When you buy items from the Amazon links below, we get a small percentage of the sale. That helps us fund the site. And we like you a lot.

  • The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
    by Deb Perelman
  • Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients
    by Matt Lewis, Renato Poliafito
  • Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion
    by Alice Currah
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier
    by Ree Drummond
  • Bouchon Bakery
    Bouchon Bakery
    by Thomas Keller, Sebastien Rouxel

« wordless wednesday | hoboken, nj | Main | Chocolate Soufflé Pie (via Matt Lewis' Chocolate Bar) | Pie Month »

Duck Prosciutto & Fig Pie with Rosemary Goat Cheese, Crispy Duck & Wine Reduction | Pie Month | Charcutepalooza


This is the 15th, and final, entry in our Month of Pie. Pie Month is a celebration of things we love. Because life is hard, and there should always be more pie. Have a look at the other entries. Really. 
Pie #4 - Peanut Butter Cream Pie with Chocolate Whipped Cream
Pie #5 - Butterscotch Cream Pie with Gingersnap Crust and Cashew Brittle
Pie #6 - Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Chip Cookie Crust
Pie #7 - Chocolate Kahlua Pie
Pie #8 - Bacon and Egg Pizza
Pie #9 - Pork Confit Pie with Creme Fraiche Potatoes and Puff Pastry
Pie #10 - Raspberry Pie and the Perfect Pie Crust
Pie #11 - Lime Pie with Gingersnap Crust  
Pie #12 - Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie + Bourbon Whipped Cream and Warm Bourbon for Dipping  
Pie #13 - Crack Pie
Pie #14 - Chocolate Soufflé Pie  

When I was 11, I used to play tag with my cow in our pasture.
It was a goof really. An accident. But then we couldn't stop.

We had three acres growing up, most of it pasture, fenced in, with a low catch of electrified wire to keep the sheep in place. Then the horse. And the pony. Then the cows. The pigs stayed in the barn. Chickens for a while with a rooster named Roscoe P. Coltrane who terrorized us. Rabbits for a while. 

Each type of animal, the rabbits, the chickens and so on...they had a certain expiration date in our lives. We have rabbits. Then add some chickens. Now we're done with the rabbits. Let's get sheep. Now we're done with the rooster (thank god). Now we're done with the chickens. 

And being done meant one of two things: either we sold them or we ate them. Wait. Except the horse. And the pony. They went to relatives who were ready for a new challenge. And so we led the animals into the back of the truck, or walked them up the plank to the back of the animal trailer, good money made from their lives. There were fairs and ribbons, but always, there was money.

And death. And new animals. With new names. With death and a little money hanging over their time in the pasture.

And that. That is how it is. There were tears, always. Even for the pigs, because they loved to be scratched behind their ears and right along their spines. They'd come to the fence, rubbing their shoulder back and forth along the fence, grunting for an ear scratch.

And then we killed them. 

It is as easy and as horrible as it sounds, as thoughtless and full of emotion, all in the same instance. You feed a baby cow a milk substitute out of a metal bucket with a giant nipple on the side, spit and milk slowly covering its nose and chin, and then you're castrating him, and before you know it, you're calling up your neighbor to take the cow to the beef and dairy auction in Shipshewana.

Two weeks. Making another run in two weeks. And that's the rest of the time this steer has, which I named Rudy. Rudy has two weeks. And then I'll get some money for my savings account.

That is how Rudy and I began playing tag. I was out with him in the pasture, I'm sure feeling guilty about having named his expiration date. Rubbing that circle of fur in the middle of his flat face, all dirty yellow white. When he took off in a lumbering gallop. Then he stopped on a sliding dime, turned himself to face me, and stood very, very still. I really didn't know what to do. So I walked toward him, slowly. When I got ten feet from him, he took off further in the pasture. I jogged toward him, getting closer and closer. He stopped suddenly and turned his head to me. A light touch on that circle of fur on his face. Staring into those vacant wet eyes. 

