Please, Hannibal Lecter, STOP HELPING.
Just the word “liver” evokes the most unflattering facial expressions for most Americans. Long gone are the days when we felt blessed to have any meat at all. There was a time when liver was eaten, albeit reluctantly, because of health benefits that were erroneously associated with its consumption. Once we were informed (or at least reminded), that the liver actually had some toxicity associated with it because of its function, we had one less reason to smother it sacrificially with bacon, onions, and, yes, even ketchup.
That’s really too bad. Even beef and pork liver can be made palatable, not as an every day favorite, but at least once in a while. You know, turn the hood fan on high, don’t serve really large portions, don’t overcook it, BBQ it if you can, and make sure you have the aforementioned onions and bacon hovering nearby. If you can actually find real veal liver out there, it’s quite mild. Not mild enough to eliminate the onions and bacon, but tasty enough to avoid opening another bottle of Heinz.
Shouldn’t it be Kidney beans instead of Fava?
Foie Gras has even more baggage than the other types. Migratory birds all gorge seasonally, so that they can survive the long trip south without the prospect of many meals during the trip. God/Nature/Evolution (take your pick) provides that some will not gorge enough, and will starve somewhere along the journey. Others will gorge too much, and become too heavy to get airborne, left to suffer the winter cold. This will kill some too. The rest gorge just enough to still achieve launch, without running out of fuel on the way to toastier climes.
Animal husbandry is a funny thing. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to a 19th century German politician, Otto von Bismarck. It was he who said “Politics is like sausage–it’s best to not know what goes into it.” There is a lot of wisdom in this aphorism. And it applies not only to that delectable ground pork patty or link that we enjoy at breakfast, but to the way that most barnyard animals live their pastoral but doomed lives. We allow ourselves to imagine a calm, peaceful, garden like setting, with a sweet smelling barn and pleasantly over decorated farm houses. We really should, and do, know better. The strongest smell in the barnyard is not fresh alfalfa.
Back to that category of ducks/geese that tend to gorge too much. Hundreds of years ago, somebody had the idea of strongly encouraging this gorging habit, and Foie Gras was discovered. The ducks are penned, so they can’t walk around, or even away. Food is tonged through the screen, which the ducks happily allow to be shoved down their gullets. Some unscrupulous or even lazy processors use more aggressive techniques to encourage sitting still and gorging, but we’re not going to go into that, as tribute to our friend Otto.
“Wanted: Duck Gorger.
No experience necessary.
Apply inside, or call this number…”
A gorging duck can consume a lot of grain–corn, especially, with that high fat content. That fat gets stored in the tissues, and under the skin, to provide warmth. It all goes through the liver first, and a lot of it stays right there, to be used to create energy later. The liver gets larger, and larger, and paler, almost buttery, and milder in flavor, so that when the duck is slaughtered, the cavity is not only distended, but the liver occupies most of it. The intestines will bind it loosely, and the rest of the organs will be shoved off into a corner by the every expanding spongy blob.
The ducks they use to make foie gras are an extended hybrid of Muscovy bread with other more familiar breeds. Muscovies are huge, much larger than your typical duck, almost as big as a goose or small turkey. Even so, it’s hard to imagine any bird other than an ostrich having a liver that weighs in at over 2 lbs. Even a healthy human liver only weighs about 3 lbs.
Even weirder than Caviar or Tongue.
Now that we’ve dispensed with some of the peculiarities of this food item, I will tell you, foie gras is GOOD. It may not be moral (what meat is?), and it actually has been banned in California because of the suspect practices used to create it. Whatever. It’s delicious. It has none of the typical liver flavor, which will probably never be discovered by liver haters, because they won’t even try it. That’s okay, more for us, but don’t expect the price to get driven down. Foie gras duck liver is about $40/lb., and you’ll probably have to pay a hefty shipping charge too.
When people ask me what id DOES taste like, their eyes seem to drift off before I even answer, because if they don’t already know, they may not really want to find out. Honestly, it tastes pretty much like butter, and the fat that comes off it looks exactly like clarified butter. It’s amazing that an morbidly obese duck can produce a product so remarkably similar to baby food issued from a cow’s udder.
