Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ah, foie gras!

Ah, foie gras. What a wonderful thing. The Egyptians, I come to find out, were the first to fatten birds from overfeeding as early as 2500 BC. Eventually the practice spread from Alexandria to the rest of the Mediterranean, where the Romans coined the term iecur ficatum, fig-stuffed liver. The word ficatum was closely associated with animal liver and became the root word for "liver" in Italian (fegato), Romanian (ficat), Portuguese (figado), Spanish (hígado), and French (foie). Foie gras, meaning "fat liver" in French, is the term that we use to describe this ethereal delight. The French, of course, are the reigning champions of "fat liver" production (more than 18,000 tons in 2005) and consumption (19,000 tons in '05). We have some catching up to do.

I have had the pleasure of eating foie gras on a handful of occasions before, but never the honor of being able to prepare it. So when our fabulous friend Dick told us that his daughter bought him a whole foie gras for Father's Day, and wanted to know if I was interested in cooking and enjoying it with him, I said, "thank you, but no." HA! Just kidding. Absolutely. Now, how the hell do you cook one of these things? I did some research and found out lots of do's and don'ts. In particular, 'Understanding foie gras' by Wayne Nish on the Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Duck Products webpage. Honestly, I started to get a little nervous after reading of the delicate handling and preparation required. It went off without a hitch in the end, and made for an unspeakably special and decedent appetizer.

I used a recipe from the famed Gary Danko, and changed a couple of things for the sake of ease and economics, but not much. I linked the page with the recipe to his name if you are interested in preparing it just so. The plate consists of seared foie gras, caramelized red onion compote, caramelized peaches, and a reduction sauce.

I prepared all of the accompaniments ahead of time, and the foie gras cooks (literally) in a matter of minutes, so it was actually a very easy meal in terms of difficulty. It did, however, require some time. One of the many reasons I feel lucky to be a teacher is that I have plenty of time at the present moment. The onion compote pictured above has butter, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and thyme. As the onions caramelized, I made the reduction sauce. Minced shallots, chicken stock (Danko called for rich veal stock), sweet white wine (Danko calls for Essensia, but I used Vinferno from Bonny Doon Vinyards, bomba), cognac, honey, and sherry vinegar all combine and get reduced by half, then strained.

Finally, the peaches. Two beautiful firm yet ripe peaches were peeled and quartered. Since I was preparing for three, I decided to purée two of the quarters with the deglazing liquid. The peaches get caramelized on both sides in oil (I used coconut oil) and then transferred to a plate, or in my case, a glass container for later transport. The 'fourth wheel' peach quarters got diced and went in to the hot pan, along with a splash of cognac, Vinferno, and a sprinkle of brown sugar because they were not as sweet as I would have liked. I then puréed that and poured it over the now resting peaches to cool.

Once we arrived at Chez Dick, we had our first sighting of the foie. Twas a thing of beauty. A tear welled up inside me as I held it for the first time. "Je t'aime mon petit foie, je t'aime." I had read about the whole deveining process, so that was the first order of business. Once the lobes were separated, I pulled out the main vein (teehee) and sliced her up as per Gary Danko's instructions:
With a sharp 8" French knife, dipped in hot water, cut the Foie into ¾" thick slices. Reheat knife before cutting the next slice. Exert only the force necessary to cut through the Foie gras. Place slices on tray, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to cook and serve.

Once sliced, cook time is a snap. Foie gras feels and cooks (and tastes like, in a way) BUTTER. When I dropped them in to the pan, they sizzled intensely and rendered quickly. I went with Wayne Nish's suggestion to cook the foie over very high heat rather than Gary Danko's cooking instructions. A minute or so on the first side, then another minute or so on the second side. Poured off the fat, dropped the peaches in (I had the compote warming in a small pan, and the sauce warming as well) and plated them up!! Oh my goodness, what a delightful, delicate, decedent treat!! Here's a look at the finished product.

And that is just the appetizer! Dick grilled a perfectly cooked tri-tip, along with some amazing red potatoes. The lovely Lissa prepared a delightful green salad to round things off. The potatoes had the creamiest texture! He boiled them, drained them, and then put them back in the pot with some olive oil and let them simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes. They were almost custardy. WTFicatum? Awesome dinner. Thank you Torun, if you read this, for such a special gift to your Dad, and thank you Dad Dick for sharing your special gift with us. I feel blessed to lead the life I do. Eating foie gras with intelligent, caring friends, looking out over the redwoods, thinking deeply and being alive. La vie est belle.

The view from Chez Dick, between bites of heaven.


  1. Yum! I have had the beloved foie a handful of times, once a la Gary Danko in SF. What an experience! Thanks for sharing....

  2. Aha! Was it similar to this recipe when you had it at GD? Love me some foie gras.


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