Holiday Gift Guide 2022: The Best Mail-Order Gourmet Meat And Seafood

The holidays are a time for gatherings, when we get together with friends and family to celebrate and reconnect. A lot of that is over food, and few gifts are better or more universal than something to eat, so consider these best-in-class gourmet meat and seafood options when picking Holiday Gifts this year.

For Steakhouse At Home: Since 1893, Chicago butcher shop Allen Brothers has supplied some of the most famous steakhouses across America, and was early into direct to consumer mail order meat. They offer a tremendous array of products and true gourmet one stop shopping for the carnivore, from whole tenderloins to rib roasts, ready to cook dishes like Beef Wellington, as well as lamb, veal, pork, fish and seafood. They are my go-to and I’ve ordered several times, never disappointed. But it’s the beef that has made their reputation, and if you want to help someone recreate the steakhouse experience at home, there’s no better or bigger way to do that than with Allen Brothers’ aptly named Ultimate Porterhouse Flight. Porterhouse is the steakhouse gold standard because the T-shaped bone divides a strip steak from a tenderloin (aka filet) so you get the two most popular cuts in one impressive steak. This selection includes half a dozen 20-ounce steaks, more than seven pounds of Prime beef, in three styles: two each of Dry-aged USDA Prime; USDA Prime Natural; and USDA Prime for a taste test like no other ($420).

Best Japanese Beef & Wagyu: Japanese wagyu, including Kobe beef, is the most prized gourmet steak on earth, literally the “Holy Grail” for beef lovers, so it’s fitting that Holy Grail Steak Company offers by far the nation’s best selection of coveted Japanese beef, including Kobe, Matsuzaka, Yonezawa, Miyazaki, Maezawa, Kagoshima, Sendai, Hokkaido, Omi, Murakami, and more. They also have the highest level domestic and Australian wagyu bred from Japanese genetics, and offer both individual steaks and multi-cut tasting flight gift packs. The latter includes the A5 Wagyu Pinnacle flight, with three 12-ounce boneless strip steaks (all imported Japanese beef is boneless), one from each of their top three producers, Kobe, Sendai and Maezawa ($711). If you want to start smaller but still make a very big impression, try the 14-ounce Ogata Farms Maezawa Strip, the most bang for the buck in terms of an introduction to world class wagyu ($269).

Domestic Wagyu: A lot of domestic “wagyu” doesn’t live up to the hype because unlike genetically pure Japanese versions, USDA rules are lax and allow hybrids of wagyu cattle crossbred with cheaper animals to be sold as wagyu with no label indication (Angus is commonly used to produce what is derisively known as “wangus” in the industry). I’m very wary about this and that’s why I like a handful of legitimately caring domestic ranchers who breed only 100% pure Japanese bloodlines, like New Mexico’s Lone Mountain Wagyu. There are three main advantages to domestically raised wagyu: It’s generally less expensive; You can usually get a wider variety of cuts; You can get bone-in steaks, which are illegal to import from Japan. So, for example, you can send someone a stunningly impressive long bone wagyu Tomahawk steak from Lone Mountain, and it will be something very few people have ever seen or eaten. You can get less-common options, from coulotte steak to beef ribs to a brisket – even wagyu jerky. What I tried for this holiday season that you rarely would see anyplace else is an English roast, perfect for putting a whole, sharable piece of festive meat on the table, uncommon and extremely reasonably priced. Lone Mountain sells them by the pair, two 2–3-pound roasts for $75, and these are perfect both roasted whole or cut into the best stew you can imagine – or both, since you get two. If you are holiday shopping on a budget, this is probably the most bang for your buck in this gift guide.

Classic Crabcakes & More: Alaska made headlines last month when it announced it was closing its crab fishery completely for the year to allow for the population to regenerate, so there will be no Alaskan King crab legs on the menu going forward. That’s a big blow to Las Vegas buffets, but not to holiday gifting, because Maryland crab cakes from the famous blue crabs of Chesapeake Bay are the ultimate culinary expression of this crustacean, and there’s still plenty to go around. Early in the pandemic lockdown I satiated my inability to go to restaurants by ordering from Cameron’s Maryland Seafood, a family business that has been the largest local retailer of blue crabs and crab cakes for almost 40 years. They have excellent customer service, and the meaty, delicious crab cakes cook up great and easily at home, with detailed instructions. You can also send whole blue crabs, pre-cooked and seasoned, crab claws or cooked, seasoned and delicious spiced shrimp. But after the main event crab cakes, my favorite is the amazing soups, like the thick, rich, meat-packed crab bisque, better than you’ll get at even standout restaurants.

