Saturday, August 22, 2015

Foie Gras - Fattened Goose or Duck Liver. Foie Gras on French Menus. Foie Gras in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated 2017
Pan seared duck foie gras served with baby Williams pears 
and a  balsamic sauce. 
In the USA Williams pears are called Bartlett pears. 
Foie Gras is Fattened Duck and Goose Liver. 
For centuries foie gras has been considered a unique French gastronomic experience and part of France’s cultural history. Foie gras will be on many menus. 
The French and North American take on foie gras.
In the USA, foie gras is on most of the top restaurant menus. In the USA foie gras will mainly be ordered mi-cuit,that is very lightly fried slices, escallops, of liver.   The French, au contraire, overwhelmingly prefer their foie gras as a parfait or pâté. The liver, however, it has been prepared. will be accompanied by a sweet sauce or a sweet compote or jam made of slowly cooked vegetables or fruits.

Future foie gras.
Goose Farm - La Ferme du Berthou (The Farm Berthou), Lacave,
Lot, Midi-Pyrénées, France
The wines to accompany foie gras.
Whether you have ordered an escallope, a slice, of fried foie gras, mi cuit or a parfait or a pate the wines to accompany your choice is important. The wines recommended with fois gras are chosen from France’s many excellent sweet wines. Often a Sauternes, a Banyuls, a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive or a Monbazillac will be recommended. Some menu listings may include a glass of a restaurant's  specially chosen sweet wine with their fois gras dishes. If a wine is not included in the menu listing you may order wine by the glass. To really appreciate foie gras the sweet wine you choose is important.  Either have a good wine book to help you choose or ask the sommelier. When you look at the restaurant's wine list carefully check the prices. If the prices are high give the sommelier your budget;  France has many affordable and excellent sweet wines and some may not be on the wine list. (For information about the AOP, IGP and Vin de France labels on French wines click here).

A Sauternes wine paired with duck foie gras
(Sauternes is the singular and plural, the final "e" and "s" are not pronounced
When foie gras is on your menu without clearly
noting whether it is duck or goose, then it is duck liver.
An order of foie gras, whether lightly fried liver or served as parfait or pate will be duck liver, not the more expensive goose liver. If the foie gras on the menu is goose liver the menu will always say so.
France has very strong laws on the percentage
 of foie gras in menu listings.

What is Foie Gras?
By law, whole foie gras must be at least 98% liver.  A parfait of fois gras must contain at least 75% fattened liver while a pate need only contain 50%.   The difference in the amount of liver used will be reflected in the price. The French are very serious about their food and especially so when it comes to foie gras.  A restaurant may use a beautiful and imaginative description on their menu, but they must still meet the legal requirements.

A trio of foie gras. 
From right to left: Mi-cuit, parfait and pate.
What are the other ingredients in a foie gras
parfait or a foie gras pate?
The other ingredients will usually include duck or goose meat, sometimes pork.  Eggs, chicken liver and  or pork liver may complete the dish apart from herbs and spices that the chef chooses. Quite a number of manufacturers of foie gras parfaits and pates do not use pork. For those who do not want pork, in a restaurant, you may ask, and in a deli just read the label.

Whole Foie Gras on French Menus:
98% duck or goose liver:
Foie Gras de Canard des Landes Cuit au Naturel, Rhubarbe et Acidulé de Fraise Mara des Bois – Foie gras from the department of Landes in Aquitaine.  Landes is famous for its ducks and  their foie gras. Here the menu indicates very lightly fried liver slices served with a sweet and slightly acidic compote made from rhubarb and the very fragrant and sweet Mara de Boise strawberries.

Seared foie gras mi-cuit
and kumquat compote with pain d'epices.
An escalope of foie gras mi-cuit served with a kumquat compote and gingerbread.

Foie Gras Mi -cuit au Torchon, Réduction de Banyuls, Chutney de Fruits.  
Foie gras prepared in a Torchon.
 For this dish a whole prepared fresh duck liver will be rolled in a torchon, that is a cooking cloth or towel. There it will be cured with salt, herbs and a sweet wine and hung for two to three days. Preparing foie gras with a torchon is one of the three ways that whole duck or goose liver will be offered on most menus. When the torchon is ready it will then be slowly and lightly poached. When it has cooled it may be sliced and served. On this menu listing the liver is served with a thickened sauce made with the sweet wines of Banyuls-sur–Mer alongside a fruit chutney. Banyuls-sur-Mer is a small and attractive town on the Mediterranean coast in the department of Pyrénées Orientals in Languedoc-Roussillon. The Banyuls sweet wines come from vineyards that surround the town.