How to cook it.
Whenever food is really expensive, we assume that preparing it requires finesse that we may never ourselves accomplish. This is almost never true. Caviar is extremely difficult and expensive to produce, but it’s a snap to serve. Cooking a lobster tail is less complicated than cooking eggs to order. For Sea Urchin, Oysters, Sushi, simpler is almost always better. This is also true of foie gras. There are only a few things that distinguish its preparation from that of a steak, for example.
- When it’s cold, it’s crumbly. Let it sit at room temp for a while before you try to cut steaks.
- Even longer at room temp if you plan on making pate or a torchon, so you can remove veins an vessels.
- People make a big deal of removing the vessels, it’s not any harder than cutting the pith out of an orange. If you miss a few, no one will ever know.
- There’s usually a pat of duck butter right in the middle, a little piece of pure fat, save that and use it to fry an egg later.
- After cutting steaks, back in the fridge until it’s really cold, so much easier to handle.
- Some chefs even prefer to cook it from the frozen state. This works too.
- You don’t have to be anxious and all freaked out to cook it. It should not create any more anxiety than parking your new BMW on a city street.
- Foie gras is at least partially responsible for the SV movement that George Pralus started in the 70’s, but foie gras is good no matter how it’s cooked.
- When I process foie gras steaks via SV, I go 145Fx.5 hours, cut a hole in the bag, drain the fat/purge, rebag the steaks in Ziplock and shock cold again. This works for me.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match.
Foie gras goes good with a lot of things. Even sweet things. In French stylings, you will frequently see toast with jam, or what they call “pain perdu,” or fresh fruit, along with the more predictable things like onions and potatoes, etc. Balsamic syrup, the ultimate faux chi chi thing, is also a popular accompaniment. You don’t usually see butter listed in the ingredients of the recipe, because this is the one dish that doesn’t need butter. It makes its own.
I never found a thing that doesn’t go well with foie gras. Waffles, good. Fried eggs, very good. Other meats, bacon, good. Fish, good, shellfish, even better. Caviar. Oysters. All by i’self. Excellent. People cringe at the price, while they think nothing of buying $40 of lottery tickets, or cellphones at exaggerated prices just because they’re the newest model. Automobiles that are three times the car that we will ever need, and then an extra one just for the weekend.
But $80 for a Duck Liver? Unthinkable. We will even order it in a restaurant, where you get like a half an ounce for a $15 premium upgrade price. Let it go, call d’Artagnan in New Jersey, they will be happy to send you one. Somewhere, there is a Moulard with your name on it. I live near Portland, I looked around until I found a meat company that has them. You won’t see them at Safeway or Costco.
Where the rubber hits the road.
- If you’ve made it this far, this won’t freak you out. There it is, 2 lbs. at room temp, which is why it’s so shiny.
- Scored a little and sliced into steaks, don’t even think about portion cost. You get some chunks, they’re great for other things, there is no “trim” to speak of.
- You can see evidence of veins, but not like they tell you there will be.
- Chefs would rather keep the romance applied to stuff like this, we don’t really want you making it at home.
- Originally, it was made at home. Not hard.
- You don’t have to go to a restaurant to get foie gras. Really.
- These are a LITTLE colder than the picture of the whole one. The color changes with the temp, and when they are whole and cold, they are almost white.
- I plead guilty. Back in the old days, we would instruct an unknowing CIA extern to cut up this goose, and then register the look on his/her face at the discovery of the “tumor” inside the cavity. Priceless.
- I don’t always score them, but I did this one.
- Six large portions, by comparison, and the little pate in the back.
- You can see some veins, but again, there really isn’t a way to get then out in this model, and it’s not a big deal.
- Vacuum the steaks when they’re cold, and they keep their shape better.
- You’re going to get pieces like this, and, as you can see, this is room temperature, shiny and a little darker.
