Thursday, September 20, 2012

Homemade Charcuterie - Duck Ham

I've been interested in charcuterie for a long time. I've tested the waters with my own cured bacon, cured pork cheeks and chicken liver parfait. I've even smoked fish. However the one thing that all these things have in common is that they require cooking. I wanted to make some true charcuterie that did not require cooking at all - pure preservation through the use of salt, drying and time itself. This was my first attempt and I was quite pleased with it. The recipe comes almost wholesale from the Michelin-starred chef, Raymond Blanc. The concept is relatively straight forward. Get yourself some duck breasts and put them in a snug, non-reactive vessel and cover in a mix of salt, pepper, juniper berries and fresh thyme (about 10 parts salt to 1 part everything else). Place in the fridge for 24 hours, turning it once half way through. Then wash all the salt and other ingredients off and wrap in cheese cloth and figure out a way to hang it in the refrigerator. Leave it there for between 12 and 14 days. Raymond Blanc's recipe called for 12 days, but I found the interior of the duck breast was still a bit too soft and the additional two days made a big difference. The original recipe also called for leaving a layer of fat on the duck, but I was rushing the process and overlooked this fact. I ended up stupidly and unknowingly hacking off most of the fat before realizing what I was doing. Nevertheless, the result was quite unexpectedly tasty. Cut very thinly it has the chewy mouth feel of prosciutto with a slightly gamy tang. Along with being pleasantly salty, the juniper berries really leave their mark on the flavour profile. All in all, I feel this was an excellent result for a first attempt. A few more trials and I will perfect it. To anyone wondering, the dish was photographed in the strangely blue light of an overcast sunset: still better than tungsten lighting!

By the way, serve with grainy mustard, mixed pickles and a hoppy beer.

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