Indulgent, controversial, delicate. Each and every time Foie Gras graces my plate, I shudder with anticipation of the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth affair about to take place on my palate. At the moment of first bite, I feel I am a princess, indulged in all of my desires. Anything that makes me feel like a princess is a sexy food in my book.
Because it is a delicacy, because it is elegant and because it is remarkably easy to prepare at home, it qualifies on our list. The controversy surrounding this specialty may serve to make it even more sexy. When Chicago banned the sale of Foie Gras, sales increased!
Foie gras can be enjoyed in terrine form and it is commonly available this way, but I prefer the warmth of a seared preparation instead. I think the warm brings out the best in the supple texture. The traditional pairings of fruit only make the experience even more luxurious; fruits usually add acid and sweetness which brings out the lush flavors in Foie Gras.
Consider wine pairings with Foie Gras an individual expression. Like so many other foods, the “traditional” pairing isn’t the only option. Don’t let anyone tell you that Sauterne is the only pairing, because it isn’t. Because of its complex flavors and tastes, you can experiment with the wines a bit and choose one that suits you. Champagne is a nice pairing, the light bubbles providing a nice contrast to the weight of the fat. If you like white wines, sweet wines with a little acidity are a common pairing. Sauternes is probably the most famous, but a Gewurztraminer would work too, for the same reason as Sauternes. The acidity in Sauterne-despite its sweetness-balances out the fat in Foie Gras. Make sure if you choose a white wine that you don’t choose something TOO sweet. That’s the key. But foodies around the world have been experimenting with Foie Gras wine pairings. Many foodies perfer a Bordeaux, or port. I like a bold red with fruit flavors and a tiny amount acidity, softer tannins; a Pinot Noir which is a little older (but it doesn’t need to be vintage), just not too full of tannins, that’s the key with reds. Although Foie Gras is often served at the beginning of a meal, many foodies are enjoying it between the cheese and dessert course, this allows for a sweeter wine pairing to carry through the two courses. Personally, the anticipation of Foie Gras at the end of a meal might kill me, but more delicate and restrained foodies than myself swear by it.
If Foie Gras were a person, he’d probably be a chunky, spoiled prince. Not the model of restraint, its said that when the geese are force fed using modern techniques, they go and eat even more. How the fat prince of Foie Gras came to rule our plates is as complex and interesting a story as the dish itself.
The Egyptians were the first to notice that geese would gorge themselves with figs before flying north. The gorging caused them to retain fat both in the skin and in their liver, and the Egyptians noticed that this was a particularly tasty time to partake in the goose. Recognizing the connection, it was the Egyptians who first developed a technique to force-feed geese. Slave Hebrews of the time copied the technique and brought it with them to Europe, specifically to central Europe where the Romans copied the technique. However, after the fall of Rome, Foie Gras disappears from the collective plate of Europe. The Jews, however, keep the practice alive because of the ease of cooking with animal fat (dietary restrictions forbade butter).
In the 14th century, Foie Gras reappears in the southern part of France; Geese are now fed with corn which Christopher Columbus brought back from the New World. By the 16th century, Foie Gras has secured its place in gastronomic history as it becomes a star on the menus of both King Louis XV and King Louis XVI. King Louis XVI even famously exchanges a pate of Foie Gras for a piece of land in Picardy. Seems like a fair exchange to me.
Foie Gras begins appearing in the United States with a wave of German and Jewish immigrants in the late 1800′; Wisconsin is the prime producer of foie gras. But Foie Gras remains relatively obscure until the 1950’s when in vogue restaurants begin serving it to patrons seeking the opulence promised by French dining. Lutece opens in New York in 1961 to rave reviews and Foie Gras is on the menu. It isn’t until the 1980’s when American duck Foie Gras is readily available for restaurants; D’Artagnan is the first to deliver Hudson Valley Foie Gras to Lutece. Most American Foie Gras is duck liver rather than Goose liver which is more common in Europe.
By In 1974, the methods used to feed the ducks and geese had, eh-hem, ruffled the feathers of animal rights proponents and Norway bans the force feeding of ducks and geese. In the years to follow, Germany, Czech Republis, Finland, Poland and the UK follow suit. In 2006 Chicago outlaws the sale of Foie Gras, but in 2008, this law is repealed. In 2004 in California, the sale of Foie Gras is banned and by 2012, the force feeding of ducks and geese will be phased out as well. Today, there are only two producers of Foie Gras: Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras and Hudson Valley Foie Gras.
So, get your Foie Gras on while you can. Some day you may have to jump on a flight to France to enjoy this delicacy. This is how we will be preparing it this year:
Foie Gras + Figs
From: The Cooking of Southwest France , by Paula WolfertMake sure to have all your mise en place together when you start to prepare this meal. It will come together very quickly and you will want to be able to serve it while the foie gras is still warm.
- 8 fresh purple (black Mission) figs
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 large shallot, finely slivered
- 1 tablespoon verjus or cider vinegar
- 1 small bunch of arugula
- 4 small slices of fresh A quality foie gras, about 2 ounces, at room temperature (if you have to cut your foie gras, do so with a sharp knife warmed in hot water. You can also create the cross marks this way as well.)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Thinly sliced dense country-style bread, stale or lightly toasted
- 1½ tablespoons French walnut oil
- Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the broiler. Halve the figs and place cut sides up in a shallow pan. Dust the figs with the sugar and grill under the broiler 6 to 8 inches from the heat until the sugar has melted and glazed the figs, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, soak the shallots in the vinegar for 10 minutes. Wash and dry the greens, and heat a large skillet over moderately high heat until hot. Lightly season the pieces of foie gras with salt and pepper and sauté for 30 seconds a side. Use a flat, slotted spatula to transfer to a side dish.
- Add the bread to the hot skillet and fry on both sides until the fat from the foie gras is completely absorbed. Remove to a side dish. Add the shallots and vinegar and quickly bring to a boil. Stir in the walnut oil and remove from the heat. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dress the arugula with the oil-vinegar mixture in the skillet and toss. Divide the foie gras among the bread slices. Serve with the greens and the grilled fig halves.
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