Duck Prosciutto & Fig Pie with Rosemary Goat Cheese, Crispy Duck & Wine Reduction | Pie Month | Charcutepalooza
Pie #1 - Lemon Cream Icebox Pie
Pie #2 - Malted Crisp Tart
Pie #7 - Chocolate Kahlua Pie
Pie #8 - Bacon and Egg Pizza
Pie #10 - Raspberry Pie and the Perfect Pie Crust
Pie #11 - Lime Pie with Gingersnap Crust
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.
Every day for two weeks.
And then I walked him up the ramp.
And that. That is the end of our game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Crust - Use Melissa Clark's crust. Use duck fat in there if you have it.
- Pie - Use Bubby's recipe via Chow.com, 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.