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Posts from the ‘Bits & Bites’ Category

The Duck Press: A French Classic

In the history of world cuisine, French chefs have been accused of being many things, but rarely ever “shy.” The French tradition holds dear the notion of not only using every part of an animal, leaving nothing edible to waste, but also of celebrating certain dishes that that often make more squeamish diners fold their napkins away and politely excuse themselves from the table.

There’s foie gras, of course, the production of which is abhorred by many and cherished by many more (us included, obviously). And then we have the ortolan, a small songbird that, due to the traditional preparation — it is gorged on grains, drowned in Armagnac and then roasted, served, and consumed in a single mouthful– has become illegal in France, although many intrepid diners continue to find gastronomic speakeasies that continue to serve it.

But one of our absolute favorite dishes — and kitchen implements — is the much lauded and feared duck press. Considered by many to be the most spectacular entree in classical French cuisine, the duck press is a device and method of preparation that was invented by a man named Machenet in Paris at the dawn of the 19th century, quickly becoming popular among the culinarily elite. The contraption, and its corresponding dish, canard à la rouennaise (or, “duck in blood sauce”) was later adopted by Chef Frèdèric of the restaurant La Tour d’ Argent (or “Silver Tower”), making it his restaurant’s signature dish, which they continue to serve today.

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La Tour d’Argent issues a card with the number of your pressed duck, in sequence from the very first duck they every pressed.

So, what is this infamous dish often labeled as barbaric and macabre? It begins simply, with one of our favorite things in the world: a roasted duck. The whole duck — and this includes all of the internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs of the beast, though the liver is removed and reserved — is seasoned, the skin lightly scored, and then roasted. Some chefs, including Daniel Boulud, opt to marinate the duck for up to two days before roasting quickly over very high heat, until the duck is appropriately rare. The beautifully roasted bird is carried by the chef to the diners’ table, where the rest of the elaborate process continues in full view of the restaurant’s guests. The duck’s magret (breasts) and legs are removed and reserved, and the chef uses poultry shears to cut the remaining carcass in half lengthwise.Duck Press 2

Now comes the fun part.

The chef packs the roasted carcass and internal organs into the duck press, a large, squat, menacing piece of kitchen machinery, usually made from a heavy metal such as brass, with a large crank, a wheel, and four legs that are sometimes, in a delightfully morbid fashion, made to look like duck feet. Many people like to compare the object to a medieval torture device, and, if you get a chance to see one, you’d be hard “pressed” do disagree. The increasing pressure of the crank plate compacts the bird until its bones are pulverized, the organs liquified, and the carcass blood juices out of the animal, all of which sluice through a small spout in the duck press and are collected in a pan, then strained through a fine chinois.

Duck press spigot

The chef then thickens the mixture with the pureed duck liver, adds Cognac and red wine, and reduces it carefully until it achieves a deep burgundy, almost black color. Diners are then treated to thin slices of the duck breast in the exquisite blood sauce, followed by a second course of roasted duck legs and thighs.

You'll never guess what's being pressed!

Ariane and Chef David Burke press a Bloody Mary.

Duck presses aren’t easy or inexpensive to come by these days, though our friends Chef David Burke and Chef Daniel Boulud both use them. While pressed duck isn’t nearly as popular as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, the tradition of the duck press — whether or not you consider it macabre or sublime — continues. And for that, we are most certainly thankful.

Duck in for Deals!

You lucky duck. No sooner did Charc Week end … and now there’s a special deal on all things duck at dartagnan.com.

Enjoy 20% off duck all week. But do it before Sunday, September 14 at midnight EST.

And please let us know what you’re cooking! Share your duck dishes with us on Facebook or Twitter. Tag your posts #duckspotting.

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Charc Week Continues: Jambon de Bayonne

Our jambon de Bayonne is made right here in the United States, and some would argue that the use of “Bayonne,” as in the AOC, is all kinds of wrong. Ariane was well aware of this when she began making the product in the early days of D’Artagnan. Of course, she could see Bayonne from her office window… Bayonne, NJ, that is. Using the same simple, centuries-old dry-curing technique that made this ham famous in France, our domestic version may break rules, but it satisfies jambon cravings.

Try it wrapped around figs, melon or pear slices. Sandwiched in a baguette with mustard. On a charcuterie board with cheese.

