This Christmas, I decided to buy whole, raw foie gras and prepare it at home.
I’m going to skip the foie gras ethical debate because anyone who wants to has already informed themselves about the issue and because there are already plenty of resources on the web.
So, on to the foie gras!
Given that this is an English-language blog, I figured it might be handy to explain the various French terms commonly used to describe foie gras.
- foie gras – literally translates as fat or fatty liver; poultry liver that has been fattened up especially, usually by extra feeding; the flavour and texture is richer and more buttery than unfattened poultry liver
- de canard – from a duck; a rich and intense flavour; handles heat better than goose foie gras
- d’oie – from a goose; compared to duck foie gras it has a more delicate flavour; loses more fat when subjected to heat, is produced in smaller quantities and is more expensive
- foie gras entier cru – entier means whole, cru means raw; most commonly both lobes or a single lobe but can also refer to a piece cut from the whole, provided it hasn’t been chopped or mixed with anything else; buying raw usually means the liver is unprepared so will need deveining before being cooked or cured
- foie gras entier frais – fresh whole liver
- foie gras mi-cuit – literally translates as half cooked; on a menu, this most commonly refers to fresh liver, lightly cooked (as opposed to being boiled for a couple of hours in its container as with preserved versions) and usually pressed and chilled before serving
- foie gras entier – (in jars/ tins); whole liver (or parts of it), seasoned with salt, pepper and Cognac and then cooked in a jar or tin to preserve; usually cooked for about 2 hours but you do find mi-cuit versions where the liver has been poached in its container for a shorter 30-40 minutes
- bloc de foie gras avec morceaux – morceaux means bits; this is a pâté made from minced foie gras, with small bits of intact liver within; it is cooked in its container; the percentage of morceaux is usually specified
- bloc de foie gras – a pâté made from minced and seasoned foie gras cooked in its container; this can vary greatly in texture, taste and quality between industrially produced versions and home-made or fermier (farm) ones
- pâté de foie gras – ground, minced or pureed foie gras in a spreadable form; must contain 50% or more foie gras
- mousse de foie gras – a mousse is usually finer and lighter than pâté, as the preparation has been whipped to incorporate air; must contain 50% or more foie gras
- parfait de foie gras – very similar to mousse de foie gras but must contain at least 75% foie gras
- foie gras au torchon – au torchon means in a towel; a whole lobe of liver is gently rolled into shape, wrapped in cloth and slow-cooked in a bain-marie; these days the liver is most commonly shaped and wrapped in cling film and cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath; it is served cold, in slices
- foie gras cru au sel – liver, usually whole, cured in salt and served chilled
- foie gras poêlé – poêléis usually translated as pan-fried or seared; slices of whole foie gras are fried briefly in a hot pan and served immediately
Buying Foie Gras
I bought our whole foie gras de canard from a stall at Borough Market several weeks before Christmas. Because it was best before dated for the 12th December, I popped it into the freezer until Christmas. The brand is Profuma, produced in Belgium and I paid £20 for 0.6 kilograms which is a very good price for extra (highest) quality, I believe.
Terrine de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit
- Separate the two lobes and remove all the veins. Ideally, you want to keep the lobes intact as much as possible, but I ended up breaking mine into large pieces to reach the veins. I allowed the liver to reach room temperature first, as I’d read that this makes the veins come out more easily.
- As you’re deveining, drop each clean piece of liver into a bowl of salted ice-cold water.
- Leave the deveined liver in the cold water for 30-60 minutes.
- Drain the liver well and then marinate for several hours (see below for marinade recipe). I popped mine into the fridge for this.
- Preheat the oven to 90 °C.
- Drain the liver (though there’s no need to wipe off any remaining marinade) and place into a non-stick baking pan.
- Cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Pick out the cooked pieces of liver, allowing as much of the melted fat to drip off as possible, and transfer them into your terrine dish, packing them down firmly.As far more of the liver melted away into fat than I’d anticipated we switched to a much smaller dish. Ideally we needed one a touch smaller still, as there wasn’t quite enough liver to reach to the rim and allow for the weight on top to properly press down.
- Once the terrine is filled, cover and place in the fridge with a heavy object on top to pack the liver more tightly into the container. Place a plate beneath the container to catch any additional fat that is pressed out.
- Leave the terrine in the fridge for 4 days before turning out and enjoying.
I based my cooking method very much on the steps and advice provided by CulinoTests here (in French), which take you through a recipe from Eric Léautey.
I was hugely nervous about deveining foie gras as I’d heard a fair few anecdotes about how difficult this is and how it’s very easy to leave lots of veins behind in the liver.
I was directed by a friend to this instructions video (in French) which helped me devein successfully, though my liver was broken into more pieces than the instructor’s when I’d finished! I’ve since found these helpful video instructions (also in French). The second video also goes on to cover how to make foie gras au torchon.
To my delight, I seem to have been successful in removing the vast majority of the veins; both Pete and I found just a single very tiny thread each in what we ate.
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 1 teaspoon vinegar (I used cider wine vinegar)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- a generous pinch of all spice
The end result was fantastic! That familiar, fantastically rich flavour, the rich and silky mouthfeel…
I’d already been advised that freezing shouldn’t affect foie gras. Although I’ve never cooked it before, I’ve eaten a lot of it and the taste and texture seemed absolutely spot on to me. I’d freeze again in the future, though I’d probably devein first so I could divide and freeze in two or three portions.
I was disappointed with how very much of the initial liver weight and volume melted away into fat during the brief cooking. Apparently this isn’t down to the quality of the foie gras and can’t easily be predicted. I don’t think I overcooked it since the pieces of liver still retained a pink colour inside.
The loss to fat means it’s difficult to predict the volume of solid liver you’ll end up with and therefore hard to pick the right terrine dish. I’m not sure how best to resolve that.
The silver lining is that I had a huge amount of foie gras fat left over, half of which has already been used for the most delicious roast potatoes we’ve enjoyed in a long while!