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Posts from the ‘Cooking Tips + Tricks’ Category

Secret Ingredient: Truffle Butter

Our Secret Ingredients series shines a light on products that make all the difference when cooking with D’Artagnan.

It is said that butter makes everything better. If it’s black truffle butter, that’s got to be correct. We spread it on bread with a slice of saucisson sec on top for a perfectly simple – and unexpectedly delicious – hors d’ouevre. Tucked under the skin of a chicken or turkey, the heavenly stuff melts and works all kinds of flavorful magic as the bird roasts. We even make a wagyu burger and slather the brioche bun with truffle butter.

Trust us, you’ll want to keep this stuff in the fridge – with backup in the freezer, where it can last forever.  You can melt it easily and drizzle on your popcorn. Or whip into mashed potatoes. Sometimes just a slice of bread with truffle butter on it is enough to put a smile on your face.

Secret ingredient truffle butter

Stewing Essentials

Stewing is a versatile and economical method of one-pot cooking which creates delicious, stick-to-your-ribs dishes of tender meat and rich sauce. Similar to braising, a stew often consists of meats and vegetables slow-cooked in flavorful liquid over a low flame. The perfect antidote to winter’s chill, stew is deeply comforting and easy to make at home.

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Secret Ingredient: Chestnuts

Our Secret Ingredients series shines a light on products that make all the difference when cooking with D’Artagnan.

The chestnut tree is nicknamed l’arbre à pain, or “bread tree” in France, with good reason: from sweet to savory, chestnuts make their way into many dishes.

A natural to pair with poultry (turkey, goose, duck) or pork (everything from bacon to stuffed tenderloin). The earthy flavor and dense texture of the chestnut make it a unique  – if largely overlooked – addition to any meal.

Find ways to work these little beauties into your recipes.

Secret Ingredient Chestnuts

Secret Ingredient: Demi-Glace

Our Secret Ingredients series shines a light on products that make all the difference when cooking with D’Artagnan.

Demi-glace is one of those things that professional chefs know about and home cooks need to discover. For sauces, there is nothing better. Braising liquid fortified with demi-glace is a miracle. Added to soups, bean dishes and yes, mushroom or vegetable sautés, demi-glace is the secret sauce.

Don’t get caught without demi-glace in the freezer.

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Secret ingredient bonus: pictured is our duck and veal demi-glace. For those more beefy dishes, try our veal demi-glace.

 

Secret Ingredient: Porcini Powder

Our Secret Ingredients series shines a light on products that make all the difference when cooking with D’Artagnan.

Sprinkle a little of this mushroom powder on just about anything for instant umami. We think of it as magic powder, because it has all the earthy power of porcini mushrooms. It can be used in spice rubs, dredges, sautés, creamy dips, sauces and anywhere you want a little oomph. And it’s available year-round, which fresh porcinis certainly are not.

Any mixture of spices can use a bit of porcini powder, whether destined to be rubbed on a turkey, beef, lamb or game bird. Soups, creamy or brothy, as well as stews, can benefit from a soupçon of this precious porcini powder.

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Secret Ingredient: Duck Fat

Our Secret Ingredients series shines a light on products that make all the difference when cooking with D’Artagnan.

We cannot imagine life without duck fat. Discover the joys of its silkiness and delicate flavor; pronounced enough to recognize, subtle enough to let the star ingredients shine.  We sauté with it, rub it on poultry headed into the oven, deep fry in it, beat it into dough, and generally spread the love.

Oh, duck fat, how we adore you. You will forever be in the fridge.

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What is Barding?

Most people agree that everything tastes better with bacon. Wrapping foods in bacon is a fad with serious staying power…and deep historical roots. The technical term for wrapping food in a layer of fat to add flavor and moisture is “barding.” Bacon is commonly used because aside from its signature fat content, the flavor is sweet, salty and smoky at the same time. Perfect for imparting flavor to a lean piece of meat.

Pigeon with bacon and myrtle and wild berries

Classic bacon-wrapped items, such as rumaki (chicken liver or water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and brushed with a sweet soy glaze), angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon), devils on horseback (prunes wrapped in bacon), and bacon-wrapped filet mignon, have been around for years. Veal paupiettes are another classic version of barding.

