Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foie Gras Flavor

On Tues. Oct 27th the CIA meat room and the Gourmet Society hosted a demo and tasting conducted by Rougie Foie Gras. Rougie is the largest producer of Foie Gras in the world and they have an extensive operation now outside of Montreal, Canada. Benoit Cuchet, President of Rougie Canada and Lisa Petrucco, area manager for the US joined us for a tour, dinner and then presentation and tasting for the student body. Rougie had very generously donated 20 lobes of Foie which arrived on Fri. The Gourmet Society, with some help and explanations from Chef Rapp, Chef Martini and the meatroom MIT Steven Bookbinder, prepared over 150 taste portions each of Torchon and seared foie for the sampling. The students did a very fine job of preparing and serving the portions. The teamwork was great and it showed, once again, what a great organization the Society is.

Before the demo I took Benoit and Lisa for a tour of our facility including the baking and pastry classes. It is always amazing to see the craftsmanship going on in classes all over campus. We then proceeded to have dinner in the Escoffier Room. Chef DeCoster was a wonderful host and treated us to some of his Foie terrines. The meal was superb and instructor Miller's front of the house crew was quality as well. Our guests were impressed by the professionalism displayed.

Benoit's lecture and powerpoint were well received by all who attended. He was very informative, presenting the history, nutritional info, and describing the Rougie way of fattening ducks and how it differs from other producers. He held the attention of students throughout the demo and it was interesting yet concise. On closing, students asked some very valid and pointed questions which made the demo that much better.

Thanks to all involved and to all who attended but especially to Benoit and Lisa for providing the wonderful taste.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is all dry aged the same??

On Monday a few of the meat room crew, Chef Elia, Steven and Kevin, went down to NYC to check out some meat shops. First we stopped at the premier meat distributor Debragga and Spitler in the old meat district on Washington Street. Upon arrival I took them up to the elevated rail/park that sits above the street. This was how all meat was brought into Manhatten in the hayday of the market district. There are still some old rails showing how the meats were loaded off rail cars straight into coolers. Gravity was used to move all the meats down during processing to the street level. It is an amazing park and it is nice to see the bit of meat history preserved.

Back in the day all beef was sent to New York as whole sides. There was no vacuum bag and it took a few days to get it from slaughter to the market, then it would sit a few more days in warehouses and maybe again at the local butcher. It was often 10 - 15 days old by the time the customer put it on the grill. It was well on its way to being dry aged. Today almost all meat is sent in bags and is wet aged.

So what is the difference? Dry aged is much more concentrated in flavor. Moisture evaporates about 13- 15 % leaving a fuller flavor. But there is more to it. When beef is aged a certain flora is created. Molds that are unique to a meat locker develop on the outside like those of a fine Salami.

We met Marc Sarrazin at around 9:30 after some introductions and small talk we started our tour of Debragga. Marc is a meat purveyor supreme. As we walk through a large cooler full of dry aging beef he explains his processes for creating some of truly the finest beef in the world! I have seen a lot of quality beef over my years buying beef with my father in the old markets that are now mostly gone from lower Manhatten, but Marc has the knack for exceeding the old traditions of the past. Between the newer genetics bred into today's beef and the old coolers that have just the right environment and flora the beef is better than ever.

We have been getting some dry aged at the school lately from a different purveyor but it doesn't have the same tangy "prosciutto" undertone flavor. It is good, but not great. Not all dry aged is created equal!

After touring the dry aging room we took a look at the boxed beef in another cooler. Kevin's classic line was "This is the Fort Knox of meat coolers!" with box upon box of assorted Wagyu and specialty niche market beef and Kurobuta Berkshire pork. Take a look at the extreme marbling and quality of these products. A true treat for all of us who talk about quality each day in class.

After our tour we enjoyed a superior lunch at Rothman's Steakhouse in mid-town. Marc brought along a couple of wagyu steaks, one domestic and one Japanese which we had as an appetizer. Rothman's is a true steak lover dream and sells some fine dry aged beef.

We left Marc, who graciously picked up the tab, and ventured to Eli's Vinegar Factory on York ave. We met Billy Angelletti, the head butcher, who came up to the school and did a demo for my class a few months ago. Billy gave us a tour of the entire facility including the greenhouses on the roof. The meats were extreme quality again with lots of dry aged beef, quality lamb and veal, homemade sausages and Berkshire pork. The clientele of this and Eli's other store are willing to pay for quality and they never do "sales". Thanks to Billy for the great tour.

