More and more restaurants in the US are adding foie gras to their menu. Once reserved for Christmas and special occasions, this dish is now enjoyed by a broader segment of the population, year around. Not so long ago, only chefs and farmers from the traditional producing areas of France (the Southwest and Alsace) felt comfortable fixing foie gras. With the availability of raw foie gras here, many cooks want to fix foie gras at home. While most consumers know that foie gras is the liver obtained from a duck or a goose that has been fed a special diet rich in corn, this product remains very mysterious for many. We hope this article will shed some light on a truly special product, help you select the right foie gras for your needs, and maybe inspire you to prepare your own.
Goose or duck? The debate goes on. Duck foie gras is more "rustic"; its taste is richer and its flavor earthier. Goose foie gras is more delicate, with a gentle and creamy taste. The foie gras from a duck is also smaller (1 to 1.5 lb.) than that from a goose (1.5 to 1.75 lb.). Most chefs tend to favor duck foie gras for hot preparations: the richer flavor lends itself to bolder, and more varied associations. For a terrine that will be eaten cold, goose and duck foie gras work equally well, but personal taste preferences come into play. Sixty years ago, most of the foie gras consumed came from geese; nowadays, duck foie gras represents more than 80% of the total production. Such a dramatic switch is partially explained by a change in taste on the consumers' part; the main reason, though, is of an economic nature: it just makes more sense to raise ducks than geese. Geese are more fragile; they have to be fed more, and more often; it takes more weeks for geese to produce a foie gras; and the by-products are more difficult to sell. Duck meat is very much in demand in France and in the USA: restaurants and home cooks regularly serve duck breasts (or magrets) while the legs, thighs and drumettes are used to make confit or cassoulet. A goose that produced a foie gras is so large that the cut-up portions are too big for restaurant use: confit and cassoulet end up being the sole destination for goose meat. Goose production has dwindled in France and the majority of goose foie gras processed in France is imported from Hungary and Israel. No domestic goose foie gras is available in the United States. Limited quantities of frozen goose foie gras are imported from France, usually for restaurant use.
Foie gras in its many forms. Whether from a male duck or goose (females do not produce high-quality foie gras), foie gras is available in several different ways depending on how it was prepared.
*Foie gras cru (raw foie gras). This is a raw liver that has been cleaned and graded for quality. It has not been cooked whatsoever. It is generally vacuum-packed and needs to be kept under refrigeration like any other raw meat product. Its color is ivory white, pink or yellow, depending on the diet of the bird, and it must be firm yet soft to the touch. The color should be uniform and slightly shiny. A raw foie gras is what you need if you want to prepare your own terrine or use it in a hot preparation.
*Foie gras frais (fresh foie gras). This foie gras is not raw but has been cooked to an internal temperature that did not exceed 65-70ºC (150-160ºF). Basically, this is similar to a foie gras obtained in a terrine cooked in a water bath in the oven; or to a foie gras "au torchon", where the liver has been rolled and pressed into a dish towel and simmered in a seasoned broth; or to a vacuum-cooked foie gras (vacuum-cooked is not the same as vacuum-packed! When vacuum-cooking, the liver is placed in a plastic bag and the vacuum is created before the foie gras is slowly cooked. This method requires special equipment that the average household does not have but it offers huge advantages: the foie gras does not melt and gustative qualities are intact). Fresh foie gras needs to be kept refrigerated at all times; it must be consumed within one to three weeks, depending on the cooking process that was used.
*Foie gras mi-cuit ou en semi-conserve (part-cooked foie gras). A misnomer if there was one! Foie gras mi-cuit does not need further cooking before consumption: it has been cooked and pasteurized, meaning an internal temperature of 70-85ºC (160-185ºF). It is available in glass jars, in metal tins and also vacuum-packed. It is full of flavor and is meant to be enjoyed cold, on a good piece of bread. It has to be refrigerated at all times but can keep several weeks or several months, depending on the processor.
*Foie gras en conserve (shelf-stable foie gras). This foie gras has been cooked and sterilized, meaning an internal temperature of over 100ºC, usually 105-115ºC (220-140ºF). It can be presented in glass jars or in metal tins and will keep for several years in the kitchen cupboard. Refrigeration is not needed. A little-known fact: since a higher temperature and longer cooking time tend to subdue the flavor of the foie gras, good producers often reserve the higher grades of livers for their canned production. Also, just like great wines, shelf-stable foie gras gets even better as it ages in the can.
Getting the most out of canned foie gras. If you are serving a foie gras that has already been cooked, preparation will obviously be minimal. Here are a few recommendations.
*Foie gras is best when served cold, but not too cold, to accentuate its aroma and creamy texture. Place the can or the jar in the fridge for a few hours but take it out to room temperature for half an hour before service.
*If the foie gras was in a tin, remove it from the can one or two hours ahead of time and set it back in the refrigerator, in a covered glass or porcelain dish. To extract the foie gras more easily from the can, open both ends and use one end to push the foie gras through the cylinder or tunnel. If the foie gras was in a glass jar, dip the blade of a knife in hot water, wipe it off and slide it between the glass walls of the jar and the foie gras.
*Excess fat should be removed but don't be overzealous.
*Cut the foie gras at the last minute, using a knife with a thin, straight blade; dip it into hot water and wipe it clean after each slice. Or use a cheesewire. Arrange the slices on a cold platter or cold serving plates.
*Serve the foie gras with good, plain bread: a country-style French bread or a baguette, possibly lightly toasted, will showcase the flavor of the foie gras; fancy breads will mask it.
When making your own terrine.
Many home cooks are apprehensive about cooking a raw foie gras but it is a very rewarding culinary experience..
*It is recommended to denerve the raw liver so that you will be able to slice the cooked foie gras uniformly. Here are several tips. Take the raw liver out of the refrigerator one hour before you start working with it. Separate both lobes with your hands: you will see a large connecting nerve between them. The nerve/vein network runs down each lobe at a depth of about 3/16" (1/2 centimeter). Starting with the bigger lobe, grab the nerve between two fingers and pull gently but firmly to remove it from the lobe, making sure not to rip the flesh. You can slit the liver along the path of the nerve with the tip of a sharp knife; use a dish towel to get a better grip on the nerve. Repeat the procedure for the small lobe. Do not try to remove all the little nerves or veins: you want to preserve the texture and the visual appeal of the foie gras.
*Terrines need to cook slowly, at low temperatures, in a water bath to prevent the liver from exuding too much fat.
*Terrines need to cure three days, in the refrigerator, before being served.
Key words here are high temperature, short cooking time to sear the slices of foie gras and minimize shrinkage.
*Denerving is not as critical since the foie gras is sliced before sautéing.
*Separate both lobes and cut diagonal slices that are approximately 3/4" thick.
*Set a frying pan over high heat; sauté the slices of foie gras 45 seconds on each side with no additional fat. Turn the slices with a spatula, do not pick them with a fork. If working in batches, discard all fat from the pan between batches.
*Some chefs like to flour the slices before sautéing them: proceed as above but add a tablespoon of fat to the frying pan.
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