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Posts from the ‘Bits & Bites’ Category

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Remembering Julia

Ariane Daguin and Julia Child had many things in common – height, boldness, creativity, humor and a healthy dose of irreverence. But the thing that bonded them was their passion for sharing the pleasures of French food with America. While Julia had TV audiences eating out of her hand, she took time to encourage Ariane in the early years of D’Artagnan to help the fledgling business grow.

August 15, 2012 would have been Julia’s 100th birthday and it’s a time to celebrate her life. Here, Ariane reflects on how much Julia meant to her, sharing memories of the culinary icon that inspired a generation, and who continues to do so.

D’Artagnan exists today in part thanks to Julia Child.

First, because she was the initiator of the good food crusade; in our world of gastronomy, there are definitely two Americas: the one before, and the one after Julia!

Certainly, she was the pioneer who elevated good food to a higher priority in this country. Without her, legions of dedicated artisanal suppliers like us, passionate chefs, and prolific writers would not be here today, arguing about the true meaning of organic, what constitutes local and seasonal boundaries, or the proper age of a Berkshire pig to achieve ideal belly fat.

Second, because not only did she help advance the “good food” cause in general, but she also helped me promote D’Artagnan’s mission, in the early days of the company. 

I met Julia while her influence was at its height. She could not participate in a cooking seminar, enter a restaurant, or even cross the street without creating a mob scene. So I learned quickly that once we entered a public place, whether intimate or not, there would be no more one-on-one conversation.

At the time, 28 years ago (when D’Artagnan started), she was actively working to organize the gastronomes of the country, and constantly invited us to participate in her events and gatherings.

When we were together at those gatherings, she would take me under her wing, like a second mother this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

While giggling in French between us, she would make a point to introduce me to everybody in sight who was “somebody.”

I remember, in particular, one of the first conferences of the A.I.W.F. (American Institute of Wine and Food), that she helped create. We had, after she introduced us to each other, extremely animated discussions: one with Calvin Trillin on cooking spare ribs, and the other with Alice Waters, on which kind of thyme can grow where.

At every food show where she knew we were participating, she would come and get me at D’Artagnan’s booth. We would then walk the aisles together, creating an instant mob scene wherever we decided to stop and taste the goods.

The last time I saw Julia was in Boston, just before she left to retire for good in Santa Barbara, CA. She had invited me to do a talk about foie gras, in the afternoon, then brought me to a Les Dames D’Escoffier cocktail event where, as usual, all the guests flocked around her the minute we entered the room. That evening, for the first time, she had to ask for a chair and continued her greetings while seated.

The next day for lunch, she asked me to meet her at Biba, Lydia Shire’s restaurant which was then THE place to be in Boston. I arrived slightly late (visiting chef clients and getting lost in Boston in the morning). When I got there, Julia was already at the table, seated in front of a tall drink that appeared to be tomato juice. Going with what I assumed was the flow, I asked the waiter for a Bloody Mary. To which Julia added, in her unmistakable multi-tone voice: “Oh, what a good idea! Could you make mine one, too?”  At which, Lydia arrived on the double, with a bottle of vodka in hand. Glasses were filled (constantly) and I remember nothing but that sentence that I try, very badly, to imitate once in a while.

It’s wonderful to see the world celebrating her life on the 100th anniversary of her birth this month. But I’m not surprised, because there is no other “food celebrity” that inspires more affection and devotion than Julia. Actually, she was the beginning of our modern concept of a food celebrity. Her personality was so huge and so generous that it came through the TV. Whether she was tossing a limp, American-style baguette over her shoulder in disgust or burning her eyebrows off making bananas flambé, Julia embodied the spirit of adventure in cooking. She was always learning, even as she taught. She made cooking entertaining, took it from drudgery to artistry—and beyond, to fun. And she did it in a very approachable way, making mistakes, dropping things on the floor, the way you do in real life. Suddenly, French food wasn’t so fancy; it was food you could make at home.

It seems to me that you can’t overestimate the importance of a cultural phenomenon like Julia. Without her, would we even have multiple TV channels dedicated to cooking shows? Or so many food blogs?  I think that the cult of the kitchen started with Julia. She made people want to cook, talk about food and challenge themselves in the kitchen. 

