Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Duck Prosciutto Pizza

As I mentioned yesterday, with all this duck prosciutto what's an amateur chef to do?  Given it was a week night and when I bought ingredients I didn't know if the prosciutto would be good or not I decided pizza would be a good idea.  If the duck prosciutto had been awful, I could pivot to something else edible fast.  Thankfully it did turn out so I went with my original idea of duck prosciutto pizza with mozzarella, arugula, red onions, and balsamic reduction.

First I made the balsamic reduction which simply requires taking some balsamic vinegar, bringing it to moderate heat so it does reduce and then stirring in some sugar.  It take a bit of time, and I guess on proportions until I think it tastes right.  One word of warning, making balsamic reduction makes your house smell like balsamic vinegar, but it's worth it later on.  Once it had lost about 1/3 to 1/2 it's liquid and I'd added about 4 to 6 teaspoons of sugar I pulled it off the heat.  While I was letting that reduce, I sliced 1/4 of a red onion into thin strips.  Next, I preheated the oven to 425 degrees.  Why 425?  Because that's what the Pilsbury pizza crust told me to do.  Yeah, I took a big shortcut here, but again, it was a Monday night after work.  Besides the Pilsbury classic pizza crust is a great blank canvas to work on and far better then the pre-baked discs you'll find.

I laid out the pizza crust and once the oven was preheated I put a little olive oil on the crust and stuck it in the oven for five minutes.  After five minutes I added the onions, the mozzarella, and the duck then back in the oven for five minutes.  Finally, I pulled it back out and put the arugula on it an drizzles some of the reduction over it then it was back in the oven for a final five minutes.  This staged process was meant to do two things.  First, I was concerned the rich fat of the duck with render in the oven if left in for 15 minutes.  Second, I was concerned the arugula would wilt too much.  When it was all said and done, the first concern was handled, but the arugula was a bit too wilted.  Here's the finished product after I drizzled a bit more reduction over it.

As you can see, the arugula is quite wilted, but otherwise the taste was solid.  Erica made a salad with mixed greens, arugula, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and cranberries to go with it.  We used the reduction as a dressing for the salad as well.  All and all a great meal.  The pizza took about 40 minutes to make and 25 minutes of that was reducing the balsamic.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Duck Charcuterie At Home or Trying to Not Kill Myself or My Friends

I have to admit something.  I'm a whore for good charcuterie.  That's probably already been established by my glamour shot of a meat and cheese tray and further confirmed by Erica and some friends who saw me moan my way through the charcurterie board at Brassiere Beck.  You can see the fetching little devil hiding so coyly, dare I say coquettish, behind some delicious oysters in this photo.  I disturbed the table next to me with my intonations of delight and I am not ashamed.  It was that good.
Look who's hiding back there
And then was this bad boy I had over the weekend in Minneapolis.  This is like the charcuterie horn of of plenty right here, complete with copa, prosciutto, salami, rillete, terrine, and head cheese.  How much of a whore am I for charcuterie?  I had to negotiate with the restaurant to serve it a few hours before the menu it's one took effect.  Behold!
Tasted every bit as good as it looked.
Yet as much as I love to eat charcuterie, I have dreamed of making it too.  I've bought what many people say is the definitive book on the subject called Charcuterie as well as "borrowed" my dad's copy of Rytek Kutas's Great Sausage Recipes & Meat Curing.  By now, most of my friends know of my dream of a charcuterie chamber and roommates, and even Erica, have been concerned it might someday become a reality.  Alas, as that dream remains unrealized, I knew I needed an outlet and so I took to the internet, googling for in-home recipes for charcuterie and I found several center around duck prosciutto.

I could do this, I thought.  I mean is it slightly dangerous to plan to let raw meat that's been smothered in salt for 24 hours just hanging up in your apartment for a week or more without fully regulating temperature and humidity?  Probably, but life and cooking is adventure.  This idea of duck prosciutto hung out in my mind for a long time, but I never could find duck.  The Whole Foods on P Street let me down so many times and it wasn't until they opened a new location in Foggy Bottom could I find duck breast.  I bought it instantly.  From there is was just a matter of buying some (a lot) of kosher salt, cheesecloth, and meat string.

So I opened up the packaged duck breast and to my surprise I found two complete duck breast, or rather four individual breasts.  I set aside a pair for latter and then laid out one whole duck breast on the cutting board like so:

The bits you see just a little above are parts of the tenderloin.  From here I split the breast with my pairing knife so I had two pieces.  From there I took a 9x9 glass Pyrex baking dish and covered the bottom with a solid foundation of salt resulting in a 1/4" to 1/2" layer of salt in the dish.  I laid the breast, skin side up, into the dish and then just poured salt over the duck breast.  In the end I used at least 2lbs of a 3lb kosher salt box.  When pouring the salt in I made sure that I was getting around the edges of the duck, even taking a moment to make sure it was nestled into the salt.  Once completely covered I wrapped the top of the baking dish with cling wrap.  Here's how they looked, covered in salt and wrapped up:

I made sure, once it was wrapped, that you couldn't see the duck anywhere.  I even lifted up the dish to make sure no duck showed through the bottom.  Satisfied the duck was sufficiently covered in salt I threw the dish in the refrigerator for just over 24 hours.  Even in that short time period you realize how much moisture the salt pulls out of the duck.  I took the duck out of the salt, rinsed it off, and dried it thoroughly.  Here's what they looked like after 24 hours in the fridge, one skin side up, one skin side down.

You can notice even just between the picutre above and the picture below how the salt has had an effect.  From here I wrapped each breast in about two full covers of cheesecloth and then tied them up with some butcher's string.  You'll notice in a lot of recipes this is where you can add different seasonings to change the flavor.  This being a first attempt, I decided to keep it simple.  Here's a single breast wrapped and trussed:

Now to perhaps the most important part.  All the recipes I read said the duck should lose about 30% of it's weight through lost moisture during the curing process.  But how do you know what 30% is unless you weigh it ahead of time.  So I weighed them both, noting ounces and grams.  I think took two dry cleaning hangers, cut part off and formed some make shift meat hangers then leveraged the hangers between the recipe books on my fridge.  I hung them up along with a piece of paper with their initial weights on them.  Of note, the breasts don't touch anything while there hanging.  Here's what Erica came home to after her internship one Sunday afternoon:
Welcome Home Erica!
And so I waited for over a week, weighing them periodically.  In fact, I ended up being out of town when they were finally ready so Erica took them down, unwrapped them from the cheesecloth, and then wrapped them up in plastic wrap.  Of note, they were much smaller then when I wrapped them.  That sounds pretty obvious when it's supposed to lose 30% of it's weight, but striking to see in reality.  Last night was the big tasting, so I busted out my mandolin, set it to 1/16" thickness and trimmed one of the duck breasts into little pieces.  Here's what it looked like after slicing.
Sliced Duck Prosciutto
Erica, my buddy Ben, and I all tasted it just like this and it was really good.  Ducky, not too salty, great fat content.  Just good prosciutto.  I'm marking this a success for a few reasons.  First, it happened just like the book said it would.  Second, it's been over 12 hours and to my knowledge no one who consumed the duck as gone to the hospital.  Third, it was really freaking good.  Tomorrow I'll put up the recipe for what I did with all this beautiful sliced duck prosciutto for dinner last night.  Hint: Duck Pizza.  Oh, and in case you were curious, yes I did order two duck breasts online last night (because Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom failed).  They should arrive on Thursday and be curing by Sunday.  I am still negotiating for the charcuterie chamber.