If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making your own charcuterie, it’s good to start small. If you got too big right out of the gate, there’s a risk you’ll get frustrated and give up. As with so many things, it’s easy to get too excited! I got into making charcuterie a few years ago when I discovered Hank Shaw’s website honest-food.net. I tried his recipe for duck prosciutto years ago and I was hooked. Since then, I’ve changed a few things and made a recipe all my own. This is my go to recipe for an extra special addition to a charcuterie and cheese board.
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When you’re looking to get into curing your own meats there’s a world of reading and research that you can do. Aside from Hank Shaw’s multiple excellent books, these are some other great places to start: Curing and Smoking: River Cottage Handbook Number 13, and Charcuterie: The Craft Of Salting, Smoking And Curing. I received the latter as a gift this christmas, and it is an exceptional read. There are also scores of websites devoted to different charcuterie recipes.
Curing Salts: Nitrites & Nitrates
When you’re making prosciutto, it’s normal now to hear the words nitrite and nitrate and get a little freaked out. Potassium nitrite and nitrate are two forms of salt derived from Saltpeter. Discovered around the middle ages, they have been used to cure and store meats ever since. Normal koscher salt can be used as well (and for a very long time in human history it was). But in the early 20th century it was discovered that the use of curing salts (Nitrite and nitrates) prevented food borne illnesses such as botulism. Which is why most recipes call for the use of curing salts now. Curing salts are specifically designed to include the correct safe amounts of both nitrites and nitrates. As with anything, foods that are preserved with these salts should be eaten in moderation. Which to me, means that these foods should be treated with respect, and only eaten for special occasions.
Now all that said, this prosciutto recipe doesn’t use curing salts. This recipe simply uses koscher salt, sugar, and spices. To prevent illness, it is recommended that EVERYTHING you use and touch during this process is sterilized (very hot soapy water, vinegar rinsed). Furthermore, the hanging process is entirely done in the fridge, for only a couple short weeks. If you’d like to use an airing cupboard, or to age for any longer, I suggest starting off with Hank Shaw’s recipe. He gives exact measurements of curing salts per gram of meat to ensure the safest use, and his can be hung for a much longer amount of time.
I probably make this prosciutto twice a year on average. It freezes really well whole, or sliced and vacuum sealed. And it’s been a beautiful addition to salads, pastas or to add a bit of depth to stews. Or on charcuterie boards of course!
- 2 duck breasts
- 1 cup koscher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp each dried thyme, chili flakes, fennel seeds, cinnamon
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 6-8 fresh sage leaves
Dry each duck breast with paper towel. Using a very sharp knife, gently score the fat on a diagonal in both directions, making a diamond pattern. Don’t cut all the way through, just ⅔-¾ of the way.
Combine the salt, sugar, dried herbs and spices in a dish large enough to hold both duck breasts plus the mixture. Remove half of the salt mixture to a bowl, set aside.
Massage the remaining salt mixture into the fat side of the duck. Being sure to get it into all the cuts you made earlier. Then lay the breasts meat side down on top of the salt in the dish. Cover the breasts with the reserved salt mixture and place in the fridge for 24hrs, uncovered.
Remove the duck from the fridge and brush off the excess salt and pat dry. Cut two pieces of cheese cloth (2-3 layers thick) that are large enough to cover one duck breast each, fully.
Remove the fresh herbs from their stems, and tear the sage leaves a little bit. Arrange them evenly between the two pieces of cheesecloth, down the center of each sheet.
Lay each duck breast, fat side down on the herbs. Wrap the cheese cloth around the breasts and tie with kitchen twine.
Hang the breasts in your fridge for 2 weeks or up to 3 weeks in your fridge. They are done when there is very little resistance when squeezed.
Once done, unwrap your prosciutto, remove herbs, and store in the fridge. Slice as thin as you can to serve on charcuterie boards. Or cut in to chunks to add to pastas or stews. Use within a month, or freeze for up to 3 months, tightly sealed.