Meat as Art

When was the last time you bought anything at a butcher shop? Like tailors and cobblers, true butchers are becoming harder and harder to find. Most supermarkets no longer have them on staff, some don’t even have meat cutters behind the counter. With more meats arriving pre-processed, -portioned and -packaged, true butchery is becoming a dying art in this country.

The same is true for those skilled in charcuterie, the art of preparing such meat dishes as pates, sausages and hams.  While you’ll find samples of this art in gourmet shops easily enough, one can pass a lifetime and not meet a charcutier in the flesh.

This morning, I got a email from my friend, Tom, a card-carrying, certified foodie. This is a man with a true passion for food, always eager to try something new and share the experience with his friends. Of late, he’s taken up this dying skill, and passed along this mouthwatering recipe.

Duck Prosciutto

1 whole duck breast, preferably moulard or magret, but Long Island will work
2C kosher salt or more as needed
A non-reactive container, just large enough to hold the duck breasts without touching

Rinse and dry your duck breasts. Line the container with approximately 1C of the salt. Place the duck pieces on the salt bed skin side up without touching. Completely cover the duck with the remaining salt or more as needed. Cover with plastic wrap, chill for 24 hours.

Remove the duck from the salt, rinse well and pat dry. The flesh should feel dense, not squishy and raw; the color will have deepened considerably. Dust both sides with white pepper.

Individually wrap each duck piece in cheese cloth. Hang the breasts in a cool, humid place, such as a wine cellar, for 7 days. At this point, the flesh should have become firm but not stiff. If it’s still a bit soft, let it hang for another day or two.

The salt cures the duck, extracts moisture and concentrates the flavor.  This is called “prosciutto” because of the meltingly delicious layer of fat that remains.

Sliced skin side up on the bias, as thin as possibly, you can use this as you would any prosciutto. On a cold meat platter, in a salad with mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette, wrapped around a bite of oh-so-ripe melon and passed as an hors d’oeurve at a party.www.ruhlman.com

Tom credits “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005) for this recipe.  I credit Tom for thinking of sharing recipes like this with his friends, and remind him he needs to pass out napkins or drool bibs when he does so.

Book cover courtesy http://www.ruhlman.com

Kent McDonald is a Certified Personal Chef, living and working in Phoenix, AZ (c) All Rights Reserved 2009

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