Just Ducky by Sandy Eller of 5TJT
When we hear the phrase “for the birds,” most of us think of something that is of little value. But for Eliezer Franklin, CEO of Pelleh Poultry in Swan Lake, New York, birds are a wonderful thing, with duck in particular about to take the kosher world by storm, if the Monsey father of five has his way.
Pelleh Poultry was incorporated in 1991, when Franklin’s father, Rabbi Refoel Franklin, began seeking a way to produce chickens that offered a more stringent level of kashrus certification. A shochet by trade, Rabbi Franklin was a talmid of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, z’l, who advised him to open up his own poultry plant. Pelleh Poultry was thus created to fill a niche, offering consumers who were looking for that extra level of supervision, the highest standards of kashrus, under the hashgachah of Rav Dovid Miller.
“It is the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Cadillac from a kashrus standpoint,” Eliezer Franklin told the Five Towns Jewish Times. “Both are good products, but one is handmade and the other is made on as assembly line. We have the smallest plant, the slowest process, and we are more expensive because everything kashrus-related is done slowly and meticulously, by hand, in a stationary process.”
If you find yourself searching for Pelleh chickens in stores, you will be disappointed as the product is currently sold only by home delivery and mail order. Franklin acknowledges that taking automation out of the process limits Pelleh’s production, but that is a tradeoff that he happily accepts.
“We could never feed [all of] Klal Yisrael with the methods we are using,” said Franklin. “It is a niche market, for the person who is happy to spend more in order to perform a mitzvah to its highest level. Our poultry is for the educated consumer who knows kashrus really, really well. When prominent rabbanim from around the world come to America, they will only eat our chickens. That is really our bread and butter.”
Over time, Pelleh Poultry has upped the ante, upgrading from New York State certification to the more stringent USDA regulations, a move that necessitated hiring more employees and bringing in newer and more sophisticated equipment. Those costly changes brought with them a need for more revenue, and Pelleh upped its production from 800 chickens a day to up to 3,200. The company also took on the Orthodox Union hechsher, for marketing purposes, giving it the ability to sell to butchers, wholesalers, and distributors.
Those events also sparked another idea in Franklin’s mind.
“Because our process is slow and meticulous, it is ideal for specialty products,” explained Franklin. “Duck, goose, and squab all fit into that perfectly.”
Franklin has been working with duck meat for over three years, and the response to Pelleh’s Joe Jurgielewicz Long Island antibiotic-free duck has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Baruch Hashem we have gotten really good feedback,” noted Franklin. “Our ducks are cleaner than our competitors’, and we used an older-fashioned breed that is fattier and tastes more ‘ducky’ than what is currently available, which tastes more like chicken and is less fatty. Most chefs buy duck because they actually want to use the fat.”
For five years, Pelleh had been making nitrate-free deli in its own authentic smokehouse, which uses a blend of natural birch, beech, and maple woods in its small batches of charcuterie, which contain no fillers and no oils. The products have been so popular that Franklin was inspired to try smoking duck, something he thought had the potential to hit it big in today’s more sophisticated kosher market, which is constantly on the lookout for innovative and intriguing products.
“I had this room and I realized that there was no kosher smoked duck sausage,” said Franklin. “I hope to end up with three to five different duck sausages, duck liver, and duck rillettes, a French duck spread made with seasoned confit duck meat, duck fat, spices, and duck stock.”
Pelleh’s specialty duck products are the first of the company’s offerings to end up in retail stores. An order of duck bacon that went to one Monsey supermarket sold out in a single day.
“It looks like regular bacon, fries up like regular bacon, and they say it tastes like it as well,” said Franklin.
The best part about duck is that nothing goes to waste. Even duck fat is jarred and sold, and with its high smoke point, duck fat is ideal for high-heat cooking and adds a mild yet indulgent flavor. A 2013 Huffington Post article included a wide variety of duck-fat recipes, including fries, popcorn, roasted Brussels sprouts, and potato latkes with an apple–lemon chutney. Duck fat has also been showing up in surprising ways, including recipes for duck-fat dried cherry and brandy cookies and sweet-and-salty duck caramels and in an Instagram post by food blogger Kiss the Kosher Cook featuring stuffed dates wrapped with Pelleh duck bacon.
While he may own the kosher specialty duck market, Franklin continues his quest for new horizons, ones that, of course, must be produced according to Pelleh’s exacting kashrus standards.
“We keep looking for things that don’t exist and to find niches within our specialty,” observed Franklin.
Franklin’s cherry duck sausage, duck bacon, and squab were among the hottest items at Kosherfest this November, as visitors to the annual kosher food show flocked in droves to the Pelleh booth, driven by word of mouth and the tantalizing smell, with most tasting squab for the first time.
“We are the only ones making squab,” said Franklin. “Some people are a little afraid of it, but pigeons were the only birds brought on the Mizbeiach. It is a specialty item and a delicious, delicious bird.”
For Kosherfest, Franklin cooked the minuscule birds by a process called sous vide, placing the squab in a vacuum-sealed bag and then cooking it in water, before pan-searing it and serving it with a cherry reduction. Because squab is so small, it is extremely time-consuming to process: Franklin estimates that in the time it takes him to do 100 squab, he could process 1,000 chickens.
Pelleh Poultry expects to have its duck products on store shelves shortly, and if reactions to their Kosherfest samples are any indicator, their one-of-a-kind duck products are going to take the kosher world by storm.
“Your stuff was amazing today,” enthused food blogger Chanie Apfelbaum of Busy in Brooklyn. “Looking forward to seeing and tasting more from you guys soon!”
For more information on Pelleh Poultry or to place an order, e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-425-4559.
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines, and private clients. She can be contacted at email@example.com.