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Think beyond these old school stand-bys and try baconizing the following:

  • Fruit: dried dates, pineapple wedges, fresh figs
  • Vegetables: bundles of asparagus, green beans or green onions, mushrooms, potato wedges, spicy peppers, cherry tomatoes, avocado wedges, slices of acorn squash
  • Seafood: shrimp, scallops, thick pieces of fish, like seabass or salmon
  • Meat: pork loin, venison tenderloin, meatloaf or meatballs, hamburger sliders
  • Poultry: whole pheasants or guinea hen, bite-sized chicken pieces, bone-in turkey breast, quail
  • Other: hard-cooked eggs, rolls or bread sticks

Once your items are wrapped in bacon, you can choose to bake, broil, grill, or sauté them. If the item you are wrapping in bacon has a short cook time (e.g., a fresh fig), you will need to par-cook the bacon before using to ensure it is fully cooked when the dish is ready to eat. Cook the bacon first in a skillet or the oven until it is half-way cooked, but still pliable. Then proceed to twist, drape or wrap it around the item of your choice, and finish it in the oven, on the grill or in the pan.

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Mix things up by using a wide variety of bacon. Hickory smoked and applewood smoked both have the traditional flavors we all recognize. For something completely different, try duck bacon wrapped around dried apricots or baby bok choy. Ventrèche, or French pancetta, isn’t technically bacon because it is not smoked, but can be used in all the same ways. It is especially good wrapped around figs and blue cheese.

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This squab recipe involves plums wrapped in bacon, which is a variation we highly  recommend. And you can watch Chef Marcus Samuelsson prepare it in our video.

Conquering Cassoulet

090102_cassoulet_hpIn recent years cassoulet has really taken off, and we couldn’t be happier. It’s downright common to see cassoulet on menus and in magazines these days….in all manner of variations. There’s even a recently-published book of essays called “The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage.”  We don’t promise cassoulet miracles, but we can help to dispel your fears about making it at home.  It’s a lot easier than you might imagine.

You can think of cassoulet as the French version of chili: A slow-cooked bean stew studded with tender meat that is best devoured by a crowd. It’s stick-to-your-ribs fare, and French towns compete for best cassoulet, much like a chili cook-off.

For more on the history of cassoulet, and some great photos, check this post.

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Ariane serving cassoulet at a cooking class.

We admit to being somewhat purist about our cassoulet, but that’s because Ariane comes from Auch, in Gascony, where a specific recipe is followed. In cassoulet country (as Southwest France might be called), different versions are made in different towns, and the true recipe is much disputed. Some will use lamb (a no-no in our rule book), or crumbs on the top (zut alors!), while others will–and this is only in America–use low fat meats in an attempt to save calories. Blasphemy!

But first there is the question of the bean. The D’Artagnan version of cassoulet requires French heirloom beans: The haricot Tarbais. This broad white bean has evolved perfectly for the needs of cassoulet. With a thin, delicate skin and sweet, milky flesh, the Tarbais bean is a perfect match for the rich duck leg confit and sausages our recipe contains. And the magic of Tarbais beans is that most of them will remain whole during cooking, but just enough will burst and those will thicken the cassoulet during its many hours in the oven. We won’t tell you that cannellini beans are forbidden, but consider that we began importing Tarbais beans because Ariane found no substitute for them in America.

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Heirloom Haricot Tarbais

We use only duck and pork meats, and nothing smoked. Duck leg confit, duck and Armagnac sausageventrèche (a French take on pancetta) and pork and garlic sausage are the meaty ingredients in our recipe, each offering a unique texture. And we never, ever use crumbs on top. With a generous amount of duck fat, cassoulet will form a natural crust of cooked beans. Ariane was taught to break the crust several times as the cassoulet cooks, to thicken the layer of crunchy beans on top.

With all these “rules” cassoulet might seem intimidating. But there’s really nothing hard about preparing a cassoulet feast. Our recipe kit provides all you need (even a French clay bowl for cooking if you like, though any sizable Dutch oven or heavy pot will do), and our easy-to-follow recipe takes the mystery out of the process.

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Our cassoulet recipe kit with clay bowl for cooking.

