Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Foie Gras

foie-gras-dish1

Susan says…

Boy, it sure sounds high falootin’, but what IS foie gras?

French for “fat liver”, foie gras (fwa’ gra) is just that: the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened.  And it can’t be just any fattening.  No siree.  You can’t just feed the duck a bunch of Big Macs and honey buns. There is specific French law that defines the fattening process, called gavage. 

Side note: The French are a bunch of control freaks when it comes to fancy food, don’t you think?  They want to have a lock on champagne, insisting through law and international treaties that only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be referred to as “champagne”.  Couldn’t the argument of genericized trademark be used against them? Harumph.  And they hold the reins on this whole duck/goose liver business.  What’s next: laws specifying the egg to cheese ratio in a quiche?

With a flavor described as buttery, rich and delicate, foie gras is one of the most popular and well-known delicacies in France. Its history dates back to 2500 BC when the ancient Egyptians practiced gavage.  Today, France is the largest world producer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed all over the world.

As you may have guessed, purposefully fattening ducks to produce liver suitable for the foodie palate has sparked some controversy with animal rights activists.  Force-feeding through a tube down the esophagus have resulted in laws prohibiting the practice and the sale of the finished product in jurisdictions around the globe.  One such ban occurred in Chicago in 2006, but was overturned in 2008, much to the delight of chefs and gastronomes citywide.

France leads the production in foie gras with about 78% of the world market share (in 2005). Hungary provides about 8% and Bulgaria around 6%.  Other nations producing small fractions of the total foie gras supply include the United States, Canada, and China.

The French define three distinctive types of foie gras:

  1. Foie gras entire – whole foie gras made of one or two whole liver lobes. They can be cooked, semi-cooked or fresh.
  2. Foie gras – made of pieces of livers reassembled together.
  3. Bloc de foie gras – a fully-cooked block of at least 98% foie gras.

(I sure hope you are reading this in your best Steve Martin fake French accent.)

Since we have a Vegetarian on staff, I will not go into the details of gavage.  If you want to know more, you sick-o, then you know where to find google.  Instead, I will discuss what to do with the foie gras once you obtain it.

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You can enjoy foie gras either hot or cold.  Warm preparations often involve cooking over low heat, as the French prefer.  Duck foie gras is more suitable to a warm service than goose, since duck liver has a slightly lower fat content.  Pan searing, roasting and sautéing can be successful at high heat for a very brief time.  You don’t want all the fat to melt away for goodness sake.  The final dish should have a rare, uncooked center with a seared, warm exterior.  Seasoning should be minimal: black pepper, paprika and salt at the most.

Common cold preparations include terrines, pates and mousses.  They are slow-cooked and then served at or below room temperature.  Believe it or not, the high fat content of foie gras makes it a great candidate for a savory ice cream. If you decide to put your duck liver into the ice cream maker, and you’re probably headed to the attic to get it right now, crust it with coarse salt for plating.

Even though seasoning is slight, accompaniments complement and enhance the flavor of the foie gras. Fruit is often served alongside, including pears, prunes, cherries, and figs.  Besides fruit, you may see foie gras paired with truffles or Cointreau.  Chefs are always experimenting with flavors though, so you never know what you might see on a menu with this delicacy.

If all this talk has whet your appetite and you want to learn more about foie gras, consider the “Bible” on the subject: Michael Ginor’s Foie Gras: A Passion.  He is the co-owner and founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York, the largest US producer.

foie-gras-2

Nutritionally speaking, do you want the good news or the bad news first?  The good news: it’s a low carbohydrate food, containing only 2 grams per 2 ounce serving.  That means it is on mine and Sagacious Hillbilly’s diet plans.  The bad news: 24 grams of fat, most of the saturated variety.  Reminds me of the age-old question posed by Jeffrey Steingarten.  Why aren’t all the French dead?  With cholesterol also at an all-time high, you will definitely want to save foie gras for a special occasion, and not place it on your weekly menu flanked by sloppy joes and grocery store rotisserie chicken.

Are you ready to taste foie gras?  South Hills Market and Café serves foie gras, but their menu changes frequently.  If your heart is set on it, you may want to call ahead to check the options.  Want to get all Julia Child on us and sear it up at home?  You may order foie gras online from Hudson Valley, among other suppliers.  A 1.5 pound whole foie gras will set you back about $70, but you can get 8 ounces of mousse for only $25.  Did I just use “only” and $25 dollars’ worth of liver in the same sentence?  I think the foodies are rubbing off on me. 

Does the whole idea of force-feeding ducks for the pleasure of French gastronomes make you sick to your stomach?  Check out www.nofoiegras.org – an educational and activist site dedicated to ending the production of foie gras.

Next lesson: Confit.  (After watching last season’s Next Food Network Star and hearing Lisa, the Martha Stewart Stalker say it, oh, only about 34,877 times…I gotta know more about it.)

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21 responses to “Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Foie Gras

  1. I knew the basic information about foie gras, but seeing those livers in the guy’s hands is amazing. those things look like they could come from an animal 10 times the size of a goose.

  2. Haha, somebody watched the Chicago episode of No Reservations this week, didn’t they? 😉

  3. Tell it all if you’re going to discuss foie gras.
    The geese are not only force fed, but they have rings around their necks that prevent them from regurgitating the enormous volume of liquid muck they are fed. Combined with a cage confined existence, their bodies basically become poisoned from the horrid mixture and volume of food they are fed. Their livers, in an attempt to deal with this poisoning, become enormously enlarged taking up almost half of their body cavity. This causes extreme discomfort to say the least. These animals live in misery. It’s not just cruel, it’s horrible, inhumane and something only a sadistic prick would do to an animal.
    As a poultry farmer, I am disgusted that anyone would advocate the use of an animal product that is produced with such contemptible acts perpetrated upon a living creature. Many leading chefs, including Wolfgang Puck have ceased using it.
    Yea, it’s that bad.

