Charcutepaloozais making me nervous – both on a practical and philosophical level. A year-long project conceived and organized by Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and the Yummy Mummy, Charcutepalooza is a blog challenge, all about learning to smoke, preserve and cure meat. All the bloggers signed up will cook their way through Michael Ruhlman‘s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.
I haven’t eaten red meat deliberately in more than 12 years. So why did I sign up?
Two words: Duck Prosciutto – the inaugural challenge and something I’ve wanted to make for years. Prosciutto is literally Italian for ham, traditionally made from dry cured, uncooked pork. It is typically sliced paper thin and served raw. It’s an incredible flavor, and one I’ve missed on our no-mammal diet.
So I signed up immediately, even before I got a copy of Ruhlman’s book and read the recipe. Which left me nervous. Nervous about leaving a piece of meat unattended for a week, at a temperature near 60°F. Nervous about wasting an expensive piece of duck breast. Nervous about eating it and actually anxious about feeding it to K.M., who has a much more sensitive stomach than I.
The process is simple and straightforward; Michael Ruhlman’s blog has a detailed description. You bury a duck breast in salt overnight, and then wrap it in cheesecloth and hang it to dry, in a moderately humid environment, with good ventilation, ensuring that the temperature stays between 50°F and 60°F for a week. You want it to end up firm, not but totally dried out, with a deep red color. Ruhlman’s blog (and Mrs. Wheelbarrow), both give the tip that the goal is for the breast to lose 30% of its weight.
I used a small cooler, with a thermometer inside, and the lid propped open. Our house is dry, so for the first few days I put a bowl of salt water in the cooler too. Oh, and I weighed the duck breast, and did the math.
On day seven, I unwrapped it – noting that it seemed much firmer. When I went to weigh it, my cheap discount store scale said it had gained weight. I tossed out the scale. The only way to find out if it was ready was to try it.
It’s rich; intensely duck flavored is how I would describe it. If you don’t like the taste of duck, it probably wouldn’t work for you, but I love it. I had a few slices on bread for lunch, and then fed some more to K.M. when he got home. (Notice I set myself up as the guinea pig, please.) This weekend I’m going to use it to make pizza – just as Mrs. Wheelbarrow suggests in her post earlier this month.
The success of my first Charcutepalooza mission points to my philosophical dilemma. What will I do if asked to make bacon next month? I honestly don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about meat at lot in the last few months. When I stopped eating red meat it was nearly impossible and always impractical to find meat from animals who had been raised respectfully, humanely and fed as nature intended which is not the case today.
I miss meat on occasion and as a cook, I sometimes chafe at my self-imposed boundaries , but my health and well being never suffered. After the pet food scare of 2007, I radically changed the diets of my dogs and cat; these days I make about 60% of their food from scratch. And their food includes red meat. I learned how to find acceptable meat sources for them and at the same time eliminated factory farmed poultry from my own diet.
So, here’s the new problem. In Boise, it is much easier to get local, sustainably raised, pork, beef and lamb than it is to get chickens and duck. So I’m toying with the idea of eating meat again –though certainly never in quantity – it’s not something I see turning up on our plates more than once a week.
But I think there is a chance that by the time Charcutepalooza challenge number two rolls around next month, that I will be an omnivore again.