Monday, October 4, 2010

Duck Bacon Results

At work on Saturday, I pulled the duck legs out of their cure and smoked them. Total curing time was 12 days, first in the Ruhlman/Polcyn basic cure for 5 days vacuum-sealed and then 7 more days in a mix of equal parts by volume white sugar and salt with added brown sugar, garlic, and whole coriander, allspice, and black peppercorns, this time in a normal ziploc-type plastic bag. After the first cure period, I thought they weren't fully cured, so I decided to do another week in a cure with the brown sugar and spices that I didn't have time to add on the first try. I didn't have pink salt on hand, so I didn't vacuum-seal the legs for fear of botulism, but from the interior color of the final product I suspect nitrite penetration was quite thorough after the first week.

After 12 days curing, the meat was quite firm, slightly translucent, and wrinkling at the edges. The legs got rinsed, patted dry, and left for an hour to air-dry in the walk-in while the smoker got going. I hot-smoked them over hickory for about an hour and a half, but I think the smoker was only producing good smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour of that time. First I turned the burners under the smoker (just a deep hotel pan rig we use at the restaurant) too low and then fat rendering from the legs dripped down onto the woodchips, effectively forcing me to abandon the smoker and finish the legs in a low (250F) oven for another hour or so. I gave the legs a sniff before I put them in the oven, and the level of smokiness seemed appropriate, so I wasn't unduly worried.

After the duck came out of the oven, I crisped up a few small pieces and it was FANTASTIC. The smokey flavor was perfect and well balanced with the intense meatiness and saltiness, with the brown sugar taking the delicious up another level. I was slightly worried about texture, since duck legs sometimes get a dense sponginess if not cooked long enough, but the texture of even the un-crisped meat is pleasant - dense and a bit chewy in a good way. With some crisped skin and fat thrown in - the ratio of meat to fat is also excellent - these legs are really a great eating experience.

I'm still trying to think of good ways to feature this stuff in our family meals - pasta carbonara and pizza are the only things that have come to mind thus far.

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