And even now, years after her death, her fame grows with biographical books and movies. This month, to celebrate the 100th anniversary, there are restaurants around the country offering special menus of her recipes. But most of all, there are people cooking her recipes at home. That’s her true legacy. She got people to embrace French cuisine in their kitchens, with her confident voice ringing in their ears and her inspired (and tested!) recipes as a guide. Her joie de vivre and passion for food were infectious. Sharing that on her TV show made French food accessible to Americans. It made her a star, and she even created a catchphrase–that sing-song trademark sign off, “bon appétit!”  - Ariane

YES CHEF! Now do your homework.

NBC Nightly News aired an interesting story this week about Flynn McGarry. While most 13 year old boys are pining over girls, worrying about pimples or playing hours of nintendo, young Flynn is donning an apron, mastering his brunoise and upping his sous vide game. Flynn is a 13 year old aspiring chef in Los Angeles whose passion for cooking is so great he actually turned his bedroom into a professional kitchen. We kid you not. Young Flynn also hosts a monthly underground dinner in his parent’s house and recently manned the stoves for a special pop-up at LA eatery, Playa. “Chef” McGarry served a seasonal 9-course meal to a sold out house. We’re curious to see what this budding toque does next. Check out the NBC video and Flynn’s website here.

All About Muscovy Duck

The Muscovy duck (Cairina moschataoriginated in the warm region of South America, and although a tropical bird, can adapt to cold weather conditions down to 10°F without ill effects. This recommended it to domestication in North America, and also made possible flocks of feral ducks in parks. Muscovy ducks are brown-black in color, with some pale wing coloration, but many of the domesticated ducks have been bred for white feathers.

The drake, or male, grows from 12 to 15 pounds though the hen, or female, is much smaller, weighing from 8 to 10 pounds. Both have what is called a caruncle – a fleshy, bulbous growth- on the head. This is a breed distinctive trait. They are also quiet ducks – the male makes a low hissing sound, not a full quack, and the females makes a short, weak quack called a pip, which sounds like a flute.

Muscovies are excellent fliers and like perching in trees, aided by sharp claws on their webbed feet. And they like to eat mosquitoes, spiders, slugs and bugs of all kinds, which makes them an ideal addition to a poultry barnyard.

Sometimes called Barbarie or Barbary duck, the Muscovy duck is thin-skinned, low in fat, and has deep red, mildly gamy meat which is sometimes compared to roast beef for its flavor, and veal for its tenderness. There’s also much more of it. The carcass of a Muscovy duck is heavier than most other domestic ducks, and has a larger breast that its Pekin counterpart, with up to 40% less fat than that breed. And while it may appear to cost more per pound than other ducks, Muscovy duck has a higher meat to bone ratio, which means you are getting more meat and less bone for the money!

And being so lean, the meat renders out less fat in cooking. Muscovy ducks have less fat and less calories per pound than turkey. All of this contributes to a flavorful and healthy eating experience. Europeans have been enjoying the Muscovy duck meat for a long time, and the popularity of this duck is growing in the United States.

D’Artagnan’s Muscovy ducks are raised without any growth hormones, steroids or antibiotics on a farm in California’s sunny, dry San Joaquin Valley by a producer that has been breeding ducks for more than 35 years. The ducks are fed a diet of corn, soy, wheat and alfalfa and are left to grow in open barns for up to ninety days, which means that they develop a meaty, full-flavored breast.

Recipe Suggestions:
Duck Civet
Double Duck Breast with Baked Figs and Duck Liver Toasts
Seared Muscovy Duck Breast with Marsala Orange Sauce with Red Currants
Smoked Muscovy Duck Breast, Tosaka Seaweed, Foie Gras Toast, Cherry Leaf Vinaigrette

Let your FOIE FLAG fly!

The California ban on foie gras will be in place this July. Food lovers all over the country need to pay attention, because it’s the first state-wide ban on foie gras in our country. It sets a dangerous precedent, and it’s a wedge that animal rights activists will use in their campaign against these artisanal products and meat in general. Sure, it’s foie gras now – but what’s next?

Let’s keep the State off our plate! Show your support with our free badge for your blog or website. It’s easy. Just copy the code (in our sidebar, at right)  to your blog or website. When visitors click on the image, it will open up the petition at Artisan Farmer’s Alliance, in a new browser window.

For WordPress blog users: In your dashboard, click on appearance>widgets. Drag a text box into your sidebar or footer. Copy and paste the code, hit save.

Learn more about foie gras production and keep up with the latest news at Artisan Farmers Alliance.