Torchon of foie gras on brioche toast.
An American taste of a torchon of foie gras served with three American cherries.  Pickled Bing cherries, Rainier cherry chutney and a Brook cherry coulis.
Ballotine de Foie Gras de Canard et ses Chutneys de Figues et Abricot  – A ballotine of  duck foie gras served with sweet fig and apricot chutneys. Ballotines began as deboned and stuffed poultry where  the meat was rolled around the stuffing and served cold.  Here there is nothing to debone and nothing to stuff so this ballotine is a roll of whole liver. The foie gras will be rolled and then encased in a casing that will look somewhat similar to a fat sausage. This roll may now be lightly poached in nearly boiling water for a short while. After the foie gras has cooked it will be allowed to cool and then kept refrigerated, not frozen, for a day or two. Then in may be cut into slices before serving.
Escalope de Foie Gras Poêlée, Chutney  Pomme-Boudin, Jus Aigre-Doux au Cidre ou  en Dégustation Chaud et Froid – A slice of duck liver lightly fried and served with a chutney made of apple and boudin sausages.  This is fried slices of black pudding sausage, mashed into the stewed apples.  France is famous for its sausages and black pudding is not the only option. For more information about the sausage on this menu listing, ask.  The liver and chutney are accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce made with French cider, and on this menu listing the foie gras may be served hot or cold.

Parfait de Foie Grass
At least 75% fattened liver

A parfait of fois gras will be a moose, not a pate and not all parfaits on French menus are made with foie gras. A French dessert parfait is often a cold or frozen fruit mousse, sometimes decorated with fruits and the recipe may also call for a liquor like Grande Marnier added for flavor.  A pate served as an hors d'œuvre or an entrée, may also be made without foie gras; it will often be a mousse that includes chicken liver. If the menu listing does not note the words foie gras, then the parfait is not made with duck or goose liver.

Parfait de foie gras on the menu:

Le Parfait de Foie Gras Maison et sa Compotée d'Oignon  -   This is a duck parfait  made to the restaurant's own recipe served with a lightly sweetened onion compote.  The compote will be sweetened onions, fried slowly until they attain the consistency of a sweet onion jam.

Parfait de foie gras et mousse de framboise.
A parfait of foie gras served with a raspberry moose.
Parfait de Foie Gras sur sa Gelée de Groseilles au Porto. A parfait of duck foie gras served on a jelly made from red currants flavored with Port wine,
Le Parfait de Foie Gras d'Oie Maison au Vin de Banyuls – A parfait of goose foie gras made to the restaurant’s unique recipe and served with a sauce made from the sweet wines of Banyuls-sur-Mer.
Pate de Foie Gras on French Menus:
At least 50% fattened liver.
Pâté Maison Foie Gras d’Oie et Morille – A pate of fattened goose liver made to the restaurant's own recipe and served with morel mushrooms. Here the mushrooms will have been sweetened and slowly cooked until they are practically a mushroom jam.

Terrine de Foie Gras de Canard  avec son Verre de Monbazillac Terrine is another name for a pate and here the pate of duck foie gras is accompanied by a glass of sweet Monbazillac wine. This wine is from the Dordogne and here it is the restaurant's choice to accompany their foie gras.  In the French kitchen, the words pâté and terrine for fois gras are interchangeable; however, without the words foie gras a terrine reverts to being a particular shaped cooking and serving dish.  A dessert menu may offer a terrine de fruits, a fruit terrine, and a duck or goose pate served in a terrine may not necessarily be duck or goose foie gras.  Read the menu carefully.

