Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Eat it!’ Category

All About Sweetbreads

According to the Larousse Gastronomique, sweetbread is “the culinary term for the thymus gland (in the throat) and the pancreas (near the stomach) in calves, lambs and pigs.” Larousse further states that thymus sweetbreads are “elongated and irregular in shape” while pancreas sweetbreads are “larger and rounded.”

But sweetbreads are neither sweet, nor are they bread. The word “sweetbread” was first used in the 16th century, but the reason behind the name is unknown. Sweet is perhaps used since the thymus is sweeter and richer tasting than muscle flesh. Bread may come from brede “roasted meat,” or is used because bread was another name for morsel.

Southern Fried Sweetbreads Recipe from Gourmet Magazine

Sweetbreads fit into the category of offal, along with other organs, meaning “off-fall” or off-cuts from the carcass of an animal. Sometimes known as variety meats, the heads, tails, and organs of animals have long held a place in European kitchens. In the days before the supermarket (admittedly most of human history) when people butchered their own animals, nothing was wasted from the carcass. Thus many recipes for the nasty bits were created to make the most of these odd, often highly nutritional and tasty cuts. Sweetbreads, aka thymus glands, help young animals fend off disease, and after about six months, they are no longer needed and disappear. So sweetbreads are only found in calves, lambs and kids, with the sweetbreads from milk-fed veal calves being most commonly eaten.

Sweetbreads from New York’s legendary La Grenouille

Offal has always had a cult following in professional kitchens, though less so with home cooks until recent years. Sweetbreads are highly prized by chefs for their mild flavor and tender, creamy texture. They are quite versatile and can be prepared many ways: sautéed, poached, grilled, fried, roasted or braised. Sweetbreads are often supporting stars in pâtés, terrines, sausages, cold appetizers, stews and salads.

Sweetbreads au Monarch by Deana Sidney of the wonderful blog, lostpastremembered

However they are cooked, sweetbreads must be soaked in cold water for a minimum of three hours, or even up to 24 hours, to remove any blood. Change the water a few times during the soak. Then blanch the sweetbreads—this makes their texture firmer–bring them to a boil in a pot of water and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Place in ice water to cool quickly and then drain. When they are cool enough to handle, take each sweetbread and pick it over, taking off the fatty, gristly, sinewy bits and veins. The trick is to do this without cutting or removing the membrane, though the membrane is removed in some recipes, so the sweetbreads can still be used if the membrane is accidentally broken.

Traditionally, French and Italian chefs serve sweetbreads in rich, creamy sauces, such as veloute sauce or brown sauce, like Madiera, or truffle sauce. Sweetbreads can be served breaded and fried, or grilled after a night-long soak in buttermilk, sautéed, poached or broiled. In the modern renaissance of offal sweetbreads are increasingly being seen on the menus of the nose-to-tail set.

Sweetbreads Grenoble
Veal Sweetbreads with Wild Mushrooms
Veal Tenderloin with Sweetbreads in a Carrot Orange Stew

5 Ways to Cook a Burger

Our country is burger obsessed. According to Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation, American’s eat about 13 billion hamburgers per year while spending over 130 billion dollars on fast food. While we don’t think the burger craze is going away anytime soon, you can take the “junk” out of your food by making more of those burgers at home. Always start with fresh, top-quality, natural ingredients, like our Kobe-Style Wagyu Ground Beef then choose from one of our five favorite cooking methods below, for perfect burgers every time.

Chef’s note: Hamburger patties cook relatively fast so you should have your burger mise en place ready before the meat hits the heat.

Pan-fry it!
Pan-frying is a great method for cooking burgers using minimal time while achieving maximum flavor. A super hot, dry skillet allows the burger to quickly develop a flavorful outer crust without overcooking the interior, keeping the center juicy.

No special equipment is needed, just a shallow fry pan or skillet, large enough to hold all of your patties without crowding and a wide spatula for gentle turning. A spatter screen is recommended but not mandatory.

Start by turning on your exhaust fan then preheat a dry pan over maximum flame until just smoking. The patty should make a sharp sizzle sound when it hits the surface. Now here’s the hard part… don’t touch it! Let the patty develop a nice sear without poking, nudging or squishing! When ready, the burger should be gently turned, just once. After your desired temperature is achieved, gingerly remove the patty and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, right on the bottom bun. The moisture will redistribute evenly throughout the burger and if you do lose any juice, the bun will soak it up.