I walked back toward the house. When a rumbling came from behind. He was chasing me. With speed. I took off running as fast as I could, because a ball-less cow is less dangerous than a bull, sure, but it is still a sight of terror.

 He grazed my elbow with his ear. 

Just his ear. 

Nearly 1000 pounds of beef, and it was his ear that got me. 

And so I stopped. 

And off he ran, looking behind him. 

And I ran. 
You're it.
Every day for two weeks. 

And then I walked him up the ramp. 

And that. That is the end of our game.

And so.

When my truly dear friend who I have met exactly twice in person, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, told me she and kick-in-the-pants The Yummy Mummy were creating a celebration of charcuterie, I winced. I hoped the request would come for Karen and I to participate. It did. And nearly two hundred other bloggers have joined in the celebration of meat. It's a big deal, bigger I suspect than Kathy and Kim ever expected. All with the blessing and active participation of Michael Ruhlman, the co-author of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, which is the meat bible we're following.

There are prizes, wonderful prizes. Which is spectacular.

But here's the thing...I don't like dealing with meat. I eat it. I cook with it. I debone a pork shoulder. I am active with it, in a way that buying a package of ground beef just cannot demand of you as a cook. I can break down a chicken with little fuss, but the image of plunging our headless chickens into scalding water to remove their feathers is always there in the back of my mind.

It's rather simplistic to say that the meat we cook with was once alive. Yeah, no kidding. We all get that even if it's not in the forefront of our minds. 

But this Charcutepalooza. It is confrontational cooking/preserving. It demands more than a few slices of a sharp blade, a little salt and pepper, and a flash in the pan. 
Charcuterie demands involvement in your life. This charcuterie stays with you, staring back at you while you work in your basement office, all wrapped up in cheesecloth and string. 

A silent turn.

We're reluctant participants in Charcutepalooza, not because it isn't wonderful (it is awesome, for the record). 

We're doing it confront our choice to eat meat. To know, really know, what we are eating. 

To remain thoughtful of our choice.

And to eat some damn tasty meat.

Duck Prosciutto

First up in the charcutepalooza challenges is to make duck prosciutto. Duck breast. Salt. Air. Moisture. Time. 
That's the recipe. And it scared us. 

We love prosciutto. Use it frequently. It comes in this lovely plastic package at the grocery story, or in slices from the fancy deli when we want to showcase it in a recipe. Thoughtless indulgence. Now we had to make what we ate. In 58 degree air (which, I might remind myself, is quite a bit warmer than the inside of a refrigerator). 

Deep breath. We followed Mr. Ruhlman's instructions in the meat bible completely. Salt on the bottom of a pan. Duck breasts from D'Artagnan (which were just giant, beautiful, and it feels a little pervy writing that.) Outstanding quality. These birds must haven been huge.


Salt on top of the breasts to cover. 24 hours in the fridge. A quick cleaning of the salt. Then into cheesecloth. Tied up with string. Then hanging them in a little wine refrigerator in the basement on my desk (no wine, just breasts), where they remained at eye level for 8 days. On the second day, I re-read Kathy's post about weighing the breasts on the first day to gauge when they'd lost 30% of their body weight. Too late for us. We would have to gauge the readiness of the duck by squishiness in the center. 

Day 5. Too squishy. And then the smell. Which was not unpleasant, if a bit funky, which I was assured by Kathy and Kim was normal. Fine. Confrontation in my mind to abandon all hope. Fighting through it.

Finally on Day 8, I felt brave enough to unwrap the breast. It seemed to lack the center squishiness of before, if still soft. As I unwrapped it of the cheesecloth, I held my breath. In anticipation and fear. 

And there it was. A slightly shrunken, dull-ish looking duck breast. Not quite the screw up your courage moment I had thought it would be. But then I had to taste it. Sharpen the knife. Thin slices through the fatty ends. Glistening as they lay there on the cutting board. No sign of anything amiss. And then a peek of dark vibrant purple/red. The proportion of fat to meat began to invert. A taste. It was prosciutto with a poke of gaminess, not unpleasant if a bit strange. Another bite. The fat coated my tongue as it melted, the soft give of the duck meat against my teeth. Too tender to imagine.


