Monday, January 31, 2011

New Year, New Blog | Charcutepalooza, challenge no. 1

This blog was born from a realization. Despite the fact that my interests in life are for the most part creative pursuits, lately I have failed to create much of anything. Creativity, like all other skills, requires practice, and I have neglected creating anything for too long. This year, I resolved to make more stuff.

One area in which my creativity has lagged is in the kitchen. Ken (the boyfriend) and I cook often and, I’d like to think, fairly well. But I’ve been a little dismayed by how frequently we fall back on the same dishes, the same flavor combos, the same techniques. One idea I had, to challenge us to use more variety when cooking, was to periodically choose a cookbook at random from our extensive collection (many of which I’m ashamed to say we have never cooked from), and cook one new recipe out of it. So at the beginning of January, we randomly picked a cookbook using this handy dandy random number generator (yes, I’m a dork who assigned numbers to each and every cookbook we own), and came up with Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's Charcuterie

This was a fortuitous choice, because I had learned through Rulman’s twitter feed about charcutepalooza, a year long charcuterie challenge brilliantly conceived by the two bloggers, Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy. I was tempted to join in, as charcuterie is one of the cooking techniques I hoped to improve in my quest to diversify our cooking. However it felt silly to join a blogging challenge when I didn’t even have a blog. I figured, what kind of crazy person would start a blog just to be a charcutepaloozer. It turns out, I am exactly that kind of crazy person. By complete chance and random number generating, the first dish we would take on for our personal cookbook challenge would simultaneously satisfy the first challenge of charcutepalooza. While I’m not generally superstitious, I took that as a sign to move forward with both projects, and here I am today, happy to report that our first attempt at homemade duck prosciutto was not an unqualified failure. For starters, ken and I consumed copious amounts of it, and are still alive and kicking. The flavor, while slightly too salty, had a strong prosciutto taste, but was lacking in duckiness. The reason for this is probably the fact that there was very little duck to begin with. Apparently we purchased a very poorly endowed duck.
The second mistake had more to do with bad planning than anything else. In my excitement to get started, I bought my duck before ever figuring out where I was going to hang the breasts. Living in a very dry one bedroom apartment with a guy who is ridiculously cold-adverse for someone who comes from western new york is pretty much the worst possible environment for curing meats. I assumed I’d figure something out by the time the duck breasts were done curing. I assumed wrong, and so for lack of a better option, decided to hang them in the fridge. There were a couple recipes online which called for two weeks in the fridge instead of the usual one week, so I thought I’d give it a try. The extended time unfortunately caused the meaty portion of the prosciutto to over-dry, which gave it a jerky like texture. However, the fat came out beautifully. Slightly translucent, it tasted salty and rich with a texture bordering on creamy - the fat melted over warm bread like duck butter (which is how we ate most of it).

The rest we ate with a butternut squash risotto. Some fattier pieces of prosciutto were cubed and sauteed with the onions and garlic at the start of the risotto making process. As the rice neared completion we added half a roasted squash and a generous amount of grated parmesan and fontina, and finally, we garnished with additional slices of prosciutto.
While pretty tasty, the dish was far superior the next day, when ken breaded and fried up the leftovers. These crispy risotto cakes, topped with prosciutto were phenomenal!
Overall, we are pretty thrilled with our albeit less than perfect prosciutto, and are excited to take on the next charcuterie challenge: Pancetta! Stay tuned for fun with pork belly.

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