What is foie gras, and why does it sometimes draw as much flak as eating veal? Before I do a post on the seared foie gras that I served at the “blogger’s dinner,” I thought I should do this introductory post on the raw ingredient. Foie gras, literally translated, is a “fatty liver,” either of a goose or a duck. Foie gras has been produced in France for decades if not centuries (but now produced in many countries, including Spain, the U.S. and even China). Geese or ducks are fed using a method called “gavage,” where a tube is used to keep their throats open during feeding, and many detractors have reached the conclusion that the method of feeding the ducks and geese is cruel and unusual punishment or treatment and as such is an evil ingredient that should be boycotted and avoided. In the U.S., a few cities hastily banned the sale of foie gras, but as with so many folks who choose to act on limited information, there is more to the story than animal rights activists would have you believe. I am not an expert, so I will simply guide you to those who are recognized experts with a few weblinks. Read more about it there if it interests you. But before you instantly start typing out a comment re: foie, arm yourself with facts.
Charlie Trotter, a well-known Chef and anti-foie proponent, was at the fulcrum of the Chicago city board’s decision to ban foie gras in that city in 2006. However, earlier this year, the ban was repealed when the city board was given a tour of a foie gras farm and the process of making the foie gras was explained. The explanation is best read here, in a pro-foie site, led by the lady who owns D’Artagnan, a U.S. producer of foie gras. They explain why you need to know a little bit more about the make-up of a goose or duck, how their throats work the gag reflex, the fact that the bird’s naturally tend to fatten up before a migratory flight, etc. In my opinion, the feeding is no “cruel-er” than the manner in which many other animals raised for our food are subjected to, but more on that on my post why I eat what I eat. If the feeding pipe bothers you, then buy organic and non-force fed geese or ethical foie, as described here. As for those who haven’t tasted foie gras, you may wish to peruse comments in this eGullet forum, and I would personally describe it as an extremely buttery liver with a near beef broth like flavor… And for a site that leads deeper into the wonderful world of foie, visit this one. For me, the bottom line is that it is a farmed animal, raised for human consumption. All parts of the animal are eventually eaten or used. I choose to eat meat and fish (besides fruits and vegetables) and I totally like my foie gras.
Now, back to the dinner. I had promised Katrina, and others that we would have an abundance of foie gras. But a trip to Terry’s a few days before the dinner was not very promising. Every single one of their frozen lobes looked positively horrific. This was a surprise to me, as I normally find good foie gras there, but perhaps I almost always serve it around the Christmas holidays, not mid year. What was really disturbing is that the foie looked like it had defrosted and had re-frozen, with ice crystals all over and a really unpalatable color. I decided not to buy any… The next day, at Santis, Forbes, I picked up one package of Rougie brand duck foie gras in the photo up top, on the left, and while not totally thrilled with it, it was a YEAR away from it’s expiry date and while pale, still looked pretty good. I also knew I could go back to Santis if it was terrible when cooked. But 500 grams didn’t seem like enough for 12, so I went to another branch of Santis in Rockwell a day later and picked up a second lobe of roughly 500 grams, on the right in the photo above. Now here you can clearly see the difference between a relatively new lobe (the right, packed less than 6-7 weeks before) and the old lobe of foie, on the left, packed many, many months before. Lesson learned? Check the packing dates and try to get lobes that look like the one on the right. Once they were cooked, I personally thought the fresher lobe was noticeably better, but I doubt that diners would have quibbled about the difference… I kept about 200 grams of foie for another meal, and used 800 grams for 12 dinner guests, or roughly 65 grams per person for a generous second appetizer…