Smash it!
The smashed burger technique was pioneered in the high-volume greasy-spoons and hamburger stands of the 1920s and 30s. Without having to hand-form patties, smashed burgers saved prep time as several golf-ball sized hunks of ground meat could be thrown onto a flattop griddle at once. Flattening a ball of ground beef on sizzling griddle resulted in a fully caramelized crust over the entire surface area.

To make classic smashed burgers at home, you need a cast-iron or other heavy-duty griddle or an extra-large skillet and a stiff spatula, preferable with a solid surface, not slatted.

Start by turning on your exhaust fan and preheating your griddle. The surface should be nearly smoking and water droplets should dance on the surface. Gently form golf-ball sized hunks of ground beef being careful not to handle it too much then season with coarse salt. Lay the balls gently onto the skillet leaving plenty of space between them. Cook for one minute, then turn the balls over and smash down firmly and evenly with your spatula to create very thin patties. Cook for another minute then flip again, top with cheese if you like and cook for about another minute before sliding onto buns.

Steam it!
Steamed hamburgers are a Northeast regional specialty, served up in luncheonettes and slider shacks since the 1940s. The patties are essentially steamed over a bed of onions on a griddle or cooked vertically in an old-fashioned steamer box. We recommend the former onion-steamed technique for the home cook.

All you need to make soft, steamed burgers or sliders at home is a cast-iron griddle or wide, shallow skillet and a spatula.

Preheat your griddle on medium-high. Place balls of seasoned ground meat onto the griddle and flatten into a patty with your spatula. Place a generous pile of thinly sliced raw onion on top. Cook for about a minute, depending on size. Carefully flip the patty over on top of the onions. Now is the time to add a slice of cheese if desired. Stack the buns on top of the patty, top bun first then bottom bun. This traps steam allowing the patty to cook through and softening the bread. When the burger is done the whole stack is lifted from the griddle and the bottom half of the bun is placed on the bottom of the patty. The result is a burger that despite being completely cooked through is soft, moist and fragrant with onion, on a pillow soft bun.

Broil it!
Broiling is a super easy technique for cooking burgers at home. The intense, direct heat gives the meat a flavorful crust on the outside while sealing in juices. As a bonus, if you use a proper broiling pan, the extra fat will drip away from the meat.

Use of a broiling pan or lipped sheet tray is ideal when broiling hamburgers. Don’t forget the spatula!

Set your oven rack in the top position and preheat your broiler to its highest setting. When forming your patties for broiling (or grilling) it’s important to make a dimple or imprint in the center. When exposed to direct heat not only from below or above but also on its sides, the edges of the patty shrink, cinching the burger and compressing its interior up and out. A simplesmoosh with your fingers remedies this. Next, season your patties, place on the broiling pan. In the oven, the tops of patties should be positioned 3 to 4 inches below the heating elements or flame. Broil for 3 minutes until the top is well browned then flip patties and continue to broil until your burgers reach desired temperature.

Char-Grill it!
A smoky charcoal grilled burger is an American summer staple and heaven for a carnivore. With a little practice, perfect grilled burgers can be yours.

Besides the grill itself, you’ll need charcoal (we recommend natural lump charcoal), vegetable oil for oiling the grate and a metal spatula. A chimney starter, wood chips and meat thermometer are optional items but very useful.

Always start with clean grates. Preheat to high and oil the grates using a folded paper towel held with tongs. A good way gauge if your grill is ready (once your flame has died down and coals have ashed) is to hold your palm about 6 inches above the cooking grate – if you can stand it for no more than 2 seconds, it’s high heat. When forming your patties for the grill, be sure to employ the dimple technique described above. Generously season patties on both sides then place on the grill. Don’t even think about squishing the burgers down or poking at them. Your burger’s juices will end up on the coals not in the patty. Excess fat will drip down during cooking and may cause flare-ups. Covering the grill with the lid for a second or using a spray bottle of water will help. Flip once during cooking and cook to desired doneness – think 2 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Read Between the Buns!

Ah, burgers! One of our favorite subjects. It just so happens we’ve got everything you need for killer burgers on sale right now! And in honor of our summer burger promo, we thought we’d give you some of our favorite burger tips, tricks and recipes. Today we’re starting with the basics – perfecting the patty.

No matter which type of meat you start with or how you dare to dress it up, at the heart of every hamburger lies the patty. The best burgers have a fully caramelized crust over the entire patty surface area but are juicy, moist and gently cooked at the center.

