To kick my butt into gear for blogging this year, I signed up for the Charcutepalooza challenge created by Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy. I mean, let’s face it, I love meat. I also love sugar, fresh berries, heavy cream, caramel, rainy days and Mel Brooks movies–but that’s beside the point. As I start moving into a different way of eating–sharply reducing my consumption of processed foods (not that I was eating that many at this point), grains and refined sugars, I needed to re-evaluate what I was cooking and writing up here, too. Sure, I’ll still make the occasional baked goodie because I’ll never stop loving the smell of something baking in the oven, but in the few changes I’ve made in the past few months, my health has turned around for the better–nearly 30 pounds lost, cholesterol and blood sugar down–the numbers don’t lie.
ANYWAY, back to what I’m doing for 2011: Making Meat. Or, more specifically, making meat products. Charcuterie, the art of curing, smoking and otherwise preserving meat, was a class I barely paid attention to while in culinary school. I’m serious–I was all about the pastries, and why in the world should I know how to make duck confit? If I had a time machine, I’d go and kick myself in the pants for feeling that way. I’m making up for lost time here, and along with over 100 other food bloggers, I’ll be reading, learning and cooking (three of my favorite things) out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie.
First up is January’s challenge: Duck Prosciutto. It’s really not a difficult task; it’s a simple salt cure and 8 days of hanging to dry. The challenge here is being in Southern California where the temperatures as of late have been in the 80′s, and the duck requires temperatures in the 50-60° range. I fixed this by finding a mini-fridge off of Craigslist (which will serve as the Poker Night Beer Fridge when it’s not curing meat), that I will fidget with until I can get it to do what I want.
The next challenge I put upon my own head: butchering a whole duck. I’ll say it now: I haven’t handled a duck since school, where I have this vague memory of making a Duck Galantine with Pistachios, thinking, who the hell eats this nowadays? I have no problem taking apart a whole chicken, but I was feeling a little intimidated:
I only need the breasts for Prosciutto, but that leaves the rest of the duck. I decided that the legs would go into a Confit, all the skin and fat trimmings would be rendered for their fat, and the rest of the carcass would be used for stock. In the end, nothing was tossed out but a few bone fragments from my hack job of butchering. Otherwise, I was able to use the whole duck which made me feel a little proud of myself for not being wasteful.
I started with kitchen shears, and first cut off the wings and removed backbone, popping out the leg joints as I approached them–this made the removal of the legs very easy. My biggest worry came when it was time to detach the breasts from the rib cage–I never do a very good job of it with chicken, but it ended up being easier than I thought.
The breasts came off with a flick of the boning knife and a little pull.
The line up: the ceramic dish that will hold the breasts smothered in salt, which I didn’t bother to take a picture–it’s a dish that looks full of salt; my not-too-horrible-for-10-years-out cuts of duck; the pot of fat and skin to be rendered. Not pictured: everything else, which was in the stockpot, simmering away.
After packing the breasts in the salt, I started on the legs:
They’re seasoned with salt, pepper, clove, garlic, orange zest and a lone juniper berry. Those will sit in the fridge for a few days as is, until it’s time to cover them in duck fat and poach them for hours. I’m really not sure what I’m more excited about, the prosciutto or the confit! I’m hoping to change Choo’s mind about duck–he’s not much of a dark meat guy, but I think he’ll enjoy what comes out of this.
Come back in about 10 days when I’m able to talk about the finished products!