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May 3 / scott.campbell

Duck So Far

Wild duck (in center of photo)


We are about 3 days into the curing of the duck prosciutto (side note: I have identified my inability to spell “prosciutto” as an intractable character flaw).  I’m still not sure how well this product will turn out.  For one thing, the wild duck is showing lots of mottled white bloom on its surface, which makes it look really unappetizing.  Even the store-bought duck has small patches of this discoloration.  I’m not sure if this means it’s too done, or if it’s just a defect.

Another problem: the wild duck pieces have shriveled to an impossibly small size, and the curing process hasn’t improved the aroma much, either.  Some people at work, including the fellow that donated the duck, commented that wild duck has an off sort of fishy flavor.  I haven’t eaten any yet, but the aroma makes me suspect the drying process has just concentrated the flavor.  Without a layer of skin, the wild duck has dried much faster than the store-bought variety.  Today, the wild duck hit 0.705 water activity units, while the store-bought was still at 0.735.

Lastly, the recipe says to leave the skin on the duck, which for the store-bought variety we did.  I’m still unsure how this will taste, but we just have to wait and see.  There should be 3 or so more days of drying left, but the wild duck looks as if it is done already.  It’s stiff like beef jerky, and its water activity is approaching that of the fridge interior quite quickly.  I’ll give it another day, and decide whether to pull it out.  In general, though, the duck meat is drying quickly, with the store-bought meat still much softer than the wild duck.

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  1. M. Armstrong / May 3 2012

    Great post.

    I’m not sure on how fat affects water activity, perhaps you can answer that for me, but I do know from my own experiences cooking wild duck is that there is very little fat. Often times, in recipes, we have to add fat from other sources to keep the meat from drying out. Obviously, farmed duck doesn’t suffer from this problem. I would suspect that the difference in fat content is accounting for the difference in water activity.

    With regards from the fishy taste, it helps to soak the meat in milk overnight before preparing it although I’m not sure how this would affect the taste of the finished prosciutto. It also depends on the kind of duck that’s being used and where it was when harvested. Obviously, a mallard drake feeding in the corn fields will taste much different than a gadwall feeding in a slough. In wild game, “you are what you eat” holds true.

    Also, some ducks (particularly the “fishy” ducks) carry parasites. How does water activity affect these? Can drying and salting act as a kill step?


  2. scott.campbell / May 3 2012

    Thanks for your comments and suggestions. Doug (supplier of the wild duck) will particularly appreciate your advice on soaking the duck in milk.

    Concerning drying/curing and fat, you are right that fat will usually inhibit water movement, and cause products to dry slowly. This was particularly evident when we were making soppressata and I managed to smear the fat by not keeping it cold enough. Once the fat coated everything, it dried more slowly than the landjager, despite having a lower water activity to start with.

    Interesting question on parasites and water activity – we normally spend all our time on microbial growth rather than pathogenic parasites. I dug around a little and found that the FDA does allow that the curing process will kill parasites, at least in the case of trichinae. They are pretty specific about what you can and can’t do to protect the meat. Just look at § 318.10.

  3. M. Armstrong / May 23 2012

    Any update on the duck?


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