When choosing the blend for your burgers, balance of fat is the key. Too lean and your burger will be dry and bland, while the more fat it contains, the more the patty will shrink when cooking. A patty containing 30% fat can shrink by as much as 25%, leaving you with a diminutive dinner. We prefer an 80/20 blend of ground beef for burgers, like in our Kobe-Style Wagyu Ground Beef. 80/20 burgers stay moist and juicy without losing too much volume.

Overworking your ground beef will put you on the fast track to dry, dense burgers. When forming patties, it’s a good idea to wet or oil your hands slightly to keep the meat from sticking to your fingers and ensure you’re handling it as little as possible. Separate the beef into portions sizes then gently but quickly form into patty shapes about ½ – ¾ inch uniform thickness, and about ½ inch larger than the diameter of your bun to allow for some shrinkage. Intense, direct heat cooking like grilling or broiling will cause patties to seize up and bulge in the center. To prevent this, gently make dimple (about 1½ inches in dia.) in the middle of each patty before cooking.

We think the quality and flavor of the meat should be the star so we like to keep the seasoning simple. A generous sprinkling of coarse kosher salt and a few turns of cracked black pepper are all you need but if you want to spice it up, a generous pinch of Porcini Powder or piment d’Espelette will give an extra layer of flavor without overpowering. Always season after the patties are formed, right before cooking to prevent the salt from drying the meat out.

There are many ways to cook a burger, but no matter which method you choose, there are a few simple rules to ensure the best results. The first rule is: don’t touch it! Once you’ve gently placed your patty on the cooking surface leave it alone so the meat has time to develop the crust. If you try to turn it too early the burger will stick or fall apart. The secret is to flip the burger the second it releases from the surface. Next, turn the patty only once and never press on the patty with the spatula. Pressing will force juices out, resulting in a dry burger. Finally, don’t poke or cut into the patty to check for doneness. Piercing the crust before the meat has rested will result in all of the delicious juices running out. And there will be residual cooking even after you’ve removed it from the heat.

As with all meats, when using direct heat cooking methods, your hamburger patties will need to rest after cooking for the juices to redistribute evenly. Gently remove them from the heat source and allow them to rest for a few minutes on a clean cutting board or platter. Remember to never use the same surface that came into contact with the raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.

The Hot Dog Gets Its Day

With Independence Day accounting for the consumption of 155 million hot dogs alone, it only makes sense that July is National Hot Dog Month. Then there’s a day dedicated to the wiener, but there is some contention over which day exactly. But it’s certainly between July 19 and July 23. Whatever the case (sorry, pun not intended), we are happy to celebrate the sausage heard round the world.

Like the hamburger, America’s other favorite meat in a bun; the history of the hot dog goes back to Germany. But it was at an American baseball game in 1901 that the dachshund sausage was first crammed into a roll. Or it could have been in the 1870s at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, NY at the first Nathan’s. While the origins are murky, passions for our national link sandwich run high, with condiments and dressings reflecting regional tastes.

In June of 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously served hot dogs to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the porch at his estate at Hyde Park, NY. When the queen was puzzled over how to eat them, Roosevelt explained: “Very simple. Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone.”  The New York Times reported on the front page that the King asked for a second hot dog after enjoying his first, and washed them down with beer. The hot dog had arrived as an iconic American food.

Nowadays, the hot dog has gone haute, along with the food trucks that often sell them.  Whether made of duck, buffalo, wagyu beef or alligator meat, and topped with foie gras, homemade pickles, hot peppers, chili, or sauerkraut, the mysterious appeal of the hot dog has endured.

Doug Sohn, proprietor of Hot Doug’s, The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium, and arguably the real-life sausage king of Chicago perhaps said it best: “There are no two finer words in the English language than ‘encased meats,’ my friend.”

So Happy National Hot Dog Day! Go get yourself a dog….

All About Quail

Quail is a collective name for several genera of small, plump birds in the pheasant family. Species or subspecies of the genus Coturnix are native to all continents except the Americas.

The Pharaoh, or Coturnix coturnix, quail are of Eurasian stock (found in Asia, Africa and Europe), and are migratory upland birds that travel in large bevies of up to a hundred. The small birds are physically unable to fly long distances. Instead, they shoot forth in a straight line at low altitudes, leaping from one stopping point to the next, crossing arid wasteland, rivers, or swamps. Often they exhaust themselves in the process, dropping to the ground virtually unable to move. From a hunter’s perspective, their straight flight and easy fatigue make them simple prey.

