Foie Gras-Joe Tharp

19 09 2008

Foie gras is, in essence, a simple dish that is at its best if it is not partnered with strong flavors and presented in a manner that allows the foie gras to permeate throughout the palate on its own terms. However, what is ideal and what is real tend to differ from one and other by a large degree, and this rule of thumb is applicable to foie gras. Embroiled in controversy, this traditional French dish has become marred over the years in the media and as such, most Americans haven’t had this dish simply because of the dark cloud that hangs over foie gras, much akin to the American public being gun-shy over eating veal. But just like veal, once one has an understanding and an appreciation for what comprises foie gras, one can enjoy this delicacy without the burden of a guilty conscience.

Foie gras is the liver of either a duck, or a goose, that has been enlarged either by natural, or artificial processes, and is then served in a variety of ways. The practice of force fattening birds can be traced back to 2500 BC where the ancient Egyptians began this practice. France has since become the flagship for this practice, and has even gone so far as to litigate the process by which a duck or a goose liver fattened, which is known as “gavage.” Infact, by the same French law, Foie gras in France can only be applied to duck or goose liver that has been fattened by this gavage process.

What is gavage you ask? Gavage is the process by which a feeding tube is inserted into a bird’s esophogaus, and food is force fed to said bird in order to fatten it up. Gavage is also the process by which a decent percentage of the world’s population has cried “fowl” over the consumption of foie gras claiming animal cruelty. (On a local note, the Chicago City Council banned foie gras from being served in restaurants because of this perceived cruelty in 2006, but this ordinance was repealed in 2008.) There is another way in which foie gras is harvested which is seen as more humane, and this method is simply slaughtering the bird prior to migration season, when the bird naturally packs on the pounds in preparation for the long flight. It is contested though by purists for not having the same taste and consistency as artificially fattened birds. The method of harvest is not the first obstacle foie gras has had to deal with though in the United States as prior to 1985 it was illegal to import raw foie gras. So all foie gras prior to this was of the cooked variety, and again, foie gras purists swear by serving foie gras raw, or at the most, seared.

But how is foie gras prepared? To start with, foie gras is graded either “A”, “B”, or “C”, and once received, need to be deveined cleaned just like any liver product. However, foie gras is a very malleable medium, and can be molded back into shape if handle less than delicately. After it is cleaned, there are a couple of different ways to serve foie gras; the most traditional of which is called a “Torchon” and is simply a log of foie gras rolled into a cylinder, wrapped in cheesecloth, poached for 90-seconds, and allowed to hang-dry for at least a day. It is important to allow the product at least one day to rest before serving so that the marinade has time to permeate the fois gras. What you poach it in is entirely up to you. It can be poached con fit, or in stock, or in a alcohol; the important thing is to not keep the foie gras submerged in the liquid for more that 90 seconds. Another method of production is to puree the liver after marinating, and pipe it into a terrine mold and treat it as a terrine from here on out. This method allows for the foie gras to be served as you would a patee. The Torchon method is best served in slices that are of a ¾ to 1 inch thickness either by itself, or with a bread, such as a brioche. But again the desired result is to not over power the flavor of the foie gras, which has a rich, intense, buttery flavor. The marinade should compliment this, not over power it.

I leave it to the reader to decide if they want to risk eternal damnation to try this product, or to simply say no to this silly French custom. If one appreciates what the bird went through when preparing foie gras, then one should be able to maintain a clear conscience. Properly preparing and not wasting this costly product is the best way to show your appreciation for the labors incurred with foie gras. And, if nothing else, there is always the au natural method of slaughter for your foie gras. But at the end of the day, I guess it is simply best to say “To each their own.”




One response

2 12 2008

Here is a play by play for a marbled torchon. Thanks for the blog, Ryan

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