I knew we’d never eat two breasts. It was too much for us. And while I could give it away to the neighbors, it seemed a long stretch for them from our Month of Pies to cured duck. I had to find a recipe that would use up the prosciutto quickly.

This being the Month of Pie here, there really was no choice. Duck prosciutto pie. 

The Pie
In my research on pies, I’d consulted Bubby’s Homemade Pies cookbook. Bubby’s is an institution in Tribeca (and Brooklyn) that we love to go to with the kids, meet friends, sit and enjoy breakfast. But we’ve never tasted a slice of their pie. A wrong to be righted. 

Bubby’s has a prosciutto and fig pie that sounded perfect. Thin slices of prosciutto wrapped around each fig, creating a fig+meat bloom, sitting in a nest of rosemary goat cheese. This was going to be great. Except there are no figs in January, at least not in New Jersey. But I was hell-bent on adapting this recipe, somehow, to make it work.


The natural choice was to use dried figs. I set about searching for a way to rehydrate the figs (using Calimyrna Figs. I tested a few Turkish figs, too, and they tasted great, but they’re not as perky as the Calimyrna). Mrs. Wheelbarrow had some thoughts on what booze I could use, but then it struck me. I had the perfect booze to use in this pie. I’ve been holding on to it for six years, waiting for the right moment.

This was that moment. 


Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Pedro Ximenez Gran Reserva. A Spanish wine that has taken a mythical place in our wine cabinet. It was given to me by a boss as he left my previous company, along with eight bottles of Dom Perignon (he didn’t drink and had been given them as gifts by vendors). The Dom Perignon was long gone, but the PX remained. What to do with it?

With the figs in mind, I cracked open the cork. Poured a bit. Thick black brown. A taste. Figs. It tasted like figs to me. I’m sure it was just my mind overriding my taste buds, but I tasted figs. And tobacco. An acid/sweet play. I poured the rest of the wine on to the figs, letting them sit for two hours. I cut open a fig at 45 minutes to test it. It was juicy but not soppy wet. And it tasted incredible. I put the cut pieces into the wine to see what would happen to them. At the end of the second hour, the cut pieces were mush. They whole figs were perfect. Whole figs it would be.

For the crust, I knew I had to use Melissa Clark’s crust with the duck fat in it. Why mess with perfection?

I followed the rest of the recipe from Bubby’s, kicking up the rosemary by ½ teaspoon. 

But then I had a lot of duck leftover. And a lot of wine. No need to waste them.

First was the duck. We love to oven-roast our bacon, so why not the same with thin-sliced duck prosciutto? 400 F oven. 7-10 minutes until dark and crispy. Drain on a paper towel. Crumbled into small shards. Deep smokiness. So wonderful.

For the wine, I knew I wanted a reduction, so into a saucepan it went (with a quick strain through a fine mesh sieve). Medium heat. Reduced until it forms a syrup.

The pie is startling. Strange with the soldiers of figs wrapped in little shawls of duck, standing at attention out of the pie, as if they refused to succumb to the goat cheese. It’s aggressive and confrontational, which is not how most pie could ever be described.  And this seemed right. It seemed right this pie of cured duck breast which was full of trepidation would remain confrontational to the very end. 

A slice of pie, right through the fig. Big drizzles of wine reduction. Liberal sprinkling of crispy duck shards.

A knife was needed, not just a fork. A slice into the fig. 

The first taste was mind-blowing. The tang of the goat cheese. They the fig. Then the rosemary melding with crispy duck, then the intense leather+tobacco of the wine reduction. The flakiness of the crust. That crust. Karen took a bite, and her skepticism melted away. 

I ate two pieces while it was still warm. The next day our neighbors came over. Matt devoured a piece, even though we were tasting three other pies. He loved it. I ate the rest after he left.

