For many people cured meats and fish have become a luxury item that is deemed too difficult to do at home. For centuries though these techniques were the realm of the home cook and only in recent times have we forgotten the pleasures of preserving our own food. From meat to fish to pickled vegetables not only do these techniques extend the shelf life of items from when they are at peak season but they also impart many delicious flavors that cannot be made any other way. While not everyone may have the space to cure their own whole legs of prosciutto there are many ways to incorporate time honored preservation techniques into the home cook’s repertoire. Not only will you gain a better appreciation for amazing flavors that can be coaxed out of a few simple ingredients but you’ll be able to impress guests with dishes they thought were only attainable at a restaurant. The following recipe for a simple cured duck breast can be adjusted in a thousand different ways by changing the spices but I think it is the perfect way to showcase what simple salt and time can do for opening up the flavors in a humble piece of meat.
Simple Cured Duck Breast
1 Duck Breast, cleaned and trimmed
Kosher Salt, approximately 1 lb
2 Tbsp Allspice, ground
2 Tbsp Juniper, ground
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
1. Combine the salt (enough to cover the duck breast), allspice, juniper, and black pepper in a bowl and set aside.
2. Using a small non reactive container or metal pan lined with plastic wrap that is slightly larger than the duck breast spread approximately half of the salt mixture.
3. Place the duck breast in the pan on top of the salt. Pour the rest of the salt mixture over the duck breast to cover completely. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for approximately 24 hours.
4. After 24 hours remove the duck breast from the salt and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Pat completely dry with paper towels.
5. At this point the duck should be a darker red and firmer but still with some give when pressed with a finger.
6. Cut a piece of cheese cloth big enough to wrap the duck breast in. Place the duck breast in the cheese cloth and wrap, tying the ends with kitchen twine.
7. Tie one end with a long piece of string and hang the duck to dry. Pick cool place with some airflow, 60 – 65 degrees is ideal to hang the duck. Near an open window works quite well for me.
8. Allow to hang and dry for approximately one week. At this point test the duck breast by pressing on in firmly with one finger. It should be firm but not hard with a little give to it. It should not feel mushy. If still a little mushy allow to hang another day or so.
9. When the duck is ready slice thinly and serve on its own or as a part of a nice fall salad. Wrap and refrigerate any leftovers.
By Andrew Gerdes
Andrew Gerdes is a New York-based chef who currently works at New York City's Calhoun School creating delicious,
healthy food from scratch for kids. He also works as a private chef.