begins with W and ends with aitrose, was doing a special on Greshingham duck crowns. I bought a bunch of them, but didn't eat them as I tend to prefer Mallard. I knew there would be one in the freezer, so I dug it out and whipped off the breasts (ooh, err, Matron - yes, I am still about ten years old in my head).

The recipe was a direct lift from the aforementioned 'Charcuterie book', so I covered the breasts in salt and waited the prescribed 48 hours. I can't be sure whether the breasts were big (oh, stop it), whether the process was slower than described, or whether I just panicked a bit, but they didn't seem to have firmed up. The breasts felt a bit wobbly to me (right, stop sniggering) so I popped them back in the salt for another 24 hours.

Once cured, I rinsed them off, dried them and dusted with ground white pepper. In truth, I find white pepper a bit too floral for my palate. Give me the rougher assault of black pepper any day. On the subject of black pepper, the king has to be Kampot Pepper. Whenever I'm in Cambodia I always pick some up; I've yet to find anyone in the UK that sells it. Some pretend to, but that first taste gives away their lies!

Anyway, once dusted, I wrapped the breasts in Muslin and set about finding somewhere to hang them. The recommended temperature is between 8 and 15 degrees C, with high humidity. There are a lot of theories about this; some threaten pestilence and poisoning if the temperatures are out by even a tiny amount, whilst others say it doesn't really matter so long as you don't hang the duck in the heart of the sun. I figured that old Italian peasants (other peasants are available) had neither regulated temperatures nor humidity, so I first hung them in the outhouse. This can be cool at times, but with the boiler running it reached around 25 degrees C, so I moved them to the shed. Overnight, the temperature fell to 1 degree C, so in the end I moved them under the stairs. I don't know what the temperature was, as I broke the thermometer (details in the next post), but I thought, 'what the hell' and left them there.

Seven days later came the unveiling. They looked okay, which was promising. However, there were a few issues. Firstly, the skin was very tough, a bit like perished rubber in places. Secondly, there was a slightly salty undertone; not pleasantly salty, but almost over-salted. This is probably due to the additional day. Finally, and most importantly, the white pepper totally overpowered them. Admittedly, the recipe did call for 1.5g of pepper, and I probably used 15g. You see the white pepper crust in the photograph!

Still, a lesson learned, as they say. The process worked well, but the end result could have (should have) been better. My next attempt will use five spice rather than pepper.

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