Gateway Duck

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.


17 responses to this post.

  1. Gateway Duck might actually be the best Charcutepalooza blog title ever.

    Love this. It was my gateway too.



  2. A very thoughtful post. I respect your concerns about eating mammals. I have been working with farmers raising pigs an cows on pasture for about 2 years now, and have few qualms about eating meat from animals raised as well as these. The advantage of this charcuterie challenge, in my view, is that it allows you to use a much smaller amount of meat, and stretch it much further. You maybe reluctant to make bacon, but consider how many meals you can enhance with a pound of bacon, as opposed to, say, a pound of pork chops that might feed three people. I think you can support pasture-raising practices which enrich the live of the animals farmed in this way, without simply surrendering to the impulse to eat meat each day.

    Good luck

    Brad Weiss


    • Thanks, Brad for the thoughtful comment – exactly along the same lines I’ve been thinking. And terrific to hear it from someone who works so closely with the animals.


  3. I, too, joined this Charcutepalooza challenge and I, too, feared hanging an expensive cut of meat up to cure. Heck, our blog posts about this introductory challenge could be twins, except that my duck isn’t done yet. Glad yours turned out – you give me hope!


  4. Thanks Kim, You made my day.


  5. Jenn – I just read your post. You are right! And your’s will turn out too, I am sure of it!


  6. You’re in Boise! And you tried the Duck Prosciutto! I live in Utah and have really wanted to try the Duck Prosciutto recipe, but have been wary because of the arid environment. And you used a cooler… I will have to try that. What other steps did you take to achieve your successful result in such a dry place?


  7. Hi Nicole – I mostly just went for it. I weighed the duck so I could check for the 30% water loss, but the cheap scale foiled my attempt at that. I think I’ll get a humidity gauge to go in the cooler, (I propped open the cooler about an inch for ventilation) when I do it again – and a working scale. I put a bowl of salt water in the cooler for the first 4 days, and then took it out, in case it was adding too much water to the process.
    I found the set up tips here really helpful, even thought I didn’t use them all:


  8. I too am so tempted to try making my own charcuterie, but am super scared! I’m a baker by trade, so my level of confidence plummets as my proximity to sugar in a recipe decreases. But this post gives me hope, I could step out onto that ledge. Maybe. If someone held my hand…


  9. Stella, I think the whole Charcutepalooza community will hold you hand. Check out the twitter hashtag #charcutepalooza !


  10. Great post – and thanks for the insight for using a cooler; though I have a place to hang where the temperature is right, I have trouble maintaining good humidity. This might be just the ticket for our February challenge! My prosciutto turned out well, but a larger pancetta or braseola I worry about . . .

    Good luck with your decisions on meat eating . . . looking forward to reading more!



  11. Ohmygahh! Duck AND prosciutto?! Those are two of my favorite meats — meaning I will have to try this asap!


  12. Lovely, thoughtful post, Lynn. I’m a former vegetarian and likewise obsessed with feeding myself and my family only meat from ethically raised/harvested animals. While we do make bacon, I’m probably going to make lox for the February challenge and mention it because you should be able to locate good wild Pacific salmon where you are.


    • Thanks, Chris. I think I am going to go for it with the bacon – I found a great farmer here who has pork belly on a regular basis. Lox sounds amazing too. We have one really good fish market here in Boise, but man, was I spoiled about wild salmon, when I lived in Seattle!


  13. […] one commentator on my Gateway Duck post pointed out, the brilliant thing about charcuterie is that it is way of preserving meat, […]


  14. Fascinating, I am going to have to get some duck and try this, while my garage is still at the appropriate temperature. I LOVE duck!!! Thanks!


  15. […] Making bacon turns out be incredibly simple and since it cures in the refrigerator throughout the process, it’s less anxiety provoking for a neophyte charcuterie maker (like myself), than was January’s duck prosciutto challenge. […]


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