Plus, Ariane and her good friend, Chef Pierre Landet, made a video together to show you how simple it is to make a competitive-quality cassoulet on your first try.

Really, if you can make chili, you can make cassoulet. It’s a one-pot meal that cooks slowly in the oven, with only a little attention needed. And when it’s done, you can invite family and friends to a filling and satisfying meal. The nature of cassoulet is convivial, so get a few bottles of Madiran or Malbec and set out the chairs. Any accompaniments should be light, like a green salad and fruit for dessert.

Cassoulet JC Quote (2)

Leave it to Julia…

Braising Essentials

Because we are offering 15% off our favorite cuts for braising this week, we thought it was the perfect time to share some tips for this technique.

Braising is comfort cooking at its finest, and it’s surprisingly easy. And while you may be inclined to keep the dishes all to yourself, braising is a great option for entertaining. With most of the hands-on work completed before the dish even goes into the oven there is ample time to spend with guests, and as the braise cooks it warms your home with an enticing, rich perfume. A larger batch is no more work, yet leaves enough for leftovers, no sharing required. Here are some of our braising basics.

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Equipment
There is really only one piece of special equipment needed for braising – the vessel. You should always use a high-quality, non-reactive, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Your pot should be deep enough to hold all of your ingredients while allowing about two inches of space at the top for evaporation and condensation, or self-basting, as we like to call it. If in doubt, always go up a size. Some specialty pots have features that enhance this moisture up/moisture down process, like a cocotte which has small spikes on the underside of the lid allowing for continuous self-basting, or a doufeu, a pot with a recessed lid to which you add ice to speed up condensation. These features are nice but often come with a hefty price tag. For basic braising, we recommend a simple Dutch oven made from enameled cast iron as it conducts and holds heat evenly and can be used to both brown the meat stovetop, then finish braising in the oven for true one-pot cooking.

The long & short of it
There are two basic types of braising: short and long. Short braising, or cuisson à l’étuvée in French, is great for vegetables, small birds and lean, tender poultry such as chicken or rabbit. It’s a fast process by which you quickly brown the ingredients in fat then add a flavorful liquid and barely simmer until just cooked through. The entire process is finished in less than an hour. Long braising or, braisage, uses similar techniques but achieves something different entirely. Tough cuts of meat such as short ribs, shoulders, shanks and briskets are browned in fat, then liquid and aromatics are added and the dish is cooked at very low temperature, staying below a simmer, for a long period of time. Cooking meat slow and low breaks down the sinewy connective tissue, first into collagen, then melting into gelatin. The cooking liquid reduces to become the accompanying rich and complex sauce.

Browning Basics
When browning meat for braising, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, never skip this step as browning the meat is an essential part of the braising process and your dish will lack flavor without it. Lean or tender cuts should be patted dry for a more intense browning effect. Fatty cuts should be dusted with flour pre-searing to develop a nice crust that will help to hold juices in. Heat your oil (duck fat works beautifully!) over high flame until quite hot then add your meat. Get the meat evenly brown and crusty on all sides. Be mindful not to crowd the pan, working in batches if necessary.

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Get Saucy!
The fork-tender meat may get top billing in braised dishes but the rich, luscious sauce is just as important. This long gentle method of cooking does most of the sauce work for you. There are some subtle tweaks you can make at the end of cooking to adjust the final product and really make your dish shine. If your sauce is thinner than you’d like, simply move some of the liquid to a small saucepan and reduce over medium-high heat. When thickened, add back into the pot. If your sauce is too thick, add some hot broth or wine and simmer. If you were over-generous with your seasoning, add a peeled potato or two during cooking. The starch will absorb a bit of the salt. Discard them before serving. Not enough flavor? Add freshly chopped herbs, citrus zest or spices at the very end of cooking and offer a bit at the table for garnish. Not enough body? At the end of cooking, shave in a small amount of bitter chocolate! It’s a professional kitchen secret that few chefs will reveal. A light hand will yield spectacular results. If your dish is too fatty, simply chill the whole pot in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will rise to the top and solidify, making it easy to discard. The extra time allows the flavors to marry and concentrate too. If you’re short on time, you can also let it rest for a half hour then skim the top with a shallow spoon.