  4. Garrett- I did not watch No Reservations. That is not on my must-see list. Just a coincidence.

    Mr. Hillbilly is exactly right about the gory details of gavage. In the spirit of objectivity, I included both a link to order foie gras and the link to an activist group against the practice.

    Now Phil knows how those livers got so huge.

  5. I don’t care if they shove the food up the goose’s ass.
    This is good stuff.

  6. demosthenes.or.locke

    Sag, watch out, your bleeding heart is dripping all over the floor in here. Seriously, I am glad someone gives a shit, but if God didn’t want us to eat them he wouldn’t have made them so #ucking delicious. Get over yourself and join the rest of us “sadistic pricks.” This is West Virginia, not the upper east side. My grandmother kept a goose as a pet and that thing was insanely mean. I could eat foie gras as often as I can afford it and the goose race will never earn back the karma that thing killed for them.

  7. DoL, Some people believe that the food we eat should be produced with a certain ethic in the process. Animals feel pain and suffering. I’ve seen happy animals and miserable animals and I can tell you or anyone else who wants to know that there is a big difference.
    The production of foie gras is a process that makes the bird’s life one of misery and pain from the time it’s born until it die at ~ 9 months of age.
    If you believe that animals should spend their lives in pain and misery to feed you, then perhaps “sadistic prick” is a good descriptor.
    Perhaps if people like you had the chance to really take part in the preparation of the food you eat. . .

  8. Mr. Hillbilly is sounding a bit vegetarian, but I am sure he is not, as he is on low-carb.

    The skinning and fileting of freshwater eel on Top Chef this week really freaked me out. I had to put my hand up in front of the screen like I do during horror movies when the music starts to get louder. Anybody else see that?

  9. Susan, Far from vegetarian. I’m a farmer who kills, sells and eats the things he raises. My animals live a happy healthy life and are slaughtered in the most humane way possible.
    MOst of the meat the average person eats is slaughtered in a horrifying manner. Too bad people are so far removed from the process.

    That was a tough quick challenge with the fish filleting. . . and some of the contestants were pitiful.

  10. I saw Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” last Monday, when he took his food tour of the Chicago area. And now I realize that the next time I’m in Chicago I MUST make a pilgrimage to Hot Doug’s, home of the world-famous foie gras dog.

    Bourdain’s comments on the whole foie gras “controversy” can be seen here:

  11. I’m sure you can find all sorts of resources to justify the cruelty involved in the production of foie gras. Elitists have been justifying their self gratifying pleasures forever and Bourdain is doing nothing more and nothing less in that video clip. . . afterall, he is obviously an elitist who satisfies whatever culinary or libacious pleasure he desires.
    Besides what I witnessed in that video is nothing short of animal cruelty.

  12. There are PLENTY of people who think that any kind of poultry farming constitutes animal cruelty, period. So if there would no foie gras, who would there be for Sagacious Hillbilly feel morally superior to?

    Foie gras is an expensive luxury item that basically none of us ever get to eat. I’m not going to spend much time worrying about the moral implications of producing or consuming something that’s only on the menu at about 3 places in this entire beshitted state. Unless, of course, I need to feel morally superior.

  13. HippieKiller, I’m a poultry farmer.
    This isn’t about moral superiority.
    I’ve eaten foie gras on a number of occasions. It’s delicious, but I can do fine with plain old goose, duck, chicken or turkey liver that I remove from the birds I kill and dress for customers who don’t eat guts.
    The process of producing foie gras is cruel and to many farmers, completely unethical.
    Looking for someone exhibiting moral superiority? Try the mirror.

  14. It is difficult to take seriously someone who uses any discussion as an excuse to whine about West Virginia, and also lacks the vocabulary to whine without cussing like middle schooler.

    Add to that the position on the topic actually at hand amounts to: cruelty doesn’t matter to him unless it meets some arbitrary threshold of frequency, and the profoundly projectionist accusation that someone else is trying to make himself look morally superior, and we have a genuine grand slam of obnoxiously stupid comments in one post.

  15. Anybody want to see my liver?

  16. Ron’s liver is likely saturated. Like a rum cake.

  17. I think cirrhosis was the term you were looking for. Now that you mention it he does have a yellow tint to his skin.

  18. Sorry, but I don’t think I’m the one here who’s projecting. You read way more into my comment than was necessary.

    As I said — there are thousands and thousands of people who think poultry farming period constitutes animal cruelty. Their numbers are legion. And I admit, when I pass truck full of chickens my stomach turns a little. But poultry farming passes your own “not cruelty” threshold that I’m sure is, when you get right down to it, a little arbitrary. Foie gras does not pass your threshold. Fair enough. I just think it’s a little ironic that the people in this comment thread who have greatest problem with foie gras are poultry farmers.

    To be clear though, I don’t have a problem with poultry farming. And yes, I’ll be the first to point out that it shouldn’t matter to you if I did.

  19. It’s really good to be at the top of the food chain.

  20. SagaciousHillbilly, If y were a chicken I would pray for beeing slaughtered by you…

    Please, think about what you have written here.

    In all meat industry the animals have a bad time, or do you think that the sheeps are carellfully and painless killed by wolves? Or zebras are happy when they see the lyons? Even your chicken have a bad time when you kill them.

  21. Pingback: A Wispa to the Wise « Skrift

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