Argentina’s National Pastime: Pato

While most people believe soccer to be Argentina‘s national pastime, I was surprised to learn from a local that it’s actually something with very unsavory beginnings. Pato, or duck, is a game that combines polo and basketball, and is the national sport of Argentina. To play, two teams of four on horseback fight for possession of a ball that is equipped with six leather handles. The object of the game is to fling the ball into a tall net, as the team with the most goals is the winner. So why is the game called duck? Because in the early days, gauchos used a live duck instead of a ball. Back then, the game was so intense that many players lost their lives not only by being trampled by the horses, but also by being stabbed in moments of passion.

For a better idea on how the game is played, check out the video above.

Five sustainable alternatives to turkey this Thanksgiving or holiday season

If you expected to see “Tofurkey” anywhere in this article, you clearly aren’t familiar with my work. Nope, no textured vegetable protein here.

As a kid–an obnoxiously picky eater, at that–turkey was on my lengthy list of foods to avoid. I suspect it was the notoriously dried-out birds of my youth that caused my aversion. Today, I like turkey, but it’s honestly not one of my favorite eating birds: I much prefer a good roast chicken or a game bird.

Game birds–both wild and farmed–are popular throughout much of Europe, especially in the UK, France, and Italy. Goose and duck are frequently seen in Asian cuisine, depending upon the country and region. And now, game birds are growing in popularity in the U.S.. Quail and duck aren’t difficult to find on menus, but there’s also squab, guinea hen, partridge, wood pigeon, etc.. Some birds, such as goose, heritage breed turkeys, or wild game birds may be seasonal or require order well in advance; just to give you an idea, the turkey farmer at my local market has people start signing up for Thanksgiving birds in March.

If you can’t find these birds at your local farmers market on butcher shop, you can order them online. The important thing is to ask or research how the animals are raised, and make sure it’s in a humane, ecologically responsible manner (see end of article for more information).

With the proliferation of farmed birds (mostly small-scale operations) in the U.S., I’m hard-pressed to recommend you shoot yourself some dinner (although I’m behind roadkill), but hunting is a discussion for another day. For the record, while I don’t participate in it myself, I support hunting wildlife as a means of population control, as long as the animal in question is fully utilized.

As for you city slickers, just be aware that wild birds are much stronger in flavor, less tender, and in most instances need to hang for a few days so the proteins can break down and render the meat edible. So put away your bird call and shotgun unless you have the experience and permits, and do your shopping locally or online. No muss, no fuss, and trust me, plucking birds is a serious pain in the ass. Farmed birds are bred for more tender meat, are usually hens (also more tender and mild), and a great choice even if you’ve never cooked anything beyond a chicken breast.

Do note that goose and duck, are very fatty (the extra padding helps keep these aquatic birds buoyant) and you’ll need to render the fat before you can cook the meat. The key to successfully preparing most birds, however, is to not overcook them. Your butcher or any number of cookbooks will be able to tell you how to prepare them. Some good resources: Nose to Tail Eating (Ecco) by Fergus Henderson, and River Cottage Meat Book (10 Speed Press) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Sourcing information for all of the following bird species can be found at the end of this article.

1. Goose
Goose was once a British Christmas dinner favorite (oddly, turkey is now the bird of choice), and it’s still popular in Germany. According to esteemed food writer Joan Nathan of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook (Random House), German Christians traditionally ate goose for Christmas, and Jews cooked it for Hannukah. In her book, she provides a lovely family recipe for roast goose stuffed with chestnuts and apples that would make any Thanksgiving table proud.

[Photo credit: Flickr user turtlemom4bacon]Goose is considerably more fatty than other birds, so it’s not a good choice if you’re watching your cholesterol or calories (stick with white meat turkey). But it’s that layer of fat that makes the meat so succulent and juicy. It’s very rich, so a little goes a long way; ideal if you’re feeding a crowd.