So this is pie. A pie that took more effort and time than any other pie made in our Month of Pie. It’s weird to say that a pie taught me something about myself, but I can say that it taught me to celebrate an animal, to work for enjoyment, to push for spectacular, and to know when the right time for something special slaps you in the face with opportunity.

This has been fun for us, our Pie Month. Thanks for reading and encouraging us. Really.

Now we’re going to take a break and celebrate our son’s fourth birthday. And we’re going to eat some cake.

recipe | Duck Prosciutto & Fig Pie with Rosemary Goat Cheese, Crispy Duck & Wine Reduction

  • Crust - Use Melissa Clark's crust. Use duck fat in there if you have it.
  • Pie - Use Bubby's recipe via, substitute in dried figs soaked in wine (port would be nice here). 1-2 hours of soaking. 
  • Crispy duck (or pork) Prosciutto - Thinly slice the meat. Place on a tray. Bake at 400 until crispy, around 8 minutes.
  • Wine/port/fancy Spanish dessert wine reduction - Place wine in a sauce pan. Medium. Reduce until syrupy.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (16)

This is such an awesome post.
Love it. Love it. Love it.
Love hearing about your background and what charcutepalooza means to you. I did not grow up on a farm but share many of your sentiments, if that makes sense.

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWinnie

The. Best. Pie. EVER.
that's all.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSharon

Wonderful pie, wonderful story. You have lucky neighbours :-)

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMardi @eatlivetravelwrite

Wow. Looks amazing! I could taste the flavors with the words you wrote. :-p

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I cried. I laughed. I came away with a burning desire for more pie.

Thanks for a wonderful month of pie altruism.

I love and revere you.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTHE Tough Cookie

probably my very favorite post of pie month. i too laughed out loud and then teared up; i just cannot kill an animal - took a D in biology class rather than dissect a frog. no, it's much easier to plop a styrofoam tray of meat into my grocery cart and be so completely removed from the process than it is to think about that animal who, weeks before was playing tag with his boy. i am convinced that if it were left to me to put meat on the table, i'd be a vegetarian.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSMITH BITES

I would love to be your neighbor! Your writing style put me there in the pasture with you and around your table tasting the pie. I know you are burnt out on pies but if you muster up the nerve to do so please check out the Culinary Smackdown Battle I am hosting.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPretend Chef

Great stories and that pie looks SO decadent. Well done.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRosy

Love this!

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShaina

Well well well. Thank you for your thoughtful writing about the life and death of our meat animals. It's an important discussion.
And then, the pie.
Are you a mad genius? A wicked influence? Or just a poetic cook?
I vote for all three.
Thank you for an awesome reading experience.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrsWheelbarrow

I'm sorry, this is just gorgeous. Sharing it with our facebook folks, stat.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbelle chevre

Fantastic post, truly awesome photographs and so nice of you to post about charcutepalooza. I'm not taking part in all of the wonderful undertakings that all the *charcutepaloozers* are but I'm certainly enjoying reading about them. Thank you for a truly enjoyable and entertaining *Pie Month*, it was one for the record books to be sure.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

Fantastic. Love the post, love the story, love the pie. I want to be your neighbor. Great wrap up to pie month!!

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbreadandputter

I haven't been faithfully commenting but I have been following your Pie Month project--and I am completely floored. You really ran with this and the results have been out of this world.

I loved the recollection of life raising animals--and completely agree with you on the necessity of becoming more involved and connected to the meat we eat. Even doing something as simple as steaming some mussels or clams requires us to ensure that they are in fact living before we cook them--it's kind of extraordinary at times to rap on their shells and watch them close.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthemanhattanfoodproject

I've been reading your blog since inception - this is the best post yet. I loved the back story and the experience of creating this recipe. This exceeds anything I would try at home, but way to go!!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

What an amazing post! I loved the back story, very touching. Good stuff, and as it would happen I have a fresh batch of duck Prosciutto.

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCharcuteray

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>