Roast Duck as an Alternative to Thanksgiving Turkey

Roast Duck for ThanksgivingOn average Piedmont Grocery will sell about 1,600 turkeys every Thanksgiving which shouldn’t come as a shock. Turkey is what you have on Thanksgiving, right? For most people, yes. But, there are those out there who do things a little differently.

When our customers come in to pick up their turkeys, it is not uncommon that they pick up a ham or even a prime rib at the same time. Whether they are feeding a big family or just don’t like the taste of turkey, many people opt for an alternative meat on their Thanksgiving table. One popular choice is roast duck.

People have been eating duck for centuries. However,  the popularity of a whole roasted duck, outside of your favorite Chinese restaurant, has waned. Most diners prefer to cook with the whole legs or the breast mainly because they are more manageable portions. It can also be easier to find duck parts in many markets. Plus, you don’t have to deal with defrosting. Also, many home cooks are intimidated by the fact that ducks have a lot of fat.

There are many different breeds of duck on the US market, and they don’t all yield the same results.

White Pekin or Long Island
White Pekin is the most popular breed raised in the US. They are tender and mild and adapt well to a wide range of flavors and cuisines.

The Mallard is a wild duck that is farm-raised on a limited basis. It is smaller and tougher than the Pekin with a stronger flavor and often has very little fat on it.

The Muscovy duck breed boasts large meaty males and smaller females. It has a much stronger flavor than the Pekin and is used most often for its breast meat or the liver is used for Fois Gras.

The Moulard is a cross between the White Pekin and the Muscovy. Moulard ducks are larger and have a gamier flavor than White Pekin. They also have a tendency to be chewy or stringy. The Moulard is mainly raised for it liver for Fois Gras.

Though ducks are considered poultry, you don’t cook them the same way as other birds. Duck breasts are usually served medium-rare which you would never do with a chicken or turkey. They also take a bit more time to cook than a chicken mainly because you need to render the fat on the bird.

Though the fat content of a duck might have you reaching to call your cardiologist, in fact, the fat ends up basting the bird to keep it moist and tasty. The leftover fat can be used to add flavor to other dishes…or to make amazing roasted potatoes.

How to Roast a Duck
If you follow these instructions, you will have a crisp, bronzed bird that is ready for carving. The total roasting time is about 2-1/4 hours, turning the duck twice.

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How to Make Heads or Tails of Chicken

How to Make Heads or Tails of ChickenBuying poultry should not be complicated. It’s a chicken or it’s a turkey. Lately, though, it seems like there are so many more options and labels attached to poultry. How can you make heads or tails of chicken to know exactly what you are buying?

We’ve put together a quick list of some of the more frequently used labels for poultry to try to make things more clear:

Fresh means that the temperature of the poultry has never fallen below 26 degrees. Chicken and turkey freeze at a lower temperature than water.

The natural label means that the poultry has no artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives, or coloring, and is minimally processed. It does not refer to how it is raised.

All Vegetable Diet
Most poultry feed is made from corn and soybean meal but can sometimes contain meat or poultry by-products which are good sources of healthy vitamins. Poultry that is given feed that does not contain any of these products can be labeled as All Vegetable Diet or Veggie Fed.

Hormone Free
This is one of those labels that can be misleading. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any hormones or steroids for use in raising poultry for food. It is illegal to sell poultry in the US that was raised using hormones. Manufacturers can’t add a “No Hormones” label on any package poultry unless it’s accompanied by a disclaimer that says, “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

All poultry raised in the US for their meat are farm-raised. The use of this label is for marketing purposes only to conjure up bucolic images of the farm.

Organic means that the poultry has only been fed certified organic feed. It also means that the chicken is free-range and has not been given antibiotics. In general, the processing practices are the same for conventional and organic poultry.

Free-range refers to poultry that has access to the outdoors. The amount of access varies depending on the farm. All organic chicken is free-range but not all free-range chicken is organic.

If your poultry is pasture-raised that means that it is primarily raised outdoors in pastures.

Retained Water
Retained water statements on poultry refer to the water that can be absorbed during the chilling process.

To ensure food safety, all poultry must be cooled to a certain temperature. This can be done two ways, immersion in a cold water bath or by air chilling. Air chilling has been a European practice for some time and has only recently become popular in the US.

Air-Chilled means that the bird is individually chilled over the course of 3 hours. The birds are moved into carefully monitored chilling rooms where purified air cools them down.

Because the birds are not processed in water, air-chilled do not have the opportunity to absorb that water which results in a more flavorful and tender bird.

Since the birds are processed individually, air-chilling also reduces the potential exposure of harmful bacteria from other birds.

At Piedmont Grocery we only sell Mary’s Chicken.
It’s organic, free-range, and air-chilled. Because they are raised the old-fashioned way, they taste amazing. Plus Mary’s makes every effort to treat their chickens and humanely as possible.

Here are some of our favorite chicken recipes from our blog, The Kitchen Table.

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All About Cod

All about codIt is no real stretch to say that cod is the most consumed fish around the world. Whether you enjoy it as fish and chips, in a stew, or just on its own, the mild flavor, firm, meaty texture and year round availability makes cod an ideal protein. The name cod, however, doesn’t actually refer to a specific fish. Instead cod refers to a family of fish, all with similar traits but minor differences, which makes knowing what fish you’re getting complicated if it’s not labeled correctly.