2. Pheasant
The Common Pheasant is native to Asia, but there are over 30 subspecies that have been introduced all over the world as a game bird; it’s naturalized in Europe. In the U.S., we’re most familiar with ring-necked pheasant: the males are striking, with emerald- and crimson-colored heads. Farmed pheasant is growing in popularity on menus, and is similar to dark chicken meat in flavor

3. Quail
While tiny and full of bones (imagine gnawing on a giant hummingbird drumstick), quail is a great choice if you’re having a small gathering because you can serve one bird per person. They’re very dainty and require simple preparation. Just butterfly them, thread on skewers and toss on the grill, or pan-fry. Quail meat is dark, juicy, and non-gamey; it pairs beautifully with dried fruit such as figs, dates, or cherries. Toss grilled quail atop some bitter greens dressed with a bacon vinaigrette, add some plumped dried fruit, and let the cooking juices wilt the greens. Dinner is served.

4. Duck
Duck is commonplace on fine-dining menus nationwide. While technically white meat (as is goose), it’s similar to red meat: rich, rosy, and juicy with burnished, crackling skin. Many people are intimidated by cooking duck, but it’s one of the easiest alterna-birds to work with, especially if you just use breast, thigh, or leg meat. Breasts will have a thick layer of fat beneath the skin; you’ll need to score the skin in a cross-hatch pattern to help the fat render (Don’t throw it out! Store it in a clean, sealed jar, and use it to fry potatoes or other foods for extra crispy goodness). Grill or saute breasts; legs take well to braising or confit.

There are three main breeds of duck sold commercially: Pekin, Muscovy, and Moulard. Pekin are the most tender and mild, while Muscovy are large, meaty, and stronger in flavor. Moulard are a Pekin/Muscovy cross; they’re larger, more fatty, and stronger in flavor than Pekin, and are usually raised for foie gras.

5. Squab
A more civilized term for pigeon, these aren’t your standard “rats-with-wings” variety. Squab are eating pigeons, and the meat is similar to duck–very juicy and rosy in color, with an almost livery flavor. Think of it as a smaller duck in terms of cooking technique.

Speaking of park pigeon, when I lived in the Bay Area, there was a semi-factitious activist group advocating the consumption of the out-of-control resident pigeon population (something I’d be completely behind if these birds weren’t such carriers of disease). To prove their point, they cooked up a bunch of captured birds in a San Francisco park one day and had a well-documented pigeon picnic. I’ve always found that hilarious.


Even if you decide to just stick with turkey or switch to chicken this holiday season, the most important thing–besides technique–is to start with a great bird. It’s worth the extra expense to get a pasture-raised animal that’s been supplemented with exercise, sunshine, plant matter, and foraged bugs. You’ll taste the difference, but it goes beyond just flavor.

Industrially-raised poultry (i.e. chicken and turkey) are the taste equivalent of Styrofoam with bland, watery meat plumped with saline solution; their feed is often supplemented with arsenic to produce pinker meat and act as a growth promotant and antiparasitic. They’re hybridized to grow quickly and possess outrageously oversized breasts (because that’s the part most people prefer to eat). Factory farming is also an inhumane, environmentally devastating industry with far-reaching impacts upon human health (Click here for more information on sustainable-vs-industrial turkey farming).

Sonoma County Poultry sells Liberty Ducks (actually a strain of Pekin ducks adapted to a slower, less stressful growing process) ships nationwide. Grimaud Farms of California’s San Joaquin Valley sells Muscovy duck and guinea fowl online

D’Artagnan is a well-regarded purveyor of specialty foods. They have a strong focus on sustainability and humane poultry and game bird production and procurement, and sell farmed quail, pheasant, quail, goose, squab, poussin (technically, young chicken, although sometimes game hens are sold under this name); capon (castrated rooster, which makes for flavorful, tender meat); guinea hen, and wild Scottish wood pigeon, grouse, pheasant, and Red-legged partridge online

Mad Hatcher Poultry
in eastern Washington produces quail, squab, poissin, and quail (heritage turkey and rabbit, too).

[Photo credits: roast goose, Flickr user Herman Saksono; cook, Laurel Miller]

Daily Pampering: Artisanal butchering workshop at The Sanderling

Care to “meet your meat” before eating? At Outer Banks resort The Sanderling in Duck, North Carolina, you can. In keeping with the resort’s culinary philosophy of S.O.A.L. food, or utilizing sustainable, organic, artisanal and local ingredients, they are opening their kitchens for the first time to help interested foodies learn the art of butchering.