This behavior gives rise to the belief that it was hordes of the common quail (Coturnix coturnix Japonica), called selav, or “plump one,” in Hebrew, that saved the Israelites wandering in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Was this the God-sent miracle or manna mentioned in Exodus and Numbers? The birds certainly could have been traveling in their annual migration. As late as the turn of the last century, Egyptian bird catchers still exported more than 2 million quail a year to European chefs.

European, Japanese, and rain quail of southern Asia belong to the same family, Phasianidae, of the order of Galliformes. They are classified as Coturnix. Wild quail are not the same breed, although they are Galliformes.

When early settlers arrived in what is now the northeastern United States, they encountered birds about the same size and coloring as the quail they had known in the Old World, and misnamed them. To complicate matters, the bobwhite quail (so called for the male’s loud whistle) was known as a partridge in the South. Among quail found in America are the bobwhite, Gambel’s quail, mountain quail, and Montezuma quail.

Though technically a game bird, quail that is available in stores will always be from a quail farm. If you want wild quail, you’ll have to hunt it yourself. Over the last 25 years, farmed quail has become more widely available in the United States. It was not always so. When Ariane Daguin founded D’Artagnan in 1985 quail were harder to find, and usually ended up at white-tablecloth restaurants. But thankfully, today quail is being prepared in many home kitchens.

Few game birds are as versatile, simple to cook, and easy to enjoy as quail. These plump, juicy birds should be the basis for “Game 101,” because they make everyone – from novices to professionals – look like a champion. Grilled, broiled, or sautéed, they’re almost impossible to ruin. The medium-dark flesh has a mildly gamey flavor that readily takes to being marinated, stuffed, or highly seasoned. They are small, so allow one quail per person for an hors d’oeuvre, and at least 2per person for an entrée. Because they are lean, they need to be cooked quickly over high heat and served medium rare to retain their moisture and flavor.



Grecian Quail on the Grill
Quail with Artichokes Vinaigrette
Quail in Beet, Apricot and Tomato Chutney

All About Rabbit

Before you get all weak in the knees and start humming a Disney tune, let’s examine the facts about eating rabbit meat. The Italians and French eat rabbit the way Americans eat chicken, which is to say, quite often. Rabbit meat is tender, lean, delicious and as versatile as chicken, to which it can also be compared in taste. Rabbits are easy to raise in small spaces, especially in urban or suburban settings, and true to their reputation, reproduce quickly.

They are an ideal source of protein for all these reasons, and yet, the United States has yet to embrace a rabbit revolution on the plate. Sure, when times are tough, people will turn to backyard rabbit hutches, like they did during the Depression and both world wars. But there’s something about the bunny that makes us think “pet” not “pan.”

Frank Stitt’s Rabbit Torino

Eating Rabbit
Rabbits have likely been hunted and eaten since before recorded history, though we do know that around 1000 BC the Phoenicians reached Spain and started to domesticate the wild rabbits they found there. These Old World rabbits were native to North Africa and Spain, but human exploration spread them around the globe. Now rabbits exist on nearly every continent –though they haven’t invaded Antarctica yet. In places where they have no natural predators, like Australia and New Zealand, rabbits are viewed as pests, since they devour agricultural crops, and hunts are organized to reduce their numbers.

Eating rabbit is quite common in the Mediterranean, especially in Italy and France, who are responsible for the highest production and consumption of rabbit in Europe. Typical menus in Italy feature rabbit in cacciatoreragu and lasagna. Because rabbit meat can also be very dry, it is often found in stews or recipes that involved simmering or braising in an aromatic broth. The mildness of the meat is often accented with the bold flavors of fennel, mustard, olives, anchovies or tomatoes. In France, rabbit is classically served with mustard, either Dijon or a coarse, grainy style. In the United States, this is the dish most likely to appear on the menus of French restaurants in the early days of their influence. Today, there is a rabbit renaissance going on. Chefs who have been influenced by the nose-to-tail philosophy, and who are interested in issues of sustainability are discovering that rabbit is right in so many ways. Urban farmers are teaching others how to raise rabbits in small backyards, and even how to slaughter and cook them. Food writers are asking questions about this neglected source of protein, and coming up with some interesting conclusions. If we eat pigs and chickens, there seems to be no logical reason to recoil at the thought of rabbit on the menu.


