OystersThe World Is Your Oyster
Oysters — most people have very strong feelings one way or the other. You either love them or you hate them. Haters aside, the oyster has long been considered an aphrodisiac and because of that, they tend to show up on Valentine’s Day menus everywhere.

Oysters are fairly easy to prepare, once you figure out how to shuck them and keep your fingers. Here is a good guide for shucking. It’s everything that happens before the shucking that can be eye-opening.

For example, did you know that oysters have their own terroir? In the same way that a specific wine growing region will affect the flavor of wine, the regions where they grow will affect the flavor. This is why, when you see oysters on the menu, they will almost always have the harvest area included in the description.

There are five different types grown in the United States. The Eastern Oyster is the native oyster along the Eastern and Gulf coasts. They can found on menus under names like Chincoteague, Malpeque, Apalachicola, or Wellfleet. They tend to have a milder more salty flavor.

Pacific Oyster are, not surprisingly, the most prolific oyster species on the West Coast. They can be found under such possible names as Totten Inlet, Pickering Passage and Netarts Bay. They tend to have a more complex flavor profile that includes a more savory mineral flavor.

Kumamoto Oyster are another species found on the West Coast. They are smaller than the Pacific oyster and are unique in that they go by the species name rather than where they were harvested, though sometimes you may see the bay where they were harvested listed. The have a mild not too briny flavor which makes them a great “starter” oyster.

The European Flat Oyster is a species that was brought to the Atlantic from Northern France. Sometimes sold under the name Belon, they can be found on both the East and West coast and tend to have a slimmer shape than other oysters as well as a bold mineral flavor. It is a favorite among aficionados.

The Olympia Oyster is the only native oyster in the West. Similar to the European Flat Oyster, the Olympia is a tiny oyster that delivers big flavor.

Oysters are sold either in the shell or pre-shucked. If you are planning to eat the oysters raw you will want to get oysters that are still in the shell. If you are cooking the oysters, it can be worth it to get them shucked ahead of time. Keep oysters refrigerated, covered with a damp cloth. Because they need good air circulation, oysters should not be stored in a covered bowl, plastic bag, or airtight container. Even a bucket of sea water is a bad idea.

As with all seafood, oysters deteriorate every day they are out of the water and should be consumed as fresh as possible, ideally, on the same day of purchase. If you are planning to eat the oysters raw, having the freshest oysters you can is very important.

There is very little that you can’t do with oysters. They can be steamed or fried. They can also be baked (Oysters Rockefeller). Smoked oysters are fantastic—and some of the best come in cans from Europe. Oysters are great in stews or soups. They can even be pickled. The easiest way and maybe one of the most popular ways to have oysters is to throw them on the grill which also helps with getting them open.

There is plenty of debate, though, on how you should eat a fresh oyster. For some the oyster liquid inside is all you need. For others a nice mignonette sauce is the way to go or even some melted butter. For grilled oysters a little BBQ sauce can be a great accompaniment.

How To Make Your Own Stock

How To Make Your Own StockTaking Stock
Really good stocks are the way restaurants transform the flavor of their dishes from something that is pedestrian into something that is out of this world. The good news is that anyone can make a great stock if they have the time and patience—as well as the knowledge to pick the right components. The time you spend making your own stock will be well worth it once you taste what it can do to your favorite recipes. So much better than store-bought stocks!

First things first, a stock is not the same as a broth. What’s the difference? Stock is made with bones and tends to be more gelatinous due to the collagen that is released from the bones and joints during the long cooking time. Broth is thinner and doesn’t have as much flavor because it is made with more of the meat of the animal versus stripped bones.

The recent rise in popularity of bone broth has caused a lot of confusion. As its name implies, a proper bone broth is made with bones. And the bones are where all the stuff that makes bone broth good for you comes from. The use of bones though, by definition makes it a bone stock, not a bone broth. Head hurt yet?

How To Make Your Own Stock
To make a good stock, you will need to start with what is known to butchers as soup bones. Read more…

Holiday Roasts — So Many Possibilities

Holiday Roasts —Prime RibWhile it is possible to get any kind of meat you desire year round, there are certain cuts of meat that seem to be relegated to holidays whether because of price, presentation, or the number of people they serve. Some cuts are family traditions (Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Grandma’s Ham). While others offer different ways to make the holidays that much more special and festive. Below are a few examples of what we consider to be holiday roasts to help you decide what will be on your table this year.

Prime Rib
Of all the roasts for the holidays, Prime rib is probably the most popular because you can feed a crowd. And it’s just not something one generally would prepare on a given weeknight. Plus, it’s just so darn tasty.

For complete instructions on how to prepare a Prime Rib see our Butcher’s Block post, Prime Rib for the Holidays.

Beef Tenderloin
For those wanting beef flavor but in a milder, more tender package, tenderloin is for you. And, with no bones, it’s roast, slice and serve. Really easy after a day of ripping and tearing. The only thing you need to be concerned about is overcooking since it is a lean cut of meat.

For a good step-by-step guide see this article.

Leg of Pork or Fresh Ham
A leg of pork is basically a ham that hasn’t been smoked or cured. It is a BIG piece of meat which makes it perfect for a holiday feast. And, is a favorite of some on our staff…

Check out our recipe for Roasted Fresh Ham with Citrus and Rye from our blog, The Kitchen Table.

Rack of Lamb and Leg of Lamb
Because lamb can be pricey, both the Leg of Lamb and Rack of Lamb are popular choices for special occasions.

We have our favorite preparations for both in earlier posts on The Butcher’s Block. Learn how to prepare a rack of lamb here.  And how to roast a leg of lamb here.

You can’t leave out the turkey. For some turkey is not just for Thanksgiving it is also for Christmas dinner.

Check out all our tricks and tips for preparing the best turkey in Preparing Your Turkey: a Thanksgiving Survival Guide.

Crown Roast of Pork
A Crown Roast of Pork has been a holiday staple for generations, though it’s popularity has waned in recent years. There is no doubt that it provides a dramatic presentation when brought to the table. A crown roast is made by forming a regular bone-in pork loin into a circle, with the ribs pointed upward.

To do this with a single rack (about 10 ribs), you need to cut into the spaces between the ribs so that they can spread out a bit to form the circle. However, by doing this, you end up creating more surface area of the pork, which can cause it to dry out more when roasting. For this reason, It is better to buy a crown roast formed by two bone-in loins, attached end to end, making them large enough to form a circle without any additional cutting.

While you can purchase two loins and tie them together yourself, it is much easier to order one from your butcher. Aim to have about a rib and a half per person, or two per person if you want leftovers.

Holiday Pork Crown Roast
Adapted from Tyler Florence and the Food Network
Yields 12 servings Read more…

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.

Read more…

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.

Read more…