Prosciutto, an Italian cured ham, adds a complex, sophisticated flavor to otherwise-simple dishes. Because prosciutto comes from an unkosher animal, Jews who follow the religion's dietary restrictions don't eat it. If you keep kosher, you can still enjoy the traditional Italian antipasti and entrees that incorporate this flavorful ingredient -- just with a slightly different spin.
Prosciutto is a cured, air-dried meat, meaning it is uncooked and unsmoked. Its taste can vary depending on how much salt and which herbs were used in the curing process and on how long it was allowed to cure, but it tends to be rich and lightly sweet. Most recipes that call for prosciutto use it in thin slices as a garnish or a wrap, but it is often the strongest flavor in the dish; for example, you might wrap a fig in it, or lay slices across a serving of melon. Any substitute for prosciutto should be equally strongly flavored and thinly sliced.
Of the readily available kosher birds, duck has the characteristics most similar to prosciutto -- it is also rich and lightly sweet. Recipes for duck prosciutto call for curing magrets, the breasts of foie gras ducks, because they best approximate the complexity of the taste of the original. By coating the magrets in a mixture of salt, sugar and herbs, sealing the whole thing in plastic and leaving it in the refrigerator for about a week, you cure the breasts so they are safe to eat uncooked. They should look and feel similar to cooked meat when they is ready to slice and use.
For a simpler, quicker, less expensive substitute, thinly sliced kosher pastrami or another kosher deli meat can take the place of prosciutto in a recipe. Because these meats don't naturally have the same richness of flavor as the original, this option is best for recipes in which the other ingredients are mild or in which you add the meat to a cooked sauce or dressing. Give the meat a few more minutes to cook into the dish than the recipe calls for; cooking releases the flavors, and deli meats can stand a little more heat than true prosciutto.
Although vegetarian options are least likely of any substitute to taste like prosciutto, they can replace the protein source and fill out the dish the way the original would. To lend your meatless deli slices some of the complexity of prosciutto, try giving them a light dusting of salt and herbs before you use them to wrap goat cheese or dress fruit. This substitution might be best used for pasta sauces or soups that call for chopped prosciutto instead of sliced.
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