Umami Dearest…

Umami (pronounced /oo-mäme/) is a relatively new term. It’s a Japanese loan-word referring the fifth taste, completing the revamped five-taste model alongside salty, sweet, sour and bitter. The mysterious word which as of late has been popping up frequently in food writing, blogs, restaurant menus, and cooking shows, describes a taste you are no doubt already familiar with. If you’ve eaten a well-ripened tomato, aged parmesan cheese, porcini mushrooms, cured ham, miso soup or even French fries dressed with ketchup, you’ve experienced umami.

Shiitake mushrooms - an excellent example of Umami

The sensation is difficult to characterize but some describe it as savory, meaty, mouth-watering and having depth or roundness. While many fail to recognize umami when they taste it, it plays no less of an important role in making food taste delicious.

So what is it exactly?
Salty, sweet, sour and bitter are fairly straightforward tastes but umami is slightly different. Umami is a distinct but difficult to describe, savory taste caused by the interaction of glutamates (amino acids), and ribonucleotides (naturally occurring compounds in food) reacting with receptors on the tongue, or taste buds. Some umami taste buds respond specifically to glutamate in the same way that “sweet” buds respond to sugar.

Cured hams, like Jambon de Bayonne, trigger umami receptors

Think about biting into a cheddar cheeseburger with ketchup, spaghetti with marinara sauce and a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano or a salt-kissed slice of Jambon de Bayonne – the saliva-inducing, mouth-filling, deep, satiating taste – that is umami. In addition to being a unique standalone taste, umami seems to enhance foods it is combined with, intensifying other flavors as well.

History & controversy
Although the term is relatively new, the concept of umami is ancient. Examples of umami-rich foods can be traced back centuries. The taste appeared in early cured and fermented foods, such as the Roman condiment, garum, and fermented Asian sauces such as soy sauce, which is thought to have originated over 2,800 years ago.

Ancient Roman fermenting vats, used in the production of Garum

In the late 1800s, the “king of chefs and chef of kings”, Auguste Escoffier, discovered and noted the unique character of umami, when he developed his famous veal bone stock. The exquisite dishes he enriched with the stock had a new quality – one that was deep, rich and could not be described as salty, sweet, sour or bitter. Although he couldn’t fully articulate this new taste, causing French scientists to diminish his discovery, Escoffier knew he had stumbled onto something important. Well-heeled Parisians thought so too, flocking to the Ritz Hotel in droves to experience his dishes for themselves.

Auguste Escoffier & Kikunae Ikeda, Taste Pioneers

A short time after Escoffier’s discovery, the Japanese expression “umami” was coined. In 1908, Tokyo University Professor, Kikunae Ikeda, while studying the palatability of broth made from kombu seaweed noted that the taste could not be classified as salty, sweet, sour or bitter. He combined umai “delicious” and mi “taste” to describe the broths rich, deep, savory quality and wrote a scientific article outlining his find. But just as with Escoffier, scientists rejected Ikeda’s findings. The traditional four-taste model was so dominant, umami’s status as a fifth taste was considered controversial until nearly 100 years after it’s discovery when a new generation of scientists finally took a closer look. They discovered, just as Escoffier and Professor Ikeda had alleged that indeed there is a fifth taste. And it’s delicious.

Spring is here! Cue the ramps!

Spring fever has officially hit D’Artagnan! We love everything about this time of year – longer days, warmer temps, birds singing, trees budding. But what really excites us about spring? The seasonal bounty that flows into the Mushroom Department this time of year. First in? RAMPS!

The ramp is a wild onion native to North America, and is sometimes called spring onion, wild leek or wild garlic.According to John Mariani, author of “The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink,” the word ramp comes from “rams,” or “ramson,” from Elizabethan dialect, referring to wild garlic. The word is first mentioned in English print in 1530, and was used by English immigrants of the southern Appalachian Mountains, where ramps grow in abundance. In fact, West Virginia celebrates the spring season with ramp festivals and events.

The ramp resembles a scallion with a pungent bulb below ground, but could be mistaken for a lily-of-the-valley above ground, with dark green, broad leaves, that grow about six inches tall. The lower part of the stem, near the white bulb can be tinted with a reddish-purple color. You cannot mistake the ramp for anything else in the bare forest. Just break a leaf and if you smell the very garlicky-onion scent, you’ve found yourself some ramps. Ramps grow from South Carolina to Canada and are often the very first green thing to appear in the dun-colored, winter-weary forest. Ramps are most often found near the banks of streams or rivers, in moist areas that are shaded, and on hillsides. They grow in clumps and spread outward, so are often spotted in large patches of green leaves. Ramps are an easy and safe plant for the beginner forager to pick and eat.

