Duck liver cocktail, anyone?
uncomfortable for the birds.
Foie gras was banned for commercial sale in Chicago between 2006 and 2008, and last year the state of California barred the production and sale of foie gras. It’s illegal to sell foie gras in several countries, including Germany, Britain, Israel, Italy and Turkey.
Foie gras farmers like Nathalie are aware of the criticism. They say their animals are grown to be eaten just like calves destined for veal cutlets or cattle fattened in large feed lots. But Nathalie says her animals are allowed to roam freely in pastures to ensure her flock remains healthy and are not injected with hormones and other chemicals.
“Usually the people who criticise don’t know anything about force feeding,” says Nathalie. “I live with my animals. It’s important to me that they have a good life.”
Force feeding animals isn’t new, and it wasn’t invented by the French. In fact, the practice dates back to at least 4,500 years ago, when ancient Egyptians fattened geese. A tomb in Egypt features a bas relief scene of people forcing grain down the throats of geese.
Geese and ducks are singled out for foie gras because their livers are larger than other fowl such as chickens and turkeys. Because geese and ducks migrate, they need the extra fat stored in their livers to help them travel long distances, says Ron Kean, a University of Wisconsin-Madison poultry expert.
Because foie gras is rich-tasting and pricey, it’s usually eaten in small quantities, commonly as an appetiser, although it can be served as a main course. Because it’s so fatty, it’s often served with sweet fruits such as figs, poached apples or stewed pears to balance the flavour, says Adam Siegel, executive chef of Milwaukee restaurants Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus.
“It’s one of those things where you either love it or you hate it,” says Patrick Murphy, chef de cuisine at Wisconsin French restaurant Le Reve Patisserie & Cafe.
Le Reve uses only duck foie gras, not goose, which it gets from a Minnesota farm, says Murphy, adding that it can be difficult to cook. “It’s a very expensive product. We obviously don’t want to waste it. We try for 100% yield,” says Murphy, who has worked at Le Reve five years. “If you put it in a pan and just crank it, it’s a lot like butter. It’ll just melt away. You need finesse.”
Lake Park Bistro serves a sautéed foie gras with prunes, port wine and brioche toast, as well as potted foie gras, which is cured, rolled in cheesecloth, poached in stock and then passed through a fine-mesh sieve before being placed in a small glass jar topped with rendered foie gras fat and chilled. It’s usually served with preserves and toast.
The menu at Bacchus features a seared piece of foie gras served with a honey crisp apple compote, brioche French toast, a sunny side up quail egg, bacon and Bourbon maple syrup as a sauce; the dish informally is known as the Breakfast of Champions.
Bacchus and Lake Park Bistro use only duck foie gras from a New York farm.
“If you’re searing it, you need to make sure that you have a nice hot pan so that you gain a decent amount of colour and so you can ensure that you don’t overcook it,” says Siegel, who won the James Beard Award for Best Chef-Midwest in 2008 for his menu at Lake Park Bistro. “I like to sear pieces that are at least 1-inch thick so that I can cook to about medium rare, and so it is still a bit firm.”
Jason Van Auken at the American Club Resort in Kohler has come up with a unique way to use foie gras — in a cocktail of maple whiskey infused with duck liver. With a large clientele from the Chicago area, Van Auken noticed quite a few customers ordered foie gras or asked about the delicacy.
Even though the foie gras ban has been lifted, “there are still a lot of places in Chicago that shy away from it,” says Van Auken, wine director and mixologist for Immigrant Restaurant. “We knew if we put a cocktail together it wouldn’t be a big seller, but it would certainly pique interest.”
Van Auken spent two years, off and on, perfecting the recipe, which he unveiled at the Kohler Food and Wine Experience recently.
He starts by pan-searing foie gras and infusing the liver and some of the rendered fat with a Canadian maple whiskey for 24 to 48 hours. The liquid is strained through cheesecloth until clear. The cocktail consists of 1½ ounces of whiskey/ foie gras infusion, half an ounce of Creme de Mure blackberry liquor and five dashes of walnut bitters.
“We almost treat it like a port because it’s concentrated and intense,” says Van Auken. “This is a very dessert style cocktail. If you’ve got a foie gras dish with blackberry or other berries, that does wonders for it as well.” – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
cans of duck confit are stacked in pyramids at one of the open air stalls during a Saturday market day in France where foie gras is a business worth billions of dollars. — mct