Alaskan Black Cod & More: If you have ever eaten at a Nobu or Matsuhisa restaurant, you’ve probably tried the famous signature dish that helped Chef Nobu Matsuhisa build a giant global empire of restaurants and hotels – Miso Black Cod. This dish really is unbelievable, and Chef Mastuhisa has been good enough to put his recipe online for the world to see and make at home, which I have done with fabulous results. But the trick is getting the Sablefish (the real name for Black Cod), which is a hard fish to find, and if you don’t live by a specialty fishmonger you would probably be out of luck. Except you’re not, and neither are those on your holiday seafood gift list, because you can get yours where I got mine, from Alaskan Salmon Company. Founded by native Alaskan fisherman Kyle Lyle, the company removes middlemen to connect consumers directly to local fishermen, and is focused on sustainably sourced wild Alaskan seafood, especially prized Copper River sockeye and coho salmon, and now Black Cod and other wild Alaskan specialties including halibut and rockfish. They sell all the fish in user-friendly precut portions, 6–8-ounce skin-on filets, by the box, one time or subscription, one fish or mix and match. Most people would be happy to get a gift of salmon or any of these, but the Black Cod is fatty, succulent and amazing, and something many people will never have had at home. A box of twelve 6-ounce fillets is $189 while 24 is $340.

Best Pork Chops: If you have a pork lover on your list, your shopping is officially done. There may be no better delicatessen anywhere than Zingerman’s, a legendary Ann Arbor, Michigan institution. Over the years, Zingerman’s has evolved from a local gourmet sandwich shop to a mini empire of related specialty food businesses, world class bakery, gelato shop, cheese making and so on, and is also one of the best mail-order gourmet purveyors in the country, carefully sourcing ultra-curated products from all over the world. This includes meat, and especially small family farm heritage breed pork that tastes so much better than supermarket versions it will blow your mind. They have two options, either of which is a great gift, and both come from small farms that keep pigs outside and unconfined and never receive antibiotics or hormones. Both are porterhouse “T-bone” pork chops, which look more impressive than your basic cartoon-shaped chop, but it’s the taste that counts. Red Wattle is an old breed, the chops are an inch and a quarter thick, and each is easily a whole serving (13 ounces), with well marbled delicious fat, which in turn keeps them moist, whereas pork chops are notorious for drying out when cooked at home (4 for $75 or 8 for $135). Duroc is another specialty breed of pork, and if you want to go big, Zingerman’s porterhouse Duroc chops are huge – a pound or more (16-18 ounces each) with a deep, rich pork flavor (4 for $80).

The Other Red Meat: I have been a huge fan and proponent of bison for years. It’s almost always raised in a better and more natural manner than commercial beef., tastes just as good and has less fat. It’s a healthy red meat without sacrificing anything we love about red meat, but just like anything else, while I generalize about bison, not all of it is the same. That’s why I like Wild Idea Buffalo, which farms exclusively grass-fed, humanely harvested buffalo that roam freely on the prairie 365 days a year. They are completely free of antibiotics, hormones, herbicides, pesticides, and GMOs – all of which are unfortunately common in American beef. In addition to better animal management, Wild Idea has a very extensive array of products that are almost impossible to find elsewhere, from flat iron and teres major steaks to ribs, short ribs and shanks, briskets and tri tip, even heart and liver. They also have lots of processed bison in the form of salami, bratwurst, hot dogs and chorizo. I recommend the strip-cut short ribs, because they are unique, meaty, delicious and versatile for a number of recipes and preparations.

World Class Charcuterie: No offense to Italian, French or Eastern European cuisines, but when it comes to cured meats, no one does it better than the Spanish, and the flagship is Jamon Iberico, the world’s best cured ham. Mercado Famous is an importer specializing in the finest of Spanish charcuterie, which in turn is ideal for holiday entertaining. These are also the top choices for food lovers on your list who may not actually be into cooking – just open and enjoy. They have a wide variety of artfully packaged products including artisan sliced Lomo (cured pork loin), Chorizo, and Salchichon, a seasoned Spanish salami, plus the hams. These come in packages of slices and three levels: Jamon Serrania, Jamon 50% Iberico, and the top of the heap, Jamon 100% Iberico. There are also numerous assorted gift bundles available and for a holiday centerpiece showstopper, send an entire leg of serrano ham, (15 pounds, $300). Mercado Famous sources only fair-trade products, all naturally cured between 2-5 years, additive free, nitride free and without any added preservatives.

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