Duck or goose prosciutto is an old Italian tradition that originated, as best I can tell, in the country’s Jewish community, for whom regular prosciutto was forbidden.
Some recipes, especially those around Venice and Friuli, cure the leg and thigh of large geese, while others stick to the breast meat. Either way, the result, when done right, creates a dark, rich, almost funky cut of meat that really stands out on a charcuterie plate.
Slice it as thin as you can on the diagonal and serve it with melon, figs, good cheese, on top of a fried egg, with bruschetta — you get the point.
And the best thing about duck prosciutto? It’s probably the easiest charcuterie project you can undertake. It is where you should start if you are a beginner.
Hunters, take note: I do this only with wild geese, as most wild ducks are too small to do this justice. Maybe a large mallard would work, but I find that Canada and specklebelly geese work the best here. Non-hunters, this process was designed for domestic ducks and geese, so you will be fine.
I do not wrap my duck prosciutto in cheesecloth for hanging, as many do. Some people prefer this because they say it helps keep the meat moist. I prefer to achieve this through proper humidity control. If you plan on hanging your duck for only a few weeks, go ahead and use cheesecloth.
But there is another reason I skip it: Mold. Mold can grow on meat whether it’s wrapped or not, but when it is wrapped, you can’t see it until the mold has grown substantially. No bueno.
Below you’ll find two recipes: One for a “sweet” cure, the other for a spicy one. The sweet cure needs watching as it dries — it is more prone to mold than the spicy variety.
Remember that white, powdery mold is OK, white fuzzy is not harmful but should be wiped off, green fuzzy needs to be wiped off the moment you spot it, and black mold is bad: I toss the meat if I get the black stuff. When sketchy mold does appear, I wipe it off every other day with a paper towel soaked in red wine vinegar. The spicy cure rarely has mold problems.
How long to hang your duck prosciutto? From 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on the size of the breasts and the amount of fat and the temperature and the humidity. If you are a beginner, hang your duck breast in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before eating. It will be tasty, and should whet your appetite for a longer cure later.
Hang Time Matters
Why bother with a long hang time? Because the longer meat hangs, the more complex it gets: Think about the difference between a nice rosé and Barolo that’s been aging for a generation.
I can tell in a bite whether someone’s charcuterie has hung for a long time, or for just the bare minimum. There is a beguiling funk to well-aged charcuterie that cannot be rushed. The more you eat cured meats, the more you crave that flavor.
I cure my prosciutto d’oca for two months by starting the drying in 85 to 90 percent humidity, then ratcheting it down 5 percent a week each week until I get down to 60 percent, then I hold it there. I can hang it this way for a few more weeks, but there is such a thing as too long — you are making charcuterie here, not jerky, so the meat should retain some moisture.
What happens if you inadvertently make duck jerky from your prosciutto? All is not lost. If you really can’t slice it super-thin because it’s hardened too much, chop it into small dice and add it to a long-simmering stew. The prosciutto will soften and you’ll appreciate it’s chewy texture in the stew.
Once your duck or goose prosciutto is ready, you can eat it straight away or wrap it and store it in the fridge for a few months. It will continue to dry out in the fridge, however. It also freezes well for a year or more.
This is a recipe for a "sweet" prosciutto. You can vary any of the spices you want, except the salt.
- 1 goose breast or domestic duck breast, skin on, both halves
- 3/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon] ground fennel seed
- 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- First a note on the meat. When you breast out the bird, leave as much skin and fat on it as possible; you'll get these "tails" of skin on both the tail and neck end of the bird if you do, and this is what you want: They will come in handy later. If you haven't already, peel off the "tender" on the meat side of the breast. Deep-fry in batter and enjoy!
- Mix all the spices together in a large bowl. Coat the goose or duck breasts in the mixture well. Massage it into the meat, and make sure every bit of it has cure on it. Pour any extra cure into a non-reactive container just about large enough to hold the goose breasts. Place the goose breasts on top and cover.
- Cure in the fridge for 1 to 3 days. The longer you cure, the saltier the prosciutto will be. The saltier it will be, the longer it will keep -- but the thinner you will need to shave it when you eat it. A mallard, Ross's goose, Aleutian or cackler goose needs only a day; 36 hours at the most. I give domestic ducks, snow geese or whitefront geese (specks) two days. A big Canada or a domestic goose will need three or even four days. Flip the breast once a day to ensure even contact with the extra cure.
- When it's done, rinse off the cure and dry the breasts thoroughly. A lot of people will tell you to rinse off every smidge of cure, but I don't like this -- I like the few remaining bits here or there. But you need to get most of it off, and it is imperative that you dry the goose breasts after rinsing. Let the breasts dry on a rack, skin side down, for an hour or two.
- Now it's time to hang them. You will need a humid place (60-85 percent humidity) that is between 40-60°F to hang your goose prosciutto. Poke a hole in one of the skin "tails" and either run an "S" hook through it or some string. Hang on a rack so it does not touch anything else for a few weeks.
Note that prep time does not include curing and drying time.