France is a wonderful country! Known not only for its cultural heritage, its past, its history but also for its gastronomy and local products such as the quintessential and delicious foie gras.
Foie gras is one of the most famous dishes of French cuisine.
Where does foie gras come from?
Foie gras is very popular in Alsace and in the Southwest of France, two regions which claim its paternity. The Midi-Pyrenees and the Périgord regions are also two regions that have received the PGI certification (Protected Geographical Indication) since 2000. Duck foie gras from southwestern France also holds the Label Rouge (Red label), a high distinction of quality.
What is foie gras?
French cuisine defines foie gras as duck liver or goose liver, fattened by gavage or force-feeding. France is the largest producer of foie gras in the world, with an average of 20 tons produced each year (about 80% of the world market). It is followed by Hungary and Bulgaria.
What is the history of foie gras?
It is estimated that the force-feeding (gavage) of geese and ducks is an activity that started in Egypt about 4000 to 5000 years ago.
Anatidae (swans, geese, ducks) are migratory birds that travel very long distances, from the north of Europe to South of Africa. They have the ability to hold a large amount of food in their elastic esophagus and, before taking off, in order to store calories, they force-feed themselves, quite naturally.
Egyptians noticed that these beautiful birds flying over the valley of the Nile in the fall, were particularly chubby. They began to chase them, then to raise them, and to feed them artificially with figs and some cereals.
During the Middle Ages, duck and geese livers disappeared from the European tables, replaced by other animals such as sheep or pigs from which pies were prepared, but the Jewish slaves continued to keep the tradition of gavage alive transmitted to them by the Romans during the Roman colonization of Judea.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the tradition of foie gras developed in Central Europe under the influence of the Jews.
But why the Jews? Because the mixture of butter (dairy) with meat was forbidden to them. Olive oil was also not easy to find in Central Europe, therefore Jewish people used goose fat to cook.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus brought from America a cereal that was unknown at the time: corn. Gavage immediately experienced a new rise with corn in place of figs. As early as the 16th century, the Alsatian Jews composed foie gras recipes with a dozen spices and herbs such as coriander, nutmeg, and clove. Tradition perpetuated until today as the Alsatians are used to eating foie gras with gingerbread.
Foie gras reached the pinnacle of its celebrity thanks to Louis XVI and to the recipe of pâté by famous chef Jean Pierre Clause, a recipe that just loved. Then, great writers such as George Sand and Alexandre Dumas, and even musicians, such as famous Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini and his famous tournedos Rossini.
Indeed, we owe the recipe of the famous “tournedos Rossini” to the famous composer, whose gluttony was legendary. Did you know that Rossini was a butcher? It is probably in this role that he developed his taste for good food. He created this recipe and asked the chef of “Café Anglais”, one of the greatest Parisian restaurants at the time, to prepare it. So many people loved it that they decided to include this recipe on the restaurant’s menu.
A legend says that the butler of Cafe Anglais was so frightened to make this dish on the spot, that he prepared the dish, not under Rossini’s supervision, but by turning his back. Hence the name… “tournedos” in French means “turn back”… but this is only a legend!
How to make foie gras
A quality foie gras is first and foremost a liver that is carefully deveined by hand and before being cooked, for an extraction of all the veins, big or small. Some chefs advise to soak the foie gras in a large amount of milk or water for an hour before deveining it. The use of a small knife or clamp is obviously necessary.
Foie gras must be taken out of the refrigerator one hour before working on it so it is soft. A foie gras is composed of two lobes and, to remove all the nerves and the veins without forgetting any, it will obviously be necessary to separate the two lobes delicately with the knife in order to flatten everything and be able to work the whole organ. It is a meticulous job and “patience” is key! The end result must be homogeneous and above all, without any stains.
Mike is the author of the photos of this foie gras that I prepared a few weeks ago for a dinner with family and friends during his stay in Paris. The meticulousness, the patience and the expectation of maturation are worth the effort because, if you ask me, nothing replaces a good homemade foie gras!
This foie gras recipe is validated by our culinary expert in French cuisine, Chef Simon. You can find Chef Simon on his website Chef Simon – Le Plaisir de Cuisiner.
- 1 (1 lb) lobe duck liver (or goose liver)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Sauternes (or other sweet white wine)
Devein the lobe of foie gras.
Dissolve the salt in the wine, then add pepper. Pour this mixture over the foie gras and let stand covered for 12 hours in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 250 F with a water-filled container for a bain-marie.
Arrange the marinated foie gras pieces and pack them in a terrine dish. Cover and bake by placing the terrine dish in the water-filled container.
Lower the oven temperature to 210 F and cook for about 50 minutes. The interior temperature of the foie gras must be 120 F.
Allow cooling. Remove excess fat and place in the fridge with a weight on top of the terrine dish for 24 hours.
Foie gras can then be enjoyed immediately, or even better within 5 days so that it reaches optimum maturity.