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In the history of world cuisine, French chefs have been accused of being many things, but rarely ever “shy.” The French tradition holds dear the notion of not only using every part of an animal, leaving nothing edible to waste, but also of celebrating certain dishes that that often make more squeamish diners fold their napkins away and politely excuse themselves from the table.
There’s foie gras, of course, the production of which is abhorred by many and cherished by many more (us included, obviously). And then we have the ortolan, a small songbird that, due to the traditional preparation — it is gorged on grains, drowned in Armagnac and then roasted, served, and consumed in a single mouthful– has become illegal in France, although many intrepid diners continue to find gastronomic speakeasies that continue to serve it.
But one of our absolute favorite dishes — and kitchen implements — is the much lauded and feared duck press. Considered by many to be the most spectacular entree in classical French cuisine, the duck press is a device and method of preparation that was invented by a man named Machenet in Paris at the dawn of the 19th century, quickly becoming popular among the culinarily elite. The contraption, and its corresponding dish, canard à la rouennaise (or, “duck in blood sauce”) was later adopted by Chef Frèdèric of the restaurant La Tour d’ Argent (or “Silver Tower”), making it his restaurant’s signature dish, which they continue to serve today.
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
All week we will revel in the glory of charcuterie – and we’re calling it Charc Week.
And you get to enjoy 15% off all things smoked, cooked and cured at dartagnan.com. Please share your charcuterie stories, pictures or anything charcuterie related with us on Twitter and Facebook – be sure to use the hashtag #CharcWeek.
#CharcWeek ends Sunday, September 7 at midnight EST.
You don’t have to double check – this is the D’Artagnan blog, and you did just read the word “salad.” We are known as hardcore carnivores, but we are hungry omnivores with an appreciation for a well-composed salad. As long as there is some meat on it.
And it’s summer – the perfect time to try one of our favorite salads, like this smoked duck and cherry salad that serves beautifully as a cold supper on a hot night.
While this salad is perfect for brunch, it could easily satisfy as a dinner. The winning combination of bacon and eggs works well on a bed of asparagus.
A somewhat less traditional salad, with the frisée and romaine lettuces lightly browned in butter, makes a delicious surprise. Then the salad dressing is stirred in the hot pan. Now that is a salad! Watch Marcus Samuelsson demonstrate the technique in this video with Ariane. The rich red meat of squab deserves a bed of salad like this. Did we mention the plums wrapped in bacon? Oh, yeah.
A yearlong favorite, the simplest salad of all: duck confit shredded and served atop your favorite greens. Our recipe has an Asian flair, but you can dress the salad with a basic vinaigrette as well, with equally satisfying results. Get the confit crispy under the broiler for maximum effect.
While it seems minimal, this salad of thinly-sliced cucumbers offers a refreshing crunch when paired with lamb. Is is salad? We will allow it.
Creamy, cool bleu cheese sauce and crunchy shallot rings are the perfect foil for smoky and rich ribeye steaks – hot off the grill. Serve these beauties with your favorite potato dish and a crisp green salad.
2 shallots, thinly sliced into rings
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
Oil, for frying
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
¾ cup heavy cream
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 Bone-In Ribeye Steaks, about 20 oz. each
1. Add shallots to a small bowl, cover with milk and allow to soak for about 30 minutes. In another small dish, mix together flour and cornstarch. Working in batches, using a fork, dredge the shallot rings in the flour mixture, coating evenly. Put battered rings aside on a plate. In a shallow skillet, heat oil to 350 degrees.
2. Again working in batches, fry battered shallots until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels. Season with coarse salt and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, fold together blue cheese crumbles and cream. Season with pepper. Refrigerate until needed.
4. Heat grill to medium-high or heat coals in a charcoal grill until they glow bright orange and ash over. Lightly oil hot grates.
5. Let steaks stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Season both sides of each steak with coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
6. Grill steaks for about 6 minutes on the first side, rotating 90 degrees at the halfway mark to create cross-hatch grill marks, if desired. Using tongs, flip each steak to the other side and grill for another 6 minutes, or until desired doneness. We suggest medium-rare, which would register 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
7. Let steaks rest for 8 -10 minutes before serving, each with a generous spoon of blue cheese sauce. Top with crispy shallots.
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Great for brunch, this golden bread is packed with flavorful bacon, cheese, and fresh herbs between each heavenly layer. Adapted from a sweet bread recipe by legendary baker, Flo Braker, this bread is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Serve warm with unsalted butter for an extra decadent treat.
2 cups bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
2¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 slices hickory smoked bacon, cooked and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup finely chopped soft herbs, such as flat leaf parsley, tarragon, chives, dill, and thyme
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Freshly ground black pepper
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine water, sugar and yeast. Allow to sit for 1 minute. Add salt and softened butter. Add 2 cups of flour and mix on medium speed until combined and a shaggy dough is formed.
Switch to the dough hook, and with the mixer on low speed, the rest of the flour a few tablespoons at a time until the dough is formed.
Knead until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and becomes springy and pliable, about 8 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a round ball. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Allow to rise into warm location until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Allow to rest for a few minutes before rolling out into a 12 inch x 20 inch rectangle.
Brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, then season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the diced bacon and parmesan cheese.
Then add garlic, herbs and cheddar cheese evenly over the dough.
Cut the dough into 6 equally sized strips. A pizza wheel works well for this. Using a large offset spatula to lift the dough, stack the strips on top of each other.
Cut the stacked dough width wise into 6 rectangles. A large chef’s knife works well. Stack the squares on top of each other, cut side up in a lightly greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Once filled, drizzle the remaining butter over the top.
Cover the loaf with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for about 45 more minutes.
Bake in a 350 degree F preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown on top and the center of the loaf registers 190 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.