With the help of a 30-year butchering veteran, German Master Butcher Frank Meusel, guests will learn the art of breaking down whole animals with a focus on primal cuts. Held once per month from November through February, guests will experience steer, hog, lamb and veal butchering experiences (meat varies depending on month).

For $325 per night, guests will enjoy hands-on butchering lessons at the nearby Weeping Radish Farm (also home to North Carolina’s oldest microbrewery), cooking lessons including emulsion and smoking techniques, and an additional class on how to make hot dogs and sausages.

The package includes a lunch of house-made charcuterie and the farm’s own microbrews, plus a private farm tour from owner Uli Bennewitz. Once guests return to the resort, a three-course dinner will be served family-style at The Left Bank, the resort’s signature restaurant and the area’s only Four Diamond dining destination. Dishes will be prepared in the restaurant’s show kitchen and are inspired by the meats guests helped prepare earlier that day.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Photo of the Day (5.2.09)

I’m a vegetarian, so the sight of these chickens in the window elicited a very strong gurgle from my stomach. Before college, however, I was a meat-eater. I didn’t have my first salad until I was 18. My parents would frequent Chinatown, and I would gawk at the meat in the window in a similar fashion as I am now.

I love Peking duck. I miss the taste of crispy skin with that tangy sauce on a steamed rice bun. When I lived in Beijing one summer during college, I would have Peking duck every weekend. That was the real deal. I miss fresh Chinese meat.

This appetizing (to some) photo comes to us from jerry.r.lem. The steam in this Bostonian Chinatown store window, the triad of colors, and the obscure meat on the right just makes me want to take a stroll in my neighborhood Chinatown and remember the good ‘ole days, when Mom would buy bok choi for less than a dollar, Dad would treat us to dim sum, or I could watch rice noodles being made through the Look Fun window.

If you have some great travel shots you’d like to share, be sure to upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr. We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day!

Turducken: Where Does It Come From?

The unnatural trio of turkey, duck, and chicken might initially make your stomach curl, but the supposed supernatural taste of the turducken might just appease the staunchest of food critics. This chicken in a duck in a turkey has become a nationwide phenomenon in the past decade – so much so that NFL commentator John Madden awards a turducken to the winning team of the Thanksgiving Day game (usually the Detroit Lions versus the Dallas Cowboys). Just this year, though, Madden announced he would be returning to the traditional turkey for Thanksgivings henceforth.

The unlikely combination of birds actually makes for a nice blend of dark and white, dry and juicy meats. Preparing and cooking the perfect turducken takes at least ten hours. Start by deboning all the birds and preparing a cornbread and sausage stuffing. Basically, the turkey is laid flat and spread with a layer of stuffing. The duck is placed on top of the turkey (add another layer of stuffing), and the chicken (with leftover stuffing inside) is placed on top of the duck. Carefully wrap the turkey as you normally would and cook as usual. The advantage of turducken is that everything is edible, and you don’t have to work around the bones. Just dig in and enjoy the mixture of tastes.

So, when did the turducken come to be? And where does it come from? Turducken is strictly American fare, as nowhere else in the world would someone even think to combine these three distinctly tasting birds into one Thanksgiving feast. This tri-bird can be traced back to the Deep South – likely somewhere in Louisiana – some time in the early to mid 1980’s. Despite not being able to deep fry it as you would chicken, duck, or turkey separately, the turducken seems to come from a Cajun tradition. Some people credit Cajun-creole fusion chef Paul Prudhomme with creating the dish as part of the Duvall Days Festival in Duvall, Washington in 1983. However, Calvin Trillin in the November 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine traces the turducken’s origins to Maurice, Louisiana, where “Hebert’s Specialty Meats” has been commercially producing turduckens since 1985. The company still prepares around 5,000 turduckens per week during the holiday season.

Tofurkey-loving vegetarians might just be appalled at the pounds of meat that make up the turducken, but families across the nation are still cheering for this great new holiday staple.