Buy it now and save 15% off at dartagnan.com during our Charc Week celebration – when all charcuterie is 15% off.  The sale ends Sept. 7 at midnight EST.

jambon de bayonne equation CharcWeek

 

 

Charcuterie 101

Whole books have been devoted to the subject. Techniques have been handed down through the generations, and different cultures have distinct charcuterie traditions. So what is this mysterious “charcuterie”? Pronounced shahr-kyut-uh-ree it is a French word that comes from chair “flesh” and cuit “cooked.” It refers to cooked, cured or smoked meats such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, rillettes, galantines, pâtés and dry-cured sausage. Charcuterie has been considered a French culinary art since at least the 15th century. The specialized store in France is also called a charcuterie and will have confits, foie gras and a selection of ready-to-eat dishes.

Charcuterie France

Germans sell their cured meats at a delicatessen, and Italians purvey salumi in a salumeria. In America many of the Italian salumi products are familiar, such as prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, sopressata and mortadella. If you’ve ever eaten antipasto you already know about charcuterie. Been to the deli and ordered a liverwurst sandwich? How about a cold cut sandwich? Both are charcuterie. Even baloney is charcuterie.

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Spain is legendary for dry-aged aging hams from heritage breed pigs. Germany is noted for the frankfurter and Braunschweiger, among a myriad of sausages produced there. Poland offers the smoked kielbasa. And in the United States there are many that swear by the flavor of smoked and cured Virginia ham. Call it what you will, charcuterie is universal.

A Little History

Food traditions are often best understood in the context of history. With charcuterie it’s necessary to go back to the origins of Homo sapiens. Since every culture preserves meat in some form, it appears to be a foundational element of human survival. Imagine hunting, gathering and having to eat everything before it spoiled. This process would ensure a nomadic lifestyle and subsistence diet. However, if you could store food for later, you might settle down, build a shelter and put in roots. Since the origins of cooking meat are lost in our prehistoric past, it’s only conjecture that early man might have hung fresh meat near the fire to protect it, and discovered that it cured over the smoke and tasted quite good the next day.

Whenever it was that humans started to cook and cure meat, it has not stopped since. Sausage recipes date to before the golden age of ancient Greece, and traditional sausages have been made for over 2000 years in both Rome and France. The Romans set standards for raising, killing and cooking pigs, and they regulated the process. Centuries ago, Germanic tribesmen made fortunes selling salted hams made from acorn-fattened boars that were hunted in dense forests. But charcuterie really comes into its own in France during the Middle Ages.

In France, pigs were raised by virtually every household and slaughtered when the chill of autumn took hold, to fill the larders for the winter with lovely bacon, ham, potted pork and lard. To this day in the French countryside the pig slaughter and resulting day of cooking that follows is taken on as a communal ritual. And no part of the pig is wasted, from the intestines to the hooves.

Today, in the United States there is plenty of old-world style charcuterie available, both in restaurants and stores, and DIYers are rediscovering the joy of making charcuterie at home.

Edouard-Jean Dambourgez (French, 1844-1890) A Pork Butcher's Shop

Making a Charcuterie Plate

Just like a cheese board, a charcuterie platter is an ideal way to serve a party and please all palates. Arranging a charcuterie board is easy. It should have a range of items representing the various styles of preparation from cooked to dry-cured. The meats should be complemented by something acidic, like cornichons (tiny French pickles). Whole-grain mustard makes a nice accompaniment, as do olives or even black truffle butter. Allow two ounces per person, and serve with a rustic country bread, or good quality, plain crackers. A hearty red wine (but not too heavy) will make a good accompaniment, such as Côtes-du-Rhône, Gigondas or Madiran.

A charcuterie board might display:

Pâté de Campagne is a rustic, coarse pork pâté and is a staple in France
Pheasant Terrine Herbette, another coarse pâté made of pheasant, pork and fennel
In the dry-cured family Jambon de Bayonne, a thinly-sliced pork product is perfect
Saucisson sec is a dry-cured sausage, similar to salami, made of pork or sometimes wild boar
Mousse Truffée is a spreadable turkey/chicken liver mousse with black truffles
Smoked duck breast is air cured and smoked over natural wood

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It’s Charc Week!

All week we will revel in the glory of charcuterie – and we’re calling it Charc Week.

And you get to enjoy 15% off all things smoked, cooked and cured at dartagnan.com. Please share your charcuterie stories, pictures or anything charcuterie related with us on Twitter and Facebook – be sure to use the hashtag #CharcWeek.

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#CharcWeek ends Sunday, September 7 at midnight EST.

 

Sandwich Savoir-Faire

August is National Sandwich Month!