We decided to walk over to another premier dry aged butcher shop, Lobels on Madison Ave. Along the way we stopped in Ottomanelli Bros which is another small but very good quality shop. They keep the tradition of sawdust on the floor. This shop should not be confused with the Ottomanelli and Sons shop on Bleecker St in lower Manhatten.

We also found a small Hungarian Deli that had homemade Keilbasa, Paprika Spec and dry spicy sausages. When I asked the woman behind the counter if she made the salami she gave me a look and said " husband makes it." I waited until we got home and ate the Keilbasa with my son. It was good quality. We also bought some headcheese but that was a little too mild.

When we finally reached our final destination and talked with Mark Lobel about the school and business. Lobels is a very unique place with all sorts of businesses rolled into one. They have very succesfully published some great books on meat, they have a super mailorder/internet delivery and now the have NY Steaks set up in the new Yankee Stadium. Mark invited us to visit that location sometime during next year's baseball season.

As time began to run out we headed out of town before the traffic got too bad. I wanted to visit the meat markets in Grand Central Station and the forementioned Ottomanelli and Sons. Saved for another day I guess.

This trip was a joy with my colleagues. It was a pleasure to show them some of the history and quality that exists just two hours from the school. If you have any free time take the train down and visit some markets!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Butcher's tour of Montreal

Here is an article I wrote last year. We are on a three day weekend and just 4 1/2 hours from Montreal, a trip worth making!

