I am a huge fan of duck. As an aside, duck in my mind will always be connected to the duck farm my family and I thought about visiting near Lac Brome in the Eastern Townships area of Quebec. I saw "thought about visiting" because we couldn't quite get out of the car when we arrived. The reason? One of the most god-awful stenches I have ever had the displeasure of coming across, ranking up there with other odorous affronts on the level of sulphurous paper mills and stewed chou doufu, except worse. Anyhow, as I was saying, duck is delicious.
Despite my love for duck, I have never actually prepared duck in my own kitchen until now. Given how fruitful this first foray has been, I regret not adding duck to my repertoire earlier. I also must thank Tony Maws' video on how to cure duck breast for being the driving impetus.
While I initially just wanted to make the cured duck breast, my trip to Whole Foods revealed that my only option was to buy a whole duck. In hindsight, going to Chinatown to get a whole duck would've been a better idea, but I was impatient at the time. After filleting the duck to get the breasts for curing, I broke down the rest of the duck, reserving the legs for confit, the meat scraps for ragu, the carcass for stock and the organs for a quick snack.
Liver, heart and gizzard fried in butter with a sauce of cherries, brandy and cider.
The confit legs turned out quite well based on the taste I snuck, and they remain nicely preserved in fat in the fridge for now. Cassoulet in the near future? The stock and ragu were also delicious. So far, I've gotten quite a few fantastically tasty courses out of the one duck, but what about the cured breasts?
The breasts with the skin and fat left on were first buried in salt for 24 hours. After that simple cure, rinsed the salt off, patted them dry and rubbed them down with a Maws-like mixture of red wine vinegar, port, black pepper and sichuan pepper. Finally, they were wrapped with cheesecloth, secured with twine and hung in my fridge to dry.
While the drying process takes about a week or so, I mistimed my experiment and ended up being out of town at the one week mark. As a result, the breasts were hung to dry for two full weeks. When I did get back into town, I was really excited to see and taste the results. The long drying time definitely led to over-drying, with a thicker band of jerky-like meat around the perimeter. The taste was quite gamy at first, but the more I nibbled, the more I grew to really like it, even detecting perhaps hints of chocolate. After the first few bites, I threw the breasts in the freezer to make it easier to slice it thin. The resulting slices revealed beautiful crimson meat with just a slight chewiness and nearly translucent fat that had the texture of lardo. The over-drying is evident in the dark brown band, but when sliced so thinly, I didn't notice it affecting the taste of texture of the slices. Thinking of the classic pairing of prosciutto with musk melon, I absconded with some cantaloupe from an afternoon reception (Congratulations Dr. Mora-Blanco!). Though the pairing was perhaps not so transcendent, it was still a delicious snack. To conclude with some lessons learned: 1) duck is completely approachable in the kitchen; 2) I'm now fascinated with curing meats. Perhaps its time to check out Ruhlman's burgeoning cult classic Charcuterie.
Cured duck breast with cantaloupe