Long appreciated by country folk and eaten as a spring tonic, the ramp has in recent years taken on a mantle of cult status among chefs in fine restaurants. As a result, there are more people enjoying ramps than ever before. Ramps have defied attempts at cultivation, so are only picked in the wild. There are concerns that ramps may be overharvested. While that might not be a realistic concern about this tough little forest plant, ramps do take several years to propagate. So if you do forage for ramps, pick only what you need and know you can eat. Don’t pick all in the same spot, but try to thin out areas that are packed with plants, leaving room for the remaining plants to spread, and provide you with more ramps in seasons to come. A good rule of thumb is to never take more than a third of a patch.

Cooking

Since ramps are collected in the forest, they tend to be dirty. The bulb and roots are always coated in dirt, so they must be heavily rinsed. Cut off the roots as close to the bulb as possible, and run the green leaves under water carefully. Bugs, twigs, pine needles and other detritus of the forest floor might hitch a ride on your ramps.

The leaves and bulbs are both edible, though are often cooked separately, as the bulbs take a bit more time to cook through. The bulbs offer a punch of garlic flavor to any dish that might benefit from that: soups, eggs, rice or potato dishes. Ramps can be eaten raw, as you would a scallion, though they will be much stronger in flavor. In central Appalachia, ramps are most often fried with potatoes in bacon fat (though duck fat does nicely, too), or with scrambled eggs and bacon. Like their onion cousins, ramps get on well with bacon. Perhaps it is because of the way that the smoky intensity of bacon balances the pungent garlicky essence of the ramp.

Ramp Stuffed Rabbit Loin Recipe with Wild Mushrooms

Our Ramp Stuffed Rabbit Loin Recipe

Whether you sauté ramps as you would onions, or grill them whole, add them to a casserole or gratin or mix them into a cornbread stuffing, the only time to eat them is in early spring. Unless you pickle the bulbs to enjoy as a garnish the rest of the year, or freeze them for winter cooking adventures. Some people are content to simply enjoy ramps during those early weeks of spring, when they are the first green vegetable to appear after a long cold winter.

A Day of Meat: Backstage at a Photo Shoot

What do you do when you’ve got a whole lot of meat to photograph? Well, here at D’Artagnan we turn to Ted Axelrod, a local photographer with an appreciation for good food and a meaty sense of humor.

Ted’s studio is in his home, which is crammed with all kinds of cool props, from cutting boards to glassware, vintage dishes to copper pots. He’s got perfect natural light in his sunroom and a spare refrigerator, which came in handy for us.

With piles of products ranging from raw Wagyu beef short ribs and rack of lamb to truffle butter and charcuterie, we set to work on the two-day shoot. Turns out it’s not so easy to make raw meat look appetizing! Our hats are off to all the food stylists and photographers out there whose work makes us drool.

Ted’s dogs, Gracie and Ella, were so well behaved; they didn’t snag a single duck breast off the table. And considering they had to endure the smell of raw meat all day, that’s a small miracle! We will admit to tossing them a few trimmings from the steaks and chops…and the innards from the chicken and pheasant.

On day two we set up a huge panoramic spread that represented nearly every type of product we sell. With a camera suspended on an arm directly overhead, we tweaked and previewed and reorganized until everything looked perfect. Then we unwrapped it all!  As soon as meat is exposed to the air, it begins to oxidize, which makes it dull in color. You’ve got to move fast.

Naturally, we left the fridge full of food!  Ted and his wife Susan, who is a food writer and editor, have been cooking up a storm with it all, and posting some of the results on their blog Spoon and Shutter.

We love their braised pheasant post, with step-by-step instructions, and the great photos (we’d expect nothing less!). Check out their progress as they try to eat their way through our catalog!

Look for Ted’s photos to be posted on our website soon.

Time Out NY: Best New Burgers 2012

Time Out New York released their Best New Burgers feature last week. We were super excited to see this years picks – not only because we’re serious burger connoisseurs but because several of our chef friends made the cut. Chef David Malbequi from Prima Strada and Chef Chris Rendell of Whitehall Bar + Kitchen both scored big using D’Artagnan meat. Check. It. Out.

best burgers in new york city prima strada restaurant

time out new york best burgers nyc 2012 whitehall restaurant

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