Teaching just ninety miles from New York City, I am spoiled by the food bounty that can be found there. I boast to my students about the dry aged beef, custom Italian salumi, quality Glatt Kosher veal and Eastern European smoked sausages that are now found in NYC. It is hard to imagine a city that has more variety from a butcher’s standpoint. I tell them that New York should be part of their studies. After a recent trip, I now think of another nearby city that I can direct my students.
Over the winter The Culinary Institute of America hosted a demo by Rougie Canada, a producer of duck Foie Gras located near Montreal. I asked if they would allow anyone to tour their facility. The answer was a resounding “Yes, please come up and see what we do!” So arrangements were made and in late April two of us from the school set out for Montreal.
By April in the Hudson Valley, the snow has gone everywhere except in the high country of the Catskills. As we set out on a rainy Sunday we pass Albany and head up the Northway through the Adirondacks. The rain squalls turn to snow and the temperature drops. Snow is visible along side the road and on the higher peaks. We stop at a rest area and the wind feels like winter again. As we get closer to the border the snow is gone and the flat farm fields span into the distance. Once leaving the border we head into Quebec and our goal, Montreal. We arrive just after noon and find our 1960s vintage hotel. Another snow squall hits and everything turns white for a few minutes but just as quick, spring returns with a little sunshine. With about two hours to kill we head to the Old Montreal section. Chef Bruce Mattel and I tour the tourist part of town with its cobble stone streets and many souvenir shops. The site of signs written in French and the old architecture gives a feel of being much farther away than the quick four and half hour drive from home. Hunger starts to creep in and we decide to find a place to eat. Before leaving on the trip a friend mentioned a place called Schwartz’s Smoked Meat. I have the address and we head to another neighborhood to find it. Bruce has an uncanny sense of direction and knows the city a little. We find the correct street and search for the restaurant. We find that Schwartz’s has a line out the door on Sundays so we walk around a bit. Schartz’s will wait until tomorrow. We are in a food neighborhood with lots of small quality charcuterie shops. We walk into Charcuterie/ Boucherie Hongroise, a small family owned butcher. The showcase is full of Hungarian, German and Polish style sausages. There are all sorts of smoked meats, hams and specialties presented in an unpretentious way. This is not a cafĂ© and there are no chairs, it is simply a quality butcher shop. This is where local neighborhood people shop regularly along with the local bakeries and cheese shops. The customer served in front of us orders a cooked sausage cooked and split on a roll with sauerkraut and mustard. We decide to mimic the order and also buy some spicy dried salami chunks and a little homemade headcheese. We eat our treats U.S. style, in the car because at this point we can’t wait. The sandwich does not disappoint. The sausage is spiced perfectly and the sauerkraut is cooked with chunks of pork in it. The headcheese is a little too gelatinous but very well spiced. It would have been better sliced thin on a roll as a lunch meat. I grew up on the stuff so I find it a great treat. We check a few more spots and decide beer is also in order. Good local beer is found everywhere.
Nearby, on Duluth st., is the very famous Au Pied de Cochon. Our Foie Gras hosts have suggested this location and colleagues at the Institute confirmed its intrigue. We walk in to find the restaurants crew preparing for the evenings work. Marc Beaudin greets us to take our reservation and arrange to eat at the bar, which is the front row for where the food is created. Au Pied de Cochon’s menu reads like a wonderful calorie fest. It is loaded with pork, duck, game, braised lamb, sausages and very little “middle meat” meaning there are no over-trimmed tidy medallions of loin. There is big food with richness. And of course there is Foie Gras. Rich seared Foie shows up throughout the menu. The owner, Martin Picard, has developed this menu with the goal of serving Quebec’s food and bounty. It is designed with eating in mind! He seeks out quality farms, local ingredients, seasonal specialties, and even has a connection with a single fisherman to bring in the North Atlantic’s bounty. We make our reservation and eagerly anticipate our return.
Upon entering Au Pied de Cochon we are greeted and seated at the bar as promised. The place is packed and the cooks are flying. Philippe Poitras and Marc Baedin are directing the floor and the waitstaff is in the dance of full service. We order way too much including another round of homemade headcheese and a Venison tartar as appetizers. Bruce orders “Duck in a Can”, a specialty of boneless duck and foie gras cooked in a sealed can for a unique braise. I order the “Pied de Cochon” or stuffed pig’s foot which is actually meant for three or four people. The foot is first hollow boned and then stuffed a pork and foie gras force meat. It is cooked sous vide and then breaded and pan seared. Another specialty is hand cut “frittes” cooked in duck fat. Rich and delicious! The food is splendid. I think of the menu and wish I could start again. Anthony Bourdain, when talking about Au Pied… “We have wandered so far from the roots of cooking – from our own roots- and from the source of our ingredients that we, many of us, nearly forgotten the simple and many-splendored delights of such fundamentally good things like pig, duck, the potato…and fire. Martin Picard has not forgotten” sums it up.
The next day we are to tour the Foie gras production. This will happen around 1:30 which leaves us a morning to further explore the city. Bruce knows the addresses of the two large market places. On Monday these markets are quiet and every one is recouping from the busy weekend. It gives us a chance to talk to local butchers and shop owners.
We first tour the Jean-Talon market and then the Atwater market. Both markets are European style with lots of open booths and stalls. The stalls are filled with local meats, specialty game, poultry and of course foie gras. We talk to the local butchers and discuss breeds and farms. These butchers either know exactly where the meats are from or they raise them themselves. We find every sort of butcher, charcuterie shops with fine pates, Halal shops with goat and lamb, shops with butchers cutting whole beef loins, sausage specialty shops with twenty types of grilling sausages. There is pork with some of the fat left on and a novel idea, marbling! And all the accoutrements such as specialty mustards, stocks, sauces, many homemade right on the premises. These shops are where locals find the food for the week. Don’t miss understand, there are large typical supermarkets in Montreal as well but these stalls represent the soul of Montreal’s food culture. Along with the butcher shops are many “fromagerie”- cheese shops selling “Lait Cru” or unpasteurized cheeses. There are bakeries, green grocers, egg shops, fish markets and florists. We find a Polish coffee shop that sells fresh homemade Paczki yeast doughnuts with a natural raspberry jam.
Soon it is time for lunch. We set out to try Schwartz’s again. This time we quickly get a seat and order the famous smoked meat sandwich. Smoked meat in Montreal is basically cured brisket covered with pepper and smoke roasted, basically Pastrami! You can order it a number of different ways but it is basically the same with the meat as the main event. We again order as locals and get an overstuffed smoked meat sandwich, cherry soda, a pickle and some non-creamy coleslaw. The smoked meat is cooked perfectly and slightly thick but very tender. We exit stuffed again.
We leave Montreal and head to the Rougie / Palmex plant in Marrieville, about 20 minutes drive. Palmex once a stand alone producer, has partnered with the French foie gras giant Rougie. We are warmly greeted by the US sales rep Natalie who acts as our interpreter. We meet Pascal Fleury an original partner in Palmex, and Jacque Besonette, a manager. They promptly shuttle us to the “gavage” farm where the ducks are fattened. Gavage is the process of fattening the liver by feeding it heavily. The ducks are raised on a separate farm to twelve weeks then trucked to this farm. All ducks are Moulards which is a cross between the Pekin and a Moscovy Barberi. They are almost full grown at this age and can handle the heavy feeding. Each duck is fed a specific amount of a corn meal pate twice a day. The corn is a high grade variety only purchased from specific distributors.
The feeding is quicker than I thought. It only takes two or three seconds to feed each duck. The feeding is done with a tube that easily slides into the ducks throat and is removed rapidly. The ducks are fattened within twelve days and ready for market. I was surprised to find that it only took twelve days to engorge the liver to a foie gras standard. The farm is divided into sections of ducks that are in various stages of fattening and when they are finished they are trucked out for slaughter. The barns are then power washed and very clean for the next group.
When we return to the plant we tour the new wing to be used for processing the ducks. The plant will produce the plain liver, boneless breast (Magret), legs, confit, tourchon of liver, rillets, and rendered fat to name a few items. The goal is to expand the value added items for both the retail and foodservice markets. The livers are graded with numbers 1, 2, 3 with one being the highest quality. We find that Rougie Canada produces about 200,000 ducks per year. Most of the plant is brand new and the entire place is very clean. It is divided between fresh and processed sections ensuring food safety.
After our tour, Bruce and I return to Montreal and get ready for our final dinner of the trip. Monday in Montreal is not the best night for dining out. Most restaurants are closed. Our host, Jacque, has found a location and we are not disappointed. We arrive at the Bistro Cocogne to find it primarily empty. No surprise on Monday. Our waiter greets us warmly and we begin another session of quality dining. We decide to try the tasting menu and are first treated to some fine British Columbian oysters. Courses are built on each other and we sample Salmon tartar, fennel soup with shaved dried chorizo, and again foie gras seared and served with a trumpet royale mushroom sauce. Our host comments on the foie and how it differs from the Rougie product. I must admit it was different than the previous nights version at Au Pied de Cochon but both are very good. I ask our waiter about the meats and all are locally produced. This course is followed by a very tender venison medallion, a wonderful local cheese plate and finally a pudding Chomeur made with maple syrup with a touch of homemade ice cream. We depart our host and thank him for the hospitality anxious to return the favor when he tours our institute.
Bruce and I awake the next morning to return to NY. We stop at the Atwater market one more time to grab a piece of local cheese and a nice fresh baked bread. A little taste reminder of the trip.
Montreal is a relatively short drive from the CIA and well worth the trip for any culinarian…especially butchers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Robots Rule?

