DUCK PROSCIUTTO AND THE GRAND PLAN: REASSEMBLING ONE DUCK INTO ONE MEAL. OR, FRANKENDUCK: THE RESSURECTION. OR. SON OF FRANKENDUCK: THE LIQUID BONES.
So my last post was part of the 1st challenge for Charcutepalooza, at least the duck prosciutto part of it (as is this one). After feeling pretty good about dissecting the critter, I said something along the lines of “Meat plus salt equals good.” Which I probably should have worded more thoroughly, something like “Meat plus salt equals good (When you know what the hell you’re doing, have a good starting product and then lovingly tend to it like it deserves to be, you dumb sonofabitch. Because otherwise, meat plus salt equals good… not great.).”
So the finished duck prosciutto is just that: good… not great. It’s not going to get me any invitations to Paul Bertolli’s house. It doesn’t melt on my tongue like quacking butter. It doesn’t give you dirty thoughts that you shouldn’t think when thinking about food. The fat doesn’t have that snowflake white beautiful thing that really good cured fat has. I think overall there are a few reasons for all of this: One is my product (and let me be clear, I think blaming product is a cop-out) but looking around, I think my duck was about an A cup in the breast size department. It probably would have behooved me to seek out one of those classically beautiful Rubenesque, force-fed for foie cuties with the double thick layer of fat. I think this mostly because my own smallish duck breasts carry the flavor of being over cured slightly and then over dried slightly, making them a little too salty. This, combined with the less than ideal drying conditions of my kitchen, probably didn’t help. Again, the prosciutto is good. It doesn’t taste like crap. It’s just not a revelation. Next time I’ll get a real porker of a big breasted duck and put it into a temp and humidity controlled curing chamber—something that I currently have in the works.
Between the two prosciutti, such as they are, the spice rubbed one really does have some pretty good flavor going for it. The coriander and bay, in particular, give a nice complexity to the meat. So it will be a fine bit player, if not the star of the show in The Grand Plan.
In this case The Grand Plan is a nice risotto with wild mushrooms and duck confit, along with a simple salad of arugula, spinach, parmigiano and tomatoes with a cider/shallot vinaigrette and an antipasto of duck prosciutto, honeycrisp apple and triple cream cheese bruschetta.
The original plan was to have the duck liver mousse as the antipasto but I broke down and ate it really quickly after it was made. And I’m glad I did, it was good.
The bruschetta was very, very tasty. The rich, soft fattiness of the cheese and sweetness of the apple helped assuage some of the saltiness of the duck prosciutto and left a delicious unctuous ducky bite with some nice lightness and crunch from the apple. I also made a second bruschetta of roasted granny smith apple, parmigiano and black pepper and olive oil dressed arugula as a bit of a counterpoint, which was also tasty. I love roasted apples, more people should roast apples.
On to the risotto. For anyone who’s ever made it, risotto is one of those things that’s easy enough if you tend to it but it tends to intimidate. As a dish it’s extremely dogmatic and will turn on you in a shame and guilt inducing fury should you not live up to it’s own high standards– hard to believe from the Italians, I know. As someone with some Italian roots I can see easily how risotto fits into the ethnic/national character. Cooking it you can practically hear those little grains of arborio saying things like “What? You didn’t toast my grains? Get a knife and stab me, it will hurt me less than what you just did!” Or “No, no don’t bother to break my starches properly. I’m just the one who’s giving you nourishment… you’ll remember this and feel bad when I’m dead.” Or “Let me stick to the pan why don’t you, it will only prove how much you don’t love me.” It’s at this point that the risotto crosses itself a few times while choking back tears and talking about how the long gone arancini balls would be turning in their grave if they could see this.
Anyway risotto isn’t hard, you just gotta treat it right. That means having your shit together before you start cooking it: stock should be simmering, pan should be hot, veg and meat prepped, and softened butter, cheese and a good splash of wine all at the ready. AND your pals or family needs to be ready to eat when you say so, it’s just not the same when it sits around. Although having people saunter to the table does open the door nicely to some of the quotes I listed above: “Hey sure, take your time. I only worked in here feeding you so you can take it for granted. Get the big knife! It will hurt me less than knowing you don’t love me enough to turn off The Biggest Loser.”
So that bit about the stock simmering. In this case, it was the duck stock that I made last week with the leftover bones. This is a good point to mention just how much homemade stock improves your food. It lets you do cool things like using duck stock in your duck dish, thereby plussing it’s overall duck-ness. And if you did it right, the superior taste and gelatin levels make a ton of difference—especially in things like risotto or braises that are entirely dependant on good stock.
Anyway, risotto: sauté the veg, toast the rice, wine, stock a little at a time, lots of stirring, some nicely browned mushrooms and shredded duck confit, more stirring, off the heat, butter, parmigiano, parsley, salt, pepper, more stirring, done. Quacktastic risotto. As an added garnish and textural component, I took the skin from the confit, crispied it up in the oven, sliced it and sprinkled it on top—think Kettle Chips, mallard flavor or high-falutin’ pork rinds.
The result was damn fine, if I can say so. The confit was rich, powerfully ducky and comforting, all played nicely by the duck stock, porcini and crimini mushrooms, and firm but yielding rice kernels. Lightened by the salad, off set by the crunchy duck skin and washed down with some nice red wine my friends were kind enough to bring over, the whole thing turned into the meal equivalent of a perfect blanket. On a cold night in Austin, it felt like eating in a cabin in the best possible way. I could sleep the sleep of the contented in that meal on any winter night, dreaming of duck conquests and battling rogue bears, having been fortified by my dinner of risotto. All that said, I would call reassembling my various duck bits into Frankenduck risotto and cured duck bruschetta was a fulfilling experiment and a true success.
Godspeed, Frankenduck. May you rest easy knowing you had a full and varied consumption, giving meaning in death that you hopefully enjoyed in life: wandering around somewhere, quacking, in a smallish pen, eating duck-meal in the sun during your one allowed hour a day of “free ranging,” wondering if your smallish breasts would fill out or the nice man was ever going to bring back Uncle Greenie, or Aunt Feathers or Cousin Bitey… OK maybe not Cousin Bitey.
DUCK PROSCIUTTO, OR MORE ACCURATELY, COMPLETE UTILITY OF A DUCK WITH the DELICIOUS BREASTS GOING TO MAKE DUCK PROSCIUTTO