White Rabbit Lasagna


Wild vs. Farmed
When we do eat rabbit, it is generally farm raised, not wild, since selling hunted game is not legal in the United States. For a taste of the wild variety, hunted on game preserves in Scotland and shipped within 24 hours to the D’Artagnan warehouse, try our Wild Scottish Hare in season. Hare has a decidedly gamey-tasting red meat that is dark and lean, quite different than the pink, milder meat of the farmed rabbit. It is, in fact, from a different genera than the rabbit, though similar in appearance.

Farmed rabbit is usually a cross between the California white and New Zealand white, the two most tender of rabbit breeds. These are far better eating than the tough, strong-flavored rabbits that early American pioneers existed on during their trek across the country. That’s because of the breed, and how much their diet determines the flavor of their meat; rabbits are fed sweet alfalfa hay, oats, wheat and barley, not strong greens like kale or cabbage, to preserve the animal’s delicate flavor.

John Vaast’s Rabbit Terrine


If you are cooking a young rabbit (8 to 12-weeks old), called a fryer, which will be more tender than the older roasters(15-20 weeks), you can fry or roast it. The roasters, contrary to their name, need slow, moist cooking, like braising.

If you are cooking rabbit parts, try the saddle or loin, which are the most tender of the cuts. The front legs are tiny and are best to set aside for stock or stew. The hind legs are tough and almost always need a moist braise. Lean rabbit meat really begs for bacon, or ventreche, to add some fat and protect it during cooking. So don’t be shy with the duck fat, olive oil, or bacon.

Rabbit Torino
Rabbit Stew with Mustard
White Rabbit Lasagna
Pappardelle with Rabbit, Porcini and Parmesan
Rabbit Stew with Nicoise Olives and Rosemary

All About Buffalo

What’s in a Name?
Buffalo versus bison. Is there a difference? While the names are used interchangeably in casual conversation, the American Bison (Bison bison) is a distinct mammal native to North America. The bison is only distantly related to the other true buffalo in the world: the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, the term “buffalo” was used by French trappers as early as 1635, probably from bœuf, meaning ox or beef, and it is this name that is most commonly used, though bison is the correct scientific term. So the name “buffalo” is something of a misnomer, but it has entered the vocabulary of American English, and we will use it, as well as “bison” throughout.

The Age of the Bison
In 1521, when explorer Hernán Cortés first saw a bison in Montezuma’s private zoo, he called them “humpbacked cows.” Though the buffalo did range into the northern parts of Mexico, their population was mostly concentrated in the prairies, where Native American tribes such as the Lakota Sioux depended on them for survival. Their skins, wool, sinew, bones, fat and meat provided for every aspect of their life, and tribes moved their villages in accordance with the great herds. Back then, bison roamed the Great Plains in such large numbers that they blanketed the landscape, and a herd would sound like thunder as it galloped over the prairie. It is estimated that before Europeans arrived in North American there were more than 125 million of the massive, shaggy beasts.

1844 painting by George Catlin entitled, “Hunting Bison in USA.”

Sadly, within a few decades in the 19th century, this oxlike animal, standing 6 feet at the hump and weighing more than 2,000 pounds, went from the most populous beast in North America to near extinction. They were victims of mercenary desire for buffalo skin and tongue (a prized delicacy), the wars against Native Americans, westward expansion, and the callous sport of shooting bison from train cars, which left the landscape littered with spoiling carcasses. Sitting Bull, the Lakota Sioux chief, said: “A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell…a death wind for my people.” By 1889 only 600 bison remained in a couple of preserves, including Yellowstone Park.

However, the bison’s fortunes turned in 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed a federal bill forbidding the slaughter of the animals. Soon after, the American Bison Society was created. Its honorary president was Theodore Roosevelt: under his aegis, Congress established wildlife preserves for bison.

Today the calamity of the 19th century has been reversed. Bison herds are increasing across America and Canada, especially in the northern Plains states. One significant reason herds are growing is that raising buffalo has become commercially attractive. The adage “Eat them to save them” comes to mind. Buffalo meat is not an only extremely tasty red meat, it is quite lean, and considered a healthy meat choice. While interest in low-fat red meat increased, private and public ranchers began to nurture the herd back. Thanks to the efforts of the conservationists at the end of the 19th century, there were enough bison alive to begin captive breeding and reintroducing them to the wild. It is estimated that there are half a million bison in the U.S. today.

