Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It ain't over 'till the fat liver sings

Let's talk turkey today, my friends. I mean... duck!... After all those sugary things we've cooked and the chocolate intoxication, it's about time to recompose ourselves and get down to a serious business in France, causing much grief to animal protection associations, but great pleasure to the foodies all around the world. I named here the foie gras, guilty as charged! Vegetarians, please read attentively the following paragraph, it is entirely dedicated to you! And to you, animal protection activists!

The foie gras is a special duck (or goose) liver, obtained by deliberately force-feeding the birds in their latest days of life thus causing it to become excessively fatty until catching various conditions such as the fatty liver disease or hepatitis. Then the birds are politely invited to go to their final destination: the duck, respectively goose heaven, and the result is fat. V*e*r*y fat!
Here ends the paragraph and be warned that if you read what follows, you will do that at your own peril!

Now that I've eliminated the readers that are not concerned by my animally incorrect posts, let me tell you that this is one of the most wonderful, marvelous and exquisite foods you'll ever taste, if cooked right. Of course I'll give you the only way one can rightly cook a foie gras! (yeah, don't tell me, because I know: I've lived here long enough to become infected with "the only way" French theories... it's hard to resist!)

If you can't find raw foie gras (and it will be difficult if you don't live in France during holidays, even if there are other countries producing it) then buy a cooked foie gras entier (=the liver comes from one bird and it's not mixed with anything else). Be very careful to check what spices have been added (to its exterior only), as it is said that the more there are, the less acceptable the quality of the liver is. A foie gras is a stunner on its own, it is not to be altered by strange flavors, my fellow gourmands: a little salt, pepper and, at most, another third spice on the surface (Espelette chili, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.) will be enough. If someone sells you something with a lot of spices on it, suspect them of trying to hide something fishy underneath, notably a liver of a lower quality.

This will not save you, of course, from deceptions, but at that price (starting with 70-90 Eur the kg and going up to the sky) you'd better minimize the risks! I'd advise against anything else that is already cooked and is not marked as 'foie gras entier', being it 'foie gras' simple (more pieces of different foie gras put together), 'bloc de fois gras' (more foie gras homogenized to result a cream), 'bloc de foie gras avec morceaux' (homogenized foie gras with pieces of whole liver here and there), 'mousse de foie gras' (a cream of foie gras emulsified with other fat, like butter), 'pâté de foie gras' (50% of foie gras + an unidentified something else) or 'parfait de foie gras' (75% de foie gras + something else). And, speaking of pâté: please, please don't tell any French that the foie gras is a pâté, unless you want to be regarded as a barbarian who just descended from the trees and lives in a cave. Le foie gras is the liver and that's all! Everything else is an impostor and doesn't merit your slightest regard.

Now about the way to rightly prepare and cook a raw foie gras: choose a foie gras that has already been deveined (déveiné) by a professional, this will save you from some trouble and will prevent that the remaining vein blood stains the liver while cooking (if it does, it's not the end of the world though, but it looks better without blood spots). Sprinkle the exterior with salt, pepper and the spices of your choice (you can replace the black pepper with other varieties: white, red or Jamaica) then put it in a terrine, cover with its lid and off with it in the cold oven. The main rule to follow is to cook it at low-temperature because this is a way that won't aggress the liver nor allows its dehydration. For a mi-cuit (half-cooked) foie gras, wait until its interior temperature arrives to 55°C, while for a well done one the cooking temperature should be 60-70°C. There are people who cook it (faster) at a higher temperature (120°C), but they add an additional bowl with water in the oven, to avoid the dehydration and the hardening of liver surface. As for myself, I prefer to cook it longer but at 60°C directly: good food takes time to mature, isn't that right?

There is another, simpler, way to cook a foie gras that my friend Stéphanie showed me long time ago and to which I am forever indebted as I've done it her way a lot of times and it's the most practical (many thanks, Stéphanie!): after you've seasoned your foie gras, roll it into a transparent plastic wrap a few times, in order to obtain the form of a big sausage. Seal the ends then immerse the roll into a pot full with boiling water. Immediately turn off the heat and leave it there during a few hours (I make it in the evening and leave it there during the whole night) In the morning take it off the plastic wrap, remove the fat, press it well in a terrine and leave it in the fridge for at least one or two days (if you can, I cannot!)

Serve it with a sweet wine (Montbazillac, Sauternes or Gewürztraminer) and with pain d'épices or figues preserve or confit d'oignon (or other sweet relish, preserve, chutney, honey or sweet fruits)

Bon appétit !

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