Some varieties of cod are better than others for a number of reasons. Some species have been over-fished. Others are fished in waters that don’t employ sustainable fishing practices, and still, others aren’t actually cod.

To help you make sense of what’s what, we’ve put together a quick guide to help you make a better decision.

Atlantic Cod
Also known as Whitefish or Scrod, Atlantic cod is what has been historically used for Fish and Chips. However, because of over-fishing, most Fish and Chips is made with Alaskan Cod or Pollock. Atlantic Cod is still available on the market but look for fish that has been caught with hand lines in the US.

Pacific Cod
Also sold as Alaskan Cod, True Cod, Grey Cod, Tara, and Codfish, Pacific Cod is equal in flavor and texture to Atlantic Cod. Fish from Alaska is considered the best choice because the population is healthy. Avoid Pacific Cod from Japan and Russia as those waters have been over-fished.

Black Cod
Also known as Sablefish and Blackfish, Black Cod is not actually a true cod. Most of this buttery fish is exported to Japan. Black Cod is known to mature faster and has a long life span which means they can reproduce faster and longer making them a more sustainable option. This fish is often used as a substitute for Chilean Sea Bass.

Also called Buffalo Cod, Bluefish or White Cod, Ling Cod is a bottom dwelling fish that got its name because of its resemblance to cod and to ling fish, but not because it is in fact cod. It is a favorite fish for recreation fishermen on the West Coast.

Most often sold as Rock Cod or Red Snapper, this fish shares many of the same traits as cod, though it is neither a cod nor a snapper. Rockfish can live a long time. But, they also take a long time to mature. So, they are vulnerable to overfishing. Try to find rockfish caught in California waters as that population is healthy.

Pollock or Alaskan Pollock is a species of cod, and considered to be the world’s most plentiful fish. It is oilier and has a stronger flavor than Alaskan Cod. Pollock is the fish most often used to make imitation crab.

Here are some great recipes from our blog, The Kitchen TableRead more…

Tri-Tip Roast

Tri-Tip RoastIf you are a fan of BBQ, you will know that the offerings and sauces will vary depending on region. Texas is known for their brisket, the Carolinas have their pork, and in Memphis it is all about the ribs. For California, it’s Tri-Tip.

Tri-Tip has an interesting history as it wasn’t always available for retail. It was discovered by accident in the 1950s by a butcher in Southern California who started roasting it on a spit and slicing it up for sandwiches. Its popularity took off from there.

The Tri-Tip Roast is the triangular section at the bottom of the sirloin cut of the cow. Because of its location, Tri-Tip was originally thought to be too tough to eat and was sold as stew meat or ground into hamburger. When seasoned with a dry rub and grilled though, the 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pound lean roast is tender and full-flavored.

A single Tri-Tip can feed four to five people. And, if you are lucky enough to have leftovers, the sliced meat will make fantastic roast beef sandwiches the next day.

Though a dry rub of salt pepper and garlic is the most authentic way to prepare your Tri-Tip, we like this marinade to give it just a little bit more flavor….

Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip Marinade
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Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs

Spare Ribs and Baby Back RibsMemorial Day is the official kick-off to summer and the backyard grilling season. Though steaks and burgers seem like the obvious choice for something hot off the grill, we thought we’d go a different route and talk about spare ribs and baby back ribs.

Pork ribs are tasty whether you cook them indoors or outside on the grill. There are two basic types of pork ribs—spare ribs and baby back ribs. And, which style you choose is totally up to personal preference. To help you make the choice, here are the differences between the two.

Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs can also be sold as pork loin back ribs, back ribs or loin ribs. Pork ribs are cut from where the ribs meet the spine of the pig after the loin is removed. The upper ribs are the ribs called baby back ribs because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spare ribs. (Baby Back ribs have nothing to do with baby pigs.)

Each baby back rib rack can have anywhere from 10 to 13 ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long. The average weight of a rack is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and will feed up to two people. Baby Back ribs are very tender and lean. But, because they are higher in demand, the price can be higher as well.

Pork Spare Ribs
Spare ribs can also be sold as St. Louis Style Spare Ribs. They are the meatier ribs that are cut from the belly of the pig. They are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown on the grill.

Spare ribs have more bone in them but they also contain a higher amount of fat, which gives the ribs more flavor when properly cooked. A slab of spare ribs will weigh 2-1/2 or more pounds and can feed three to four people. And they tend to be less expensive than baby backs.

No matter which style you choose, both spare ribs and baby back ribs require low heat and a long cooking time to result in tender fall-off-the-bone ribs. They are great for smoking, grilling, braising, and even roasting. To make things a little easier, you can roast the ribs in a low oven for a couple of hours and finish them on the grill.

Since both styles are cooked the same way, you can substitute baby back ribs for spare ribs and vice versa. Just note that because they are smaller, if you substitute baby backs for spare ribs, you will need to almost double the amount to feed the same number of people.

Conversely, if you substitute spare ribs for baby backs, you will need to be aware that they will take longer to cook and plan accordingly. Baby Backs take about  1-1/2 hours to 2 hours to cook at 300º F. Spare ribs can take 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Both sauces and spice rubs will work well with your pork ribs, and they are great marinated, too. We recommend Oakland Dust’s Rub for Pork and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce for a classic flavor.

And if you are looking for a great marinade recipe, try one of our all-time favorites—Oriental Barbecued Ribs from Bon Appetit Magazine in 1968. (Yes the dark ages, hence the embarrassing name).