- If you have a vacmaster, and I realize most people don’t, you take a few of these pieces and make your own little pate or faux torchon, without going through the ordeal of wrapping and worrying.
- Just season the liver well, and arrange them so that they come all the way to the top and there’s little or no air.
- Seal in a vacmaster , and process @145 until the juices are clear. Then, shock, refrigerate, and it should come out in one piece.
- The hardest part is really behind us now. Let’s take a look at some examples, and I will explain how they differ from each other.
- You can plainly see the effect of having scored, you see this a lot. Again, not hard, just scratch with the point of your knife.
- Pan fried with little or no oil, when it’s brown, it’s done.
- When it’s black, YOU’RE done.
- Even burnt, it’s edible.
- Fermented Black Garlic, squashed flat to look like a truffle slice.
- Kecap Manis and a creamy vinaigrette.
- That’s all there is to it.
- A little leaf out of the field greens.
- Still a little duck butter leaking out, and that’s okay.
Again with the fermented garlic, but some pear membrillo, too. Asparagus, carrots, home fried potatoes, some simple smothered onions underneath.
- Parsley pesto drops, kecap manis.
- Gratuitous super closeup.
Niagara grape jelly, fancy thick hash browns (sv potatoes), kecap manis/balsamic syrup, tomato parsley salad with EVOO.
- People always want to talk about pairings and flavor profiles.
- For the most part, whatever sounds good usually is.
- There are exceptions, like shellfish with cheese.
- For me, that is a solid fail.
- Sometimes I just use what I have in the fridge, even though I wasn’t thinking hoity toity when I went to the store.
- How many dishes can combine fruit, butter, tomatoes, soy, and liver?
- If we didn’t know it was liver, would we know it was liver?
- I guess it just depends on how hungry you are.
- Orange peel waffle, gingered sv carrots, Cara Caras.
- Blueberry infused balsamic. It was gifted.
- I prolly wouldn’t buy something like that. I might make it but I wouldn’t buy it.
- Now that we have the new digs, I don’t worry so much about the background.
About Sous Vide Foie Gras…
- George Pralus may have gotten famous anyway, but he’s built a career out of SV.
- This is not his model, this is my model.
- After sealing the foie gras, I process @145F/63CX.5 hours.
- I cut the corner of the bag, drained the purge, rebagged the liver in Ziploc and shocked cold to 70F/21C.
- Headed for the ice bath.
- Funny, if we call it Polenta, we can lift a pinky finger.
- If we call it grits, which it is, we have to smatter a few diphthongs around.
- Whatever you call it, some Saffron in there provides cachet all day.
- I sous vide process some carrots, 183F/84CX1 hour, and shock cold.
- Meanwhile, cut cucumbers on the mandolin, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, garlic powder, touch of vinegar…a few granules of Sodium Chloride (crispness).
- Seal via Vacmaster, they will be ready in the morning.
- I had made some miniature chestnut scones,, which I turned into biscotti and fried.
- I sv processed some little bits and pieces, and made an emulsion like beurre blanc out of the purge, lemon, S+P, hint of mustard.
- Four parts fatty substance, 1 part watery substance, bada bing, bada boom, pulse.
- Winter time, we got oranges.
- Pickled ginger pickles.
- Piece of Brie on there, just for the sake of sin.
- The little pieces, the butter sauce.
- Emulsions are emulsions are emulsions.
- If you hit your temps right, and your friction right, and your proportions right, you’ll be golden.
- Still burning through the Blueberry Balsamic.
You have to forget everything you’ve heard about some things, because masters in their crafts naturally protect their knowledge from being indiscriminately proliferated. We are worried it will fall into the wrong hands. So, we tart stuff up in romantic notions to prevent people from trying to learn how to make their own.
You want to make your own bread? We won’t stop you. But if you master Steak and Lobster, what will you order when you take your spouse out for Valentine’s Day? If you discover that caviar is no big deal, and even blini are a snap, will you still love us like you did?
We’re an anxious, dysfunctional lot, we chefs are. I guess. We always blame the industry for our hang ups, but maybe our hang ups brought us to the industry.