2020 was all about self-improvement: getting in better shape, improving on current skills, and learning new ones. With all the closures and the stay at home measures in place, Megan and I suddenly found ourselves with more free time. To keep busy, we signed up for a bunch of online courses that we had always meant to try (Bee keeping 101, Hunter’s Education Course, and some pastry stuff). Hopefully the situation will begin to improve, but regardless we hope to continue to do this in the new year. Just before the shutdown, I was also fortunate enough to get the chance to have a one-on-one crash course in soppressata-making from a past member of Culinary Team Canada Juniors. His name is Robbie Aggarwal, and he owns his own charcuterie company in the Niagara Region called Beniamino Meats. With the success of my very first batch, I was excited to continue learning and to try out more recipes. I didn’t know it at the time, but this first experience would come in handy later this year.
During this past winter break, everyone’s favourite doggie @QueenieTheSpringer had her last and final visit to the breeder. We are keeping our fingers crossed that she will have more puppies as this will be her last litter (and the world could certainly use more Queenies). When we picked her up, we were also offered a few ducks – bounty from a hunt earlier that morning. I was initially a little apprehensive – wary about having to pluck, gut, and butcher the fowl. The duck that we are used to cooking is typically found in the grocery store, neatly portioned and packaged. Nevertheless we accepted the offer (almost) immediately, and before we knew it, we had our afternoon cut out for us, no pun intended.
What did we do?
For those more sensitive souls (and stomaches), we’ve opted not to include any of the pictures or videos of the process (friends and family only lol). With a garbage bag and some strong fingers, we begun to pluck away. After we’d plucked most of the feathers from the breast and legs, we cut away the breast and the leg meat with a sharp knife. We threw out the rest of the carcass as there wasn’t really any meat to speak of on the rest of the bird. Next time around though, I would definitely like try to do even more with the fowl to give it the full respect it deserves. Dog cookies with the offals/trimmings, stock with the bones, or maybe even try to make our own garum.
How was it prepared?
For the next few days, we had duck on the menu. Duck confit with confit potatoes, seared duck breast on salad, our own version of peking duck with homemade wraps, and last but not least, we tried our hand at duck proscuitto.
We salted our duck breasts for 48 hours, then rinsed off all the salt with water, (some references also suggested using a combination of vinegar and water to rinse the breasts, but we forgot about that). After the duck breasts were rinsed, we dried them and seasoned them. For this batch, we used a blend that my chef and mentor Olaf Mertens has developed, called the Wilde People. We then wrapped them in cheesecloth and hung them in our garage. After 10 days of hanging out, I sliced it and of course did an obligatory photo shoot (see below).
Things to consider/what we have learned along the way:
Luckily, with the help of Robbie we were able to troubleshoot throughout the process. As our first attempt, we had lots of questions and uncertainties – is it done yet? Did we use enough salt? When can we eat it?
On plucking: One good idea (in retrospect) is to do this outside. It is messy! We also found that wearing gloves helps, and later saw a tip to use textured gloves to help remove the smaller feathers by rubbing the skin. A question we (I) had was, can we save the feathers for something like a pillow in the future? We (I) need to look into that. Megan will not be using said pillow.
On salting: The amount to use is based on a percentage of the weight of the breast.
On Hanging: Although we starting hanging them outside in the garage, we found that since they were small enough, it made more since to hang them in the fridge. The purpose of hanging is for the duck breast to dry out – typically we need the duck breast to reduce from its original weight (by about 45-55%). We moved the breasts to the fridge toward the end of the hanging process and they seemed to dry out a lot better there. In the future, we’ll also make sure to document the weight of the breasts before and after to avoid any uncertainty here.
On Storage: Once the breasts have dried out sufficiently, we’ll vacuum seal them for at least week. This last step is important to equalize the moisture throughout the meat (though you can certainly eat it prior to this if you “need” to).
On Documenting the Process: Another goal of 2021 is to improve on my photography skills, the general consensus at home and at the shop (Hailed Coffee) is that I don’t know what I am doing.