Eating Buffalo Meat
The lean, red meat of the American bison has between 15 and 30 percent more protein and 25 percent less cholesterol than beef. In a 3 ½ –ounce serving of buffalo sirloin, there are only 3 grams of fat (compared with 14 grams in beef sirloin), and about half the calories (120 versus 210). Since buffalo meat has less fat than other red meats, it cannot stand up to intense heat. Fat is an insulator that melts before meat begins to cook. When that doesn’t take place, the meat starts cooking immediately. Since the cuts of beef and buffalo look the same, except that buffalo meat is darker in color—a brownish red—people mistakenly overcook it.

Buffalo Steak au Poivre

When cooking buffalo, it is generally best to first rub it with a little oil. It’s important to moderate the heat. If you roast a piece of beef at 325 degrees F, lower the temperature to 275 degrees F for a similar cut of buffalo. For broiling, lower the broiler pan down a notch, at least 6 inches from the heat. And for grilling, use the cooler part of the grill. The meat will then cook in about the same length of time as beef. To be sure of the degree of doneness, an instant-read thermometer is the best tool. The ideal internal temperature is 125 degrees F to 130 degrees F, medium rare. Once you taste it you will be hooked on the sweet, rich meat.

Like the true native that it is, buffalo meat is a great partner with other indigenous American foods, like corn, tomatoes, peppers, chilies and bourbon. But, like America, buffalo meat easily accommodates the flavors of other nationalities. A minimum of flavoring and cooking is all that’s needed to make buffalo meat shine. Try it and you will be hooked on the rich, sweet and satisfying flavor.

Buffalo Steak au Poivre
Buffalo Hanger Steaks with Chimichurri
Anasazi Cowboy Chili with Buffalo and Nopales

All About Squab

Squab are young pigeons that have never flown. For thousands of years, they have been a favorite meal for every stratum of society throughout the world. They were unequivocally the first domesticated poultry, even preempting chicken.

This may surprise twenty-first century Americans. More often we think of pigeons as annoying denizens of city monuments and buildings. In fact, these are rock doves, a relative of pigeons, and far less edible. Yet squab is considered a most exquisite ingredient in cuisines as distinct as Cantonese, Moroccan and French. The simple reason for squab’s universal appeal is the delicate, succulent flesh, truly unlike that of any other bird. Squab is a dark-meat bird, like duck and goose, yet the meat is not nearly as fibrous, rendering it far more tender. Its flavor, when properly cooked, is a lush, rich essence, reminiscent of sautéed foie gras, albeit with more texture.

Historically, squab were a reliable and inexpensive source of animal protein. Documents detailing aristocratic banquets frequently show squab used in one or several important courses. B’stilla, a splendid Moroccan phyllo-crusted pie that is sweet, salty, crispy and juicy at the same time, is traditionally made with squab. It dates from around the 15th century, when the Moors were kicked out of Andalusia and migrated to North Africa. Huge molded timbales of pasta, and molded domes of rice made with squab and rich accompaniments, were fashionable 16th and 17th century Italian culinary showpieces.

Early on, wide circular structures with tapered tops, or dovecotes, were built in fields to attract wild pigeons to roost. Numerous cubbyholes lined the interior, accommodating several breeding pairs. Adult birds forage independently and, being monogamous, return every evening to the same roost throughout their adult life. Other than constructing the residence facility, the squab farmer was required to do little or no maintenance except to harvest the young squab. Using a ladder, one simply plucked them from the nest.

In the United States squab are raised primarily in central California and South Carolina. The birds weigh about 1 pound each. Large covered pens are used for up to a dozen breeding pairs. They are capable of producing up to 24 offspring a year. Parents share in all activities required to raise the squab. They build their nest together, incubate the eggs, and feed the young. The male participates willingly as long as the female accommodates him sexually on demand. When she refuses, he pecks her in the middle of the head. As a result, farmers can separate the sexes far more easily than might otherwise be the case.

They just look for the bald birds, which are females.

Sorting young squab from mature pigeons is also an easy activity. The farmer gathers his squab in a crate. When the crate is opened and shaken vigorously, any birds that fly away are not squab but adult pigeons.

No one farms squab to make a fortune. The birds’ notorious sensitivity prevents using modern poultry techniques, like those employed in the factory farming of chickens, to produce enormous flocks at minimal costs. They respond poorly to artificial insemination and inferior-quality feeds laced with animal by-products.

