Check the selection at dartagnan.com and save up to 40% off in our 12 hour flash sale.
Ends October 21, 2014 at 9 PM EST.
No this is not about a new action movie, but rather a medieval book on hunting by Gaston de Foix, also called Gaston Phoebus, because of his bright blond hair like the Greek sun god.
Before your eyes glaze over at the prospect of reading history, we promise you drama, danger, murder and what is possibly the very first Burning Man festival. Plus pretty pictures of animals.
Gaston (1331 – 1391) was the 11th Count of Foix (in what is southern France today) and Viscount of Béarn (southwest France, today Basque country and Gascony- Ariane’s neighborhood). From all accounts he was an interesting guy. He reportedly had three “special delights” in his life: “arms, love and hunting.”
Which brings us to the point of this post; Gaston Phoebus wrote what is arguably the most famous book on hunting ever, Livre de chasse (Book of the Hunt) in the 1380s. He was a great huntsman – perhaps the greatest of his day. It was the pursuit of his lifetime to the very end: he died from a stroke while washing his hands after a bear hunt.
But the book is his legacy and actually comprised of four books: On Gentle and Wild Beasts, On the Nature and Care of Dogs, On Instructions for Hunting with Dogs, and On Hunting with Traps, Snares, and Crossbow.
An impressive document on natural history, describing animal behavior as well as the stages of hunting those animals, it is considered to be one of the finest manuscripts of its time. It’s a powerful cultural history that took such care with observations of the natural world that it was in use as a textbook right into the 19th century.
And it was a bestseller right from the start (as much as things could be when entirely hand-lettered, drawn and painted). The courts of France and Burgundy considered it a work of art, and in some hands it certainly was. Shining with gold and richly colored, perhaps the finest example is from the Masters of Bedford workshop.
Since it’s game season, and we are having a sale on all game meat this week (save 15% – no hunting necessary!), we wanted to share a little of this beautiful book with you. If you would like to see more, check the Morgan Library & Museum website.
What about the murder, the drama and Burning Man? Well, Gaston Phoebus had a son who, in adulthood, tried to poison his father. Then later, Phoebus accidentally stabbed and killed this only son in a fight. That’s Shakespeare-level drama.
While he had no heir, he did have four illegitimate sons. And one of them was burned alive at an unfortunate performance at a ball in Paris for King Charles VI of France. The Bal de Ardents, or Burning Man Ball, went down in history when a costume brushed against a torch and spread rather quickly, killing four dancers in the fire while the court watched. And here is where our story ends.
Whether beast or fowl, all game is 15% off all week. Our Scottish game, flown in fresh from the hunt, our venison, raised in pristine pastureland in New Zealand, and even dainty and delicious quail are all specially priced through 10/19/14 at dartagnan.com.
And check our website for recipes and videos. Worried about cooking wild boar? No need! Chef Marc Murphy and Ariane show you how in this video.
And our recipe page has plenty of inspirations for game feasts. Forget the thrill of the chase … this is all about the thrill of the taste.
As soon as the temperatures drop we start dreaming of hearty meals. The heartiest of them all is the iconic cassoulet…which is why we are offering 15% off the recipe kit and all the components at dartagnan.com this week (sale ends Friday, 10/10 at midnight EST). Plan a cassoulet party and share the bounty.
We are always sad to see summer go, but there is a certain pleasure in the arrival of autumn. It means going back to the kitchen and the comfort food techniques we love: roasting, simmering and braising. It’s time to get cozy and get cooking.
So we’re kicking it off today with 15% off our favorite meats for fall. Stock up and and plan ahead for kitchen victory. Dust off the slow cooker, and bring on the braise.
Shop and save until Sunday 9/28 – the sale ends at midnight EST.
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 there is 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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