There are many different ways to preserve food. You can can! You can ferment! You can dehydrate! You can freeze! But did you know that you can also cure and salt? At your house! I’m yahoo serious about this, folks. Now, I’m sure I’m not going to be winning over all of those naysayers who are squeamish about canning (because of that pesky botulism thing), so cover your ears peeps, but you can cure your own meat at home! And you should!
I love salami and various cured meats, and I also want to support ethical meat, so with these thoughts in mind, I entered the Charcutepalooza challenge, headed up by Kim at Yummymummy and Mrs. Wheelbarrow. There are a crap ton of bloggers doing this, yo! And shit has definitely gotten even more real, as Charcutepalooza was just featured in the Washington Post! So you just might find meat hanging in the closets, basements, living rooms, and boudoirs of you and yours during 2011. Well, you might if you hang with the likes of yours truly.
To be in the challenge (and it’s not too late if you still wanna join! Well, it is if you’re reading this after February 1. My apologies) you just need to get Mark Ruhlman’s awesome book Charcuterie. Then you follow along with the challenge, tweeting and blogging as you go.
For January, the relatively easy (or so they said) challenge of duck prosciutto was chosen. I secretly thought it still didn’t sound easy. Duck?! Prosciutto? I almost ran for the hills when I saw this challenge. But it actually was kinda easy…in theory.
You buy duck breasts. Seems easy! Nope! I looked all over Seattle on January 2 and it seems that butcher shops sold duck and goose for xmas, and looked strangely at those who sought it out right after the holiday when everyone else was shopping for diet books and organizational containers. Some stores never carried them in the first place. At the farmer’s market, it was freezing and January the second and many farms weren’t even there. At a local, awesome butcher shop, they had turned all of their duck breasts into duck confit the day before. I ended up getting frozen organic duck breasts from California, from Whole Foods. Buzzkill! But mission one…accomplished!
To start, I thought I had made a mistake. I let the breasts thaw in their package on Sunday afternoon. Double S and I were leaving town and I wanted to get these done before we left. So when they thawed, I took them out of their package, and checked out Ruhlman’s book. I wish I would have read around the internets first, because I didn’t score the breasts like all the cool bloggers did, and I didn’t actually separate them and surround them both with salt. I even found a picture of my mistake. Looky lou!
I thought it was one duck breast! I’ve never had duck, ok? Lesson learned: Duck breasts are small! Who knew? So I had the breasts together when they sat in their salt, meaning they were on top of one another but were completely covered with kosher salt. I did realize the error of my ways and separated and put salt between them for the final 4 hours of their salt bath. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have the biggest train wreck since the last big train wreck once I attempted to taste these bad boys.
Then, on to wrapping them and hanging them up for their week long rest. I used white pepper, crushed bay leaf, and juniper berries that I crushed in my mortar and pestle. I chose juniper berries because they’re kinda magical. Have you tasted what these little berries do in fermented sauerkraut? Genius.
Anyway, on to the hang! Cheesecloth? Check! I wrapped those puppies like the experts at my favorite burrito shops have taught me. Butcher’s twine? Whaaaaa? Did everyone else have butcher’s twine just lying around their house? Honey? Have you seen the remote? Yes, dear! It’s right there under that pesky roll of butcher’s twine!
I had to use some of Double S’s yarn, and believe it or not, it held up all week, hanging my breasts from the rafters in the basement! Go yarn! You nerdy lady knitting lovers really know what you’re talking about! I started the breast up in my dining room, hanging from the pot rack.
But as the work day progressed that next afternoon, my sense of panic increased as I realized it is not typically 50-60 degrees in my dining room (Well, when Double S isn’t controlling the thermostat. Zing!) AND that I had spent most of the previous afternoon and fifteen good bucks on these bad boys. So, to the basement they went! By the way, after just this one day, as I was changing the hanging situation, I noticed that the smell of the breasts were already reminding me of my favorite cured meats. Maybe it was the smell of the white pepper, but I was feeling good about this endeavor.
My breasts hung from the hooks that previously held our seed starting grow lights last spring! There they hung from Tuesday-Tuesday.
On that 7th day of Tuesday, I checked them, excitedly thinking I’d take them to impress some new friends at dinner. But no go! The breasts were still squishy in the middle. D’oh! I re-wrapped them and put them back on their hooks for two more days. By Thursday, I figured they had to be done so I took them down and unwrapped them again. These things ain’t a blast to look at, but I figured what the heck.
Then the time came to figure out what I was going to do with my meat. Double S and I have been on an awesome and very adult kick of planning our meals. But that week, we had other things. Double S had some Double S stuff, and I had my own very important stuff, mainly making a mixtape based on the year 1993, but I already told you about that, and I also had a blogaversary! Yep, one year ago that week my chum Meg and I talked ourselves into this whole blogging thing. We rock! I didn’t have time to make pizza or pasta or other fancy things I was gonna make with my prosciutto. What to do? Solution: I put them in the fridge and lucked out because the deadline for duck posts was extended.
We were thinking of inviting friends over to try the homemade meat as well. But, there were questions. Would they be willing to eat meat that hung in my dank basement? Was I under some kind of legal obligation to disclose the origins of this meat? Could I purchase a strong enough alcohol so that any potential diseases would be cured and good times would be had by all? I had to give it a shot. So Double S and I poured ourselves a few cocktails and gave this a shot.
So we had pizza with thinly sliced duck prosciutto and mushrooms sautéed in garlic, lemon and parsley. Double S and I discussed that we had never had duck before, and that it has an intensely distinct flavor.
Next time, I would chop the prosciutto up a bit smaller instead of in slices as seen above. It was pretty intense for a duck newbie to bite down on such a huge slice of duck on the pizza. But, verdict: pretty delicious! I don’t think I’ve been converted to a frequent duck diner, but the first challenge in 2011’s Charcutepalooza goes down in the ohbriggsy archives as a success. Next month, bacon! I’m buying pork bellies on Tuesday. Stay tuned for the results!