Sometime in December I heard about a group called “Charcutepalooza” that was started by Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy. This group convenes together in the blogosphere for all of 2011, completing monthly challenges in the fine art of salting, smoking, and curing.
I love eating charcuterie, but it never occurred to me that these were products that I could make at home. To be honest, at first I didn’t even toy with the idea of joining. But then I started seeing photographs of the duck prosciutto that members had completed. That alone instantly convinced me to email Mrs. Wheelbarrow and join in. I’m super excited to learn about a centuries old craft, take advantage of the opportunity to use local poultry and meats, and having complete control over the ingredients I use in the charcuterie that I consume. Also, I anticipate that my end products will be much cheaper than what I can buy at any specialty store. The best part about this, is doing it with a group of people that are extremely passionate about it. Charcutepalooza really is a support group of people to share your experiences with, and the opportunity of getting to know food bloggers that you didn’t know about. At last count, over 160 food bloggers had signed up to participate. Over the next 12 months, I will be charcutepalooza-ing with this amazing group of people!
Our bible in this journey will be Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. If you are interested in charcuterie at all, I highly recommend this book. The recipes are clear and concise and it really is a joy to read. We won’t be posting the exact recipes to make charcuterie, but we will be posting recipes of what we make with our end product.
So, as I already mentioned, the first challenge was duck prosciutto. The duck prosciutto process starts something like this: you get two duck breasts. In my case I purchased an entire duck and butchered it apart myself. I ended up with two 6 ounce breast halves. You place the breasts on a flat dish and surround them with kosher salt for 24 hours. You remove them from the salt, rinse and dry them, wrap them in cheesecloth with aromatics/spices of your choice, and air dry them between 50°F and 60°F for about 7 days or until they reduce 30% in weight.
My (duck) breasts reduced by about 26% in 7 days. I hung them in my refrigerator because no area in my apartment had the ideal 50°F-60°F. At the advice of Mrs. Wheelbarrow, I also placed a container with salted water next to the duck breasts which provided extra humidity in the dry refrigerator environment. This last trick really helped the duck breasts dry without becoming chewy duck jerky.
And voila! The moment I waited for: beautiful duck prosciutto! You can definitely taste the duck flavor, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. It is a bit salty, like any prosciutto I’ve tasted. The texture is silky and unctuous in your mouth.
The trick is to slice it thinly. I placed it in the freezer for a few minutes before I sliced it. It is perfect to serve as is.
For seven days I thought about what I wanted to make with my duck prosciutto. First I thought about making duck prosciutto lollipops: a slice of duck prosciutto wrapped around a couple of sweetened dry cherries. The sweetness and tartness of the cherries really complements the richness and saltiness of the duck prosciutto.
Then I thought about one of my favorite comfort food dishes: mac and cheese with prosciutto. There was no reason why I should not try that with duck prosciutto! Instead of using all cheddar cheese, I used half cheddar and half smoked Gouda. The smoked gouda really pairs well with the duck in the mac & cheese. The richness of the mac and cheese and the slight saltiness of the prosciutto makes for a delicious combination.
Mac & Cheese with Duck Prosciutto
• 2 cups cooked elbow pasta (slightly undercooked as it will bake in the oven)
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1/4 cup red onion
• 2 cups milk
• 1 bay leaf
• 2 teaspoons mustard powder
• pinch of cayenne pepper
• 1 cup grated cheese ( I used half smoked gouda and half cheddar)
• salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
• 1/4 cup duck prosciutto diced
• 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
• 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
1 Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
2 In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter, add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the flour and cook until golden brown. Add the milk, bay leaf, mustard powder, and cayenne pepper. Cook until thick, about 5-7 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and add the cheese. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Turn the heat off.
3 Add in the cooked pasta and the duck prosciutto. Combine well. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Mix the bread crumbs and olive oil or butter and sprinkle over casserole. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.
Our next charcutepalooza adventure is to explore curing with salt even further by making bacon and/or pancetta. And so we move from breast to belly. I already have great plans for this upcoming challenge and I’m really excited to get started. I may even try to make some salt cod to bring you my grandmother’s recipe for Panamanian Bacalao.
I hope this post inspires you and gets you thinking about maybe making your own charcuterie. Or at least I hope you will want to enjoy a charcuterie platter on your next night out at a restaurant.