As I have been reading through the recipes in Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, I came across one for Hot-Smoked Duck Ham. It seemed to be straight-forward and sounded like the fruits of my labor would be worth the effort. This was definitely the case.
The most difficult part of the entire process was actually procuring duck breasts. After checking at several local markets, I discovered that duck is considered a seasonal item. Consequently, I would only be able to find frozen, pre-packaged duck other than during the Christmas season.
While the duck breasts thawed, I created my brine. This consisted of 2 quarts of water, 3/4 cup of kosher salt, 1/4 of sugar, 4 teaspoons of pink salt, 1/2 cup of maple syrup, 1/2 cup of Madeira, 1 bunch of fresh thyme, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of juniper berries and 1 tablespoon of chopped sage. I combined the ingredients in a large pot and brought them to a simmer over medium-high heat and stirred so the sugar and salt could dissolve completely. Once this was done, I let the brine come to room temperature and put it into the refrigerator.
After the brine was refrigerated over night, I put the duck breasts into the brine and set a small plate on top to keep the meat submerged. Then I returned the brine to the refrigerator for 12 hours.
When I removed the duck breasts from the brine, I rinsed them well with cold water, patted them dry and placed them on a rack set atop a plate. I placed the rack and plate in a container and returned it to the refrigerator for about 16 hours. This allowed air to circulate around the breasts completely so the meat achieved a slightly tacky texture, called a pellicle. The pellicle allows the smoke to adhere to the meat uniformly.
Once the pellicle developed sufficiently, I laid the duck breasts on the rack of my Big Green Egg (BGE). I had prepared a fire in the BGE and soaked 2 cups of apple wood chips in water to provide the smoke for my duck ham. The duck breasts smoked in the BGE for 2 hours at a temperature of about 225 degrees. At this point the internal temperature of the duck breasts had risen to 160 degrees, so they were done.
To simply call this ham could never suffice. Although the texture is very similar to regular pork ham, the taste is so much more. The aromatics of the brine complement the fattiness of the duck and assure that the meat remained moist throughout the smoking process. The smoke from the apple wood permeated the entire breast and provides a slightly fruity sweetness. The smoky richness seems a bit decadent and is excellent while still warm from the smoker, but I have discovered that the flavor gets more intense after it has cooled. This duck ham makes a great addition to a charcuterie plate and pairs well with a variety of fruits and cheeses. It also can be chopped, sauteed and added to an omelette. The fat that is rendered while sauteing the ham even eliminates the need for any butter or oil.
This sounds wonderful – I like the idea of the juniper berries.
Thanks, David. Of the charcuterie that I have made, this certainly is one of my favorites. The herbs in the brine give such a great complexity of flavor.