Quick Tips

When reheating, remove the meat from the thickened sauce and bring it to a low boil then toss the meat back in just to heat through.

Braised dishes freeze beautifully – make a big pot, freeze individual portions in airtight containers and enjoy on a cold, rainy day.

Braised meats also make fantastic leftovers. Try adding to tacos or burritos, shepherd’s pie, pasta, sandwiches or salads.

Making Chicken Stock

“Indeed, stock is everything is cooking. Without it, nothing can be done.”  –Escoffier

Forget about the cans and boxes of watered-down, flavorless stock in stores. The best stock is made at home and the good news is: it’s not difficult to do. You will be amply rewarded with glorious, golden liquid that will boost the flavor of sauces and serve as a base for soups. Professional chefs confess that they dip into a constantly bubbling stock pot when water is called for in a recipe.

Stock cooling in quart containers

Health benefits

When Brillat-Savarin said, “Soup is a healthy, light, nourishing food, good for all of humanity; it pleases the stomach, stimulates the appetite and prepares the digestion,” he was not referring to canned soup or low-sodium, thin broth. Bone broth rich with gelatin was the basis of soup in his day. And French studies on gelatin have found it to be useful in treatment of many diseases, and helpful to digestion.

Rich, homemade chicken stock has been called “Jewish penicillin” for its healing qualities. Bone stock has minerals that the body can absorb easily—important ones like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. Why pay for supplements like glucosamine chondroitin, which supports joint health, when you can get it naturally from bone stock?

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How it’s done

Whether making chicken, fish or beef stock, the first thing you will need is a pile of bones. And the next is a stainless steel pot. The one we used is a 14-quart stock pot, but depending on how many bones you have, you can do this in a smaller (or larger) pot.

Waste not, want not. Start a bone collection; save all the bones, wing tips, backs, necks and gizzards from any poultry that you eat. Seal the bones in a bag and store in the freezer until you’ve collected enough and are ready to make the stock. No need to defrost them–frozen clumps can go right into the stock pot.  And you can mix raw and roasted bones and bits together in the pot.

If you can get hold of chicken feet, throw them in–the collagen in them makes a gorgeous, gelatinous broth that jiggles when refrigerated. This is the holy grail of chicken stock.

We used a combination of a fresh, raw chicken carcass mixed with frozen chicken bones.  Toss the carcass and bones into the pot with the onion, carrots, celery and bay leaves. Cover with water. The rule of thumb here is that meat, bones & water + heat & time = stock.  All you need to do is fill the pot with as much water as possible and let time and heat do their thing.

Bring the whole thing to a boil, and skim the foamy scum off the top. Always skim! The effluvium that rises to the top can spoil the taste of the stock, and it looks pretty nasty, too. You can use a broad, flat spoon or a fine-mesh strainer to do this.

Then reduce the heat and simmer for 6 to 8 hours. The longer you cook it, the more concentrated and flavorful the stock will be.  You can cook it for 10 hours if you like, or even 24. It will just continue to reduce and become more delicious.  About 10 minutes before finishing, add the optional parsley (just throw it in whole), for added dimension and brightness.

Allow to cool a bit before attempting to remove the bones, chicken scraps and soft vegetables with a strainer or slotted spoon. Strain the stock into another pot or large bowl. Allow to cool and skim off the fat as it rises to the top. Be sure to save the fat. Chicken fat, aka schmaltz, is a valuable cooking medium, and a necessity in chopped chicken liver. Or leave the fat in the stock, and pour into quart or pint containers.  Do not fill to the top, as the stock will expand when frozen. Store a quart in the refrigerator and put the rest in the freezer. When you chill it, the fat will separate and you can remove it then.

Use chicken stock in sauces, soups and sautéed vegetables. Add some to the water when cooking rice and pasta. You will soon find it an indispensable ingredient in the kitchen. Add salt and pepper when you cook with the stock, but never in the reducing process, or it will get too salty.

What You Need for Chicken Stock 

1 whole free-range, organic chicken (or assorted bones)
2-4 chicken feet
1-2 onions, cut in half
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2-3 bay leaves
Bunch of parsley (optional)