March 4, 2009

The Exquisite Experience of Foie Gras

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I am exploring many of the recipes in Joel Robuchon’s 2008 book, The Complete Robuchon. What fascinates me the most is trying recipes for dishes that I normally only see in top restaurants like Robuchon’s L’atelier de Joel Robuchon. The first of such dishes I attempted was his rendition of pan fried foie gras slices, entitled foie gras en tranches, poêlé. The ingredients he recommends are as follows.

Seasoning blend (equal parts ground nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves)
Fleur de sel (French sea salt) and Pepper (4 to 1 ratio)
Foie gras slices (about 2oz each)

I also made a sauce that I thought would go well with the foie gras.

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 oz drained and rinsed capers
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons fig preserves
1 tablespoon blueberry honey

The sauce was made beforehand in order to ensure that the sauce would be ready by the time the foie gras was cooked, so it would not have time to cool down. First, I added the vinegar, capers, and water to a small pot and heated until the liquid was reduced by half.

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Then, I stirred in the figs preserves and honey to emulsify.

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Finally, I blended the sauce in a food processor before transferring back to the pot to keep warm. Now it was time to make the foie gras.

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Foie Gras is the liver from a fattened goose or duck. It is made from force-feeding the animal in the traditional gavage method, which involves placing a tube in the animal’s throat and feeding them for about 15 days. This makes their liver fatty, bloated, and delicious. Geese are fed even longer and as such, their liver is so fatty that upon sautéing, it may melt, so duck liver is vastly preferred for this preparation. The nation that produces the most foie gras is France, but here, you are more likely to find the Hudson Valley variety, which comes from Ferndale, NY and was what I used for the recipe. In its entirety, the liver can weigh over two pounds, so I got a quarter of one.

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I had to cut it into a few pieces to get them the right size.

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One thing I find interesting about the meat is the unique fatty residue it leaves on your fingers when you touch it, very much akin to the greasy sensation after you touch butter. Also, the liver has its own natural perforations, so I cut along the indentions to accentuate these and then tore away from the main piece. This is why the pieces are of unequal sizes, but it helps in the long run with the cooking process because they do not fall apart. I coated each piece with the fleur de sel and pepper mixture, followed by a second coating of the seasoning blend. Next, I heated the pan on medium for 1 minute. Then, I seared each piece on each its side for 15 seconds before turning the heat to low and continuing with 1 minute per side.

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After they were cooked enough so that they yielded to my touch but were still pink on the inside, I transferred them to a paper towel to dry and added the excess oil to the sauce.
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Then, I plated the morsels with some fleur de sel, pepper, and sauce on the side and the dish was complete.
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As for how it tastes, the fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper are excellent complements to the fat. Fleur de sel is a very flavorful sea salt that is collected by French divers by hand in the ocean and it has both a taste and smell reminiscent of the sea. The fat of the foie gras can sometimes be a bit overwhelming and the condiments are more or less ways to handle the flavor. Generally a sauce that is sweet yet tart works well with the dish. I chose capers and vinegar for their tart flavor and figs and blueberry honey for the sweet. This worked very well and I tasted the sweetness of the sauce on the tip of my tongue, but it only peeked through the all-encompassing mask of fatty goodness from the foie gras. That is how it is supposed to taste because it adds to the experience without ever detracting from the star of the show which is of course, the foie gras. It is an expensive but not altogether time-consuming dish that I would recommend as an appetizer for an infrequent special occasion. After all, it is not healthy for your body or wallet to eat this often, but cooking it yourself at least saves a bit in the latter department.