Pâté  de Foie Gras de Canard Maison Truffée à la Truffe Tuber Aestivum, Pain De Campagne Toasté Mesclun. A pate of fattened duck liver made to the restaurant's own recipe flavored with the summer truffle, here under its Latin name aestivum. The truffle aestivum does have a French name, but the use of Latin may impress the diners more.  The aestivum is the Truffe d'Été, the summer truffle or the Truffe Blanche d'Été , the white summer truffle. This is a lightly flavored truffle and one of the least expensive.  The pate here not only contains truffles, but itself is “truffled” that means that it is stuffed with many truffles; that will go part of the way to compensate for the truffles mild flavor. The pate is accompanied by country bread, toast and a salad mesclun.  A salad mesclun is a mixed green salad, traditionally made with at least five different salad greens

French delicatessens, the traiteur-charcuteries,  may be offering:

Bloc de Foie Gras, -  A fully-cooked and prepared block of duck or goose liver; this must be at least  98% liver.  Quite a number of French families will prepare their own foie gras. They will buy a foie gras d’oie or canard entier, a whole cooked and vacuum packed goose or duck liver from a traiteur-charcuterie.   The whole liver may then may be sliced for mi-cuit, lightly fried, foie gras and served with a sweet sauce or jam. The more adventurous may prepare their own parfait or pâté de foie gras.

Pate de foie gras and more on sale in a traiteur-charcuterie.
The special offer in the photograph is:
 - 1 chicken, 1 rabbit, 1 jar foie gras mi-cuit – 50 Euros
Pâté de Foie Gras aux Truffes – Pâté de foie gras with truffles. Foie gras with truffles must have 3% or more truffles by weight.  Either that or they must show the true percentage!  N.B. A pate de foie gras with 1% truffles is a waste of time. If you are paying extra for it, don’t; the truffle taste will be very difficult to taste.  Also, even with 3% or more find out which truffles are being used. For the differences between the truffles write me or check on the internet.
 More importantly, if the dish offered has less than 1% truffles, then, neither a restaurant nor a traiteur may even mention truffles at all!  I wish there was a law that required a declaration of the amount of truffles used in other truffle dishes that I have ordered.  I have had dishes supposedly made with truffles where, I believe, the chef just showed the dish the truffle and then took it away! In any case, the dish indicated above is a pâté de foie gras and that means at least 50% is duck foie gras with another  3% of the pate’s weight made up by truffles. Caveat Emptor, any dish with 3% of the best truffles by weight will not be inexpensive, you have been warned. The most expensive truffle in France is the Black Truffle of Perigord.

Dishes with less than 50% fattened liver.

Foie gras dishes with less than 50% liver may not be sold with the words foie gras at the beginning of the listing. By law, it must be clear from the menu description that any foie gras is added to the dish and in no way intended to describe the dish itself.
Carpaccio de Betteraves et Copeaux de Foie Gras – A Carpaccio of beetroots served with shavings of foie gras. The use of the word copeaux, shavings, clearly indicates that only a small amount foie gras is used. However, on a dish like this the shavings of 100% foie gras if added generously, will be clearly noted on your tongue. (See Carpaccio).
Pâté en Croûte Canard Landais au Cœur de Foie Gras – A duck pate, not made with foie gras,  rather with duck from the department of Landes. This pate will be made with duck meat, probably with the addition of chicken liver or pork liver. Here the pate is en croute, which is inside a pastry casing. Then at the heart of this pate will be a piece of 98% duck foie gras.

Pate en croute,
The description does not read pate de foie en croute. That 
makes it clear that this is not foie gras en croute.
 Animal husbandry and France.
There are a growing number of French chefs who only purchase animal products from farms they have personally visited or buy products that hold the AOP or Label Rouge, the red label, with guaranteed humane farming methods.  These activist French chefs also seek out poultry farms, dairies, fish farms and abattoirs that may be visited without prior advice, If a product make the grade the farm's name may be on the menu. Alongside the visits of  their customers, the chefs, the French duck and goose farmers are also changing their feeding methods; they are using methods that take advantage of the natural gorging that ducks and goose do before their annual migrations.  Today there are duck and goose farms that are open to the public.
Who invented foie gras?
Foie gras was not a French discovery or a French creation.  The Egyptians, nearly 3,000 years ago, discovered that geese stuffed themselves for weeks before their annual migration and the liver of these geese was especially tasty.
From Egypt, the knowledge spread to Greece and there both pigs and geese were fed with figs to produce enlarged and tasty livers. It was the Romans, the usual suspects, who brought the production of fois gras to France.
   Bryan. G. Newman

Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2015

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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