Here are some videos of the direction the meat industry is going. With the introduction of more robotics, speed of fabrication will certainly go up. So why learn how to cut? The reason lies in the niche market. If you are buying local or wish to custom cut, then you will need to take the time to learn how.
Don't get me wrong. I think this type of machinery is amazing and accurate and for a large plant it eliminates a repetitive job that is not very high skill. Plants that process over 20,000 hogs a day can afford to invest in robotics and probably should. But a true artisan chef should know how to break down a hog if they want to buy from local farmers. I like that hand held knife though.
That arm is kind of creepy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dry Aged Beef Fabrication

Lately my students had the experience of fabricating dry aged beef striploins in class. The process is one of the more difficult tasks that I have taught. Dry aged beef is much firmer making it a challenge for even a seasoned butcher to work on. The bone structure of the striploin consists of part of the lumbar vertebrae and is an odd shape. It is basically 2/3 of the T-bone, the finger and feather or back bone. There are two basic techniques to boning this. First the single 13th rib is removed. Then the first method would be to loosen the feather bones along the back and then cut from the finger bone side to remove all the bones as one. This would be the technique used by a restaurant that doesn't have a band saw. It is more difficult and the yield is typically poor, especially by an inexperienced cutter. The second method is to seperate the finger bones away from the feather using the band saw. This act alone takes some serious saw skills but once the cut is made the feather bones are removed in one easy cut and then the finger bones are removed one at a time. This method improves the yield if done correctly.

  1. Steps for fabricating a dry aged bone in strip loin:

  2. Cut away the feather from the finger bones at an angle using the band saw

3. Loosen the 13th rib starting from the small end. Outline both sides of it and then pull up cutting around the end

4. Cut away the flat feather bones the length of the loin.

5. Cut around the small "button"bones at the end of each finger bone and lift using finger.

6. Cut up and underneath each flat finger bone peeling them out one at a time.

7. Trim off all severly aged crust and mold including the ends.

8. Trim fat and collagen bands to desired thickness. Be sure to trim all moldy fat off. Also occassionally there will be "hook" holes if the meat was not hung in the right spot while aging. These need to be cut out even if part of the eye is damaged. Hook holes will harbor mold and bacteria.

These striploins went as roasts to the CIA annual board of directors meeting and I got a chance to test it out. Fantastic! The flavor was deep and rich. Although dry aged is more expensive you don't need as much on the plate.

Thanks to my class for doing a fine job of cutting these. I was paranoid at first but they showed the attention to detail that is what makes our students a pleasure to work with.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Manga!

Here are some photos of the delectable swine thanks to Micheal Clampffer. We are now curing the belly, jowl and coppa in class. Being true to the breed and its background, we added some paprika to the cure. We made some Italian sausages from the trim.