We think a sandwich is perfect anytime, but in the summer a sandwich makes a neat solution for a quick dinner or a picnic lunch. On a hot evening who wants to cook? Opt instead for a cold sandwich with choice charcuterie and a bottle of rosé. 

Sandwich Quote

We have already laid out a little history and a plan for sandwich domination here.

You may want to just feast your eyes on a few of our favorite sandwich ideas…like this peppery saucisson sec tartine with refreshing slices of cucumber.

Recipe_Saucisson_Tartine_HomeMedium

This simple chicken salad sandwich, made with smoked chicken breast and chorizo, was a smash hit at an office tasting.

Chicken Chorizo Sandwich

And though we advocate the cold sandwich as a summer meal, it’s hard to resist the lure of this pulled duck sandwich.

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Or the lobster roll with bacon, which is undoubtedly the perfect summer sandwich.

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A spicy pressed chorizo sandwich with cheese and red peppers satisfies the heat seekers.

Chorizo Sandwich 2

Our smoked duck breast works well in a banh mi sandwich, that perfect melding of French and Vietnamese cuisines.

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However you enjoy sandwiches this month, reflect on how this simple and portable meal has infinite varieties, from haute to humble.

 

“America is a confirmed sandwich nation. Everywhere you go you find sandwich stands, sandwich shops, and nine out of ten people seem to stick to the sandwich-and-glass-of-milk or cup-of-coffee luncheon.” –  James Beard

 

 

Summer Freezer Sale: Save 25%

Use this rare opportunity to save 25% off customer favorites including organic chicken, Wagyu beef, Rocky Mountain lamb and more. Those in the know shop early and shop hard, because quantities are limited and the deals are hot!

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We would like to highlight a few products that you might want to try while they are on sale.

A staff favorite, the Berkshire porterhouse pork chops weigh in at a whopping 16 ounces each (on average). Beautiful and juicy, they are pork at its best.

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Our pasture-raised beef brisket is ready for the smoker or a braise in the oven. Whatever method you choose, this hardworking chunk of flavorful beef will serve you well at dinners and outdoor parties.

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Guinea hen legs? Absolutely! Not eating guinea hen? You’re missing out on some dark, flavorful  meat.  They can be grilled or battered and fried like chicken legs.

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Our annual August Freezer Sale ends Sunday, August 17th, 2014 and quantities are limited so get shopping!

 

Go Wild for Wagyu with 25% OFF!

We’re have a sale on Wagyu beef this week!  For a limited time only, save 25% off our entire selection of Wagyu. Choose from gold-standard cuts like Boneless Strip Steak, buttery Beef Tenderloin or ultra-marbled Striploin. Buying a whole Wagyu Ribeye doesn’t just save you money – roasting on the bone gives you more flavor. And it gives you a lot of meat cred.

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Elevate your burgers with Wagyu Beef Patties. The 80/20 blend makes burgers so juicy, you won’t need condiments. And for something truly luxurious, try our Ultimate Burger Kit.

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Is your mouth-watering? Don’t delay, sale ends Thursday, July 31st at Midnight EST.

Playing Pinball, Three Musketeers Style

Meet the latest addition to our collection of all things Three Musketeers. This beauty now lives in the lobby of our office. And when it’s switched on, you can play for free! No centimes necessary!

Crop Machine

That is a circa 1964 Rally Three Musketeers pinball machine. Pinball, or un flipper, was once all the rage in the cafés of France. The sad truth is that the age of pinball is coming to an end, according to this article.

Rally was a French company that manufactured interesting pinball machines in the 1960s. They made history in 1966 with the first digital scoring pinball machine. This one, their interpretation of the Three Musketeers, involved three voluptuous babes with swords.

Pinball Machine 3 Pics

Better than XBox!

It’s all in English, because in hipster 1960s France, that was the language of cool, of rock n’ roll caché. Here are some close-up details of the playfield with its garish colors, medieval lettering and even Cardinal Richelieu.

Pinball Details

But the instructions are in French. Here are the cards with rules and prices – and not to worry, we’ve never wagered yet! Click on the photo to enlarge.

Pinball Details Instructions

For more about Rally’s pinball machines, check out the Paris Pinball Museum, where we found this ad for our pinball machine. Très cool….

Pinball Page

 

 

Interview with Ariane in The Village Voice

Ariane talked to Laura Shunk at The Village Voice recently. Here’s the story of the early days at D’Artagnan and the philosophy behind what we do. Get the low-down on organic chicken, heritage-breed pork and the state of  meat in general.

So go ahead, take a peek inside Ariane’s head in this interview.

Village Voice Screen Shot