Farm-raised pigeons must have the same food year-round. Their nesting cubbies must never be disturbed. For this reason, the cost of squab, which has remained constant for decades, is expensive relative to mass-marketed chickens. It’s a whole lot of bother to raise good squab. But these succulent birds make a feast fit for a king.

Roast Squab with Corn Cake
Monarch Restaurant Squab
Mario Batali’s Barbequed Squab al Mattone with Porcini Mustard

All About the Berkshire Pig

The Berkshire is one of the oldest identifiable breeds of pig, which dates back some 300 years to the shire of Berks in England. Legend has it that Oliver Cromwell’s army discovered the breed while in winter quarters, and a welcome find that must have been! This black-coated hog with white areas on the face, legs and tail, is known for its juicy, tender, and flavorful meat which is heavily marbled with fat.

The Berkshire breed became well-known and wide-spread in England, and was even raised by the Royal Family at Windsor Castle in the 1800s. As a gift from the Royal Family, Berkshire hogs were introduced to Japan, where they have been in high esteem ever since. The Berkshire pig is sometimes known as kurobuta, which is Japanese for black pork.

Berkshire Pork Chops with Apples & Onions by Chef Barbara Lynch

First introduced to the United States in the early 1800s, the Berkshire breed offered improvement to the general hog population when crossed with that stock. The fear that the breed would be completely diluted led breeders to start the American Berkshire Association in 1875, the first swine group and registry in the world. The founding of the ABA was met with enthusiasm by the breeders in the U.S. and in England, and it was agreed that only hogs from English herds, or hogs that could be traced back to them would be registered. The first boar to be recorded in the registry was Ace of Spades, bred by Queen Victoria herself. Today, many of our Berkshire breed pigs are descended from these original registered animals.

In 1876, the first US Berkshire Breed Publication read: “The Berkshire meat is better marbled than that of any other breed of swine. That is it has a greater proportion of lean freely intermixed with small, fine streaks of fat making the hams, loins, and shoulders sweet, tender, and juicy. This renders the whole carcass not only the more palatable to persons in general, but are unquestionably the most healthy food. Considering theses facts, the Berkshire, above all others, should be the favorite swine among United States. We ought to take all possible pains in breeding Berkshires in such a manner as to enhance this superior quality.”

Lard and Lean 

Lard used to be in every kitchen, used as cooking oil, in pasty, to bind meat pies, and even had industrial applications. But after World War II, in a new era of convenience and better living through science, cheaper vegetable oils were introduced and replaced lard for the most part. The lard type pigs that farmers raised to keep up with the demand were now considered useless, and instead pigs were selected and bred for lean meat. Berkshire hogs began to fall out of fashion. By the 1980s, industrial farming had become the norm, and Berkshire pigs were of no interest to such farmers, with their slower growing time and abundant fat. But the ABA never wavered, and just kept on breeding and registering the heritage hogs in small numbers. The Japanese also maintained the purity of the breed, and valued the tasty, succulent meat, placing a huge premium on kurobuta pork.

That's a lot of tasty parts!

Thanks to an increased interest in heritage breeds and traditional foods among the culinary cognoscenti, there are more farmers raising them for the market, even crossing the hardy stock with other heritage breeds. As industrial farms crowd out the small farmers, many of them are turning to heritage breeds like the Berkshire pig, and raising them in the old ways, in small scale operations.Chefs across the country will gladly pay more for quality Berkshire pork, raised naturally, on pasture, and farmers are meeting the demand.

Chef Alexander Bernard's Balsamic Glazed Berkshire Tenderloin

Farming Cooperatives 

D’Artagnan sources all heritage and Berkshire pork from a cooperative in Missouri, at the foot of the Ozark Mountains. A group of about a dozen family farmers raise Berkshire and cross breeds (referred to as simply “heritage”) on pasture, with access to individual houses, water and supplemental grain feed. Families of pigs are left together, to forage and frolic outdoors in pastureland. The cooperative is strict about banning the use of antibiotics and hormones on each farm, and about limiting the number of hogs the farms raise. They seek to add another farmer to the cooperative before they add more pigs to any one farm. They are paid a premium for their humanely-raised pork, making the small farm a profitable business, and proving that there might be a future in the old breeds after all.

Pork Chops Milanese
Coffee Rubbed Pork Chops
Braised Berkshire Pork Butt and Beluga Lentils
Bone-in Pork Butt with Green Apple and Crushed Hot Red Pepper

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.


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.