Saturday, July 10, 2021

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

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Seared duck foie gras
Photograph courtesy of yosoynuts
Foie Gras is liver from a fattened duck or goose.


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 takes on foie gras.

In the USA, foie gras is on many of the top restaurant menus, though it is banned in California. In the USA, foie gras will most often 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 a pâté. The liver, however it is prepared, will be accompanied by a sweet sauce or a sweet compote or jam made of sweetened, slowly, stewed vegetables or fruits.

A goose farm  in France
Photograph courtesy of TAYLOR149

The wines to accompany foie gras.

The wine chosen to accompany foie gras is important. The wine will be chosen from among France’s many excellent sweet wines. Often a Sauterne, a Banyul, a Gewurztraminer Vendage Tardive or a Monbazillac will be recommended. Some menu listings may include a glass of a specially chosen sweet wine with their foie gras dishes. If a wine is not included in the menu listing, these wines will be offered by the glass. 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 and pronounced So-tern).
Is the foie gras on the menu from a goose or a duck?

A menu listing  for foie gras that does not indicate if it comes from a duck or goose will be understood to be offering duck liver. If the foie gras on the menu is goose liver, the menu will always say so.

France has strong laws that define the percentage of foie gras in menu listings.

By law, a whole foie gras must be at least 98% liver. A parfait of fois gras must contain at least 75% of the 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 its menu, but it must still meet the legal requirements.


Terrine (pate) de foie gras
The differences between a pate and a terrine on the menu have changed over time.
Photograph courtesy of augustudios
The other ingredients in a foie gras parfait or a foie gras pate?

The other ingredients will usually include duck or goose meat. Eggs, chicken liver, and or pork liver may complete the dish apart from the herbs and spices that a 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:
Will be 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 the region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. Here, the menu listing indicates 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.m Landes is famous for its ducks and foie gras.  The department of Landes is one of the original five departments that made up the old region of Aquitane.  Since 1-1-2016, when France reorganized and reduced its number of administrative regions, Landes became part of the new administrative region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. 


Seared foie gras mi-cuit with a kumquat compote and pain d'epices.

Photograph courtesy of Laissez Fare

Foie Gras Mi-cuit au Torchon, Réduction de Banyuls, Chutney de Fruits - Foie gras prepared in a torchon and served with a sweet fruit chutney flavored with one of the sweet wines from Banyules-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales. 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. 

Moulard Duck “Foie Gras au Torchon”

Navel Orange, Cranberry, Red Walnuts, Sorrel and Black Truffle Coulis

Served at the French Laundy ( Keller)

Photograph courtesy of kennejima



Ballotine de Foie Gras de Canard et ses Chutneys de Figues et Abricot – A ballotine of duck foie gras served with a sweet fig and apricot chutney. 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 the whole liver. The foie gras will then be encased and 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 it may be cut into slices before serving.


Duck Foie Gras, Beer-Braised Walnuts, Nasturtium

Photograph courtesy of Edsel Little


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 sausages. This chutney 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 Gras
At least 75% fattened liver.

A parfait of fois gras will be prepared as a moose, not a pate. However, 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 or Bénédictine D.O.M., for added for flavor. A pate served as an hors d'œuvre or an entrée may also be made without foie gras. Other pates often include chicken and or pork 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.


A recipe for foie gras with truffles

Photograph and recipe courtesy of Marie Claire Cuisine et Vins.


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 often used as 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 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. This pate not only contains truffles, but is itself “truffled,” which means that it is stuffed with many truffles that will go part of the way to compensate for the truffle's mild flavor.  The truffles do have a French name, the Truffe Blanche d'Été, but the use of Latin may impress the diners more. This is a lightly flavored truffle and one of the least expensive.


Pate of Duck Foie Gras with an Onion Confit
Photograph courtesy of Dan Costin

French delicatessens, their 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 maybe 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

Photograph courtesy of Stewart Holmes


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.  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 that law also 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.  it is closely followed by the Burgundy Truffle.


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 a foie gras pate.
Photograph courtesy of Gail
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 geese enjoy in the wild 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 livers 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 when the colonized large parts of the country over 2,000 years ago.

Searching for the meaning of words, names, or phrases
a French menu?

Just add the word, words, or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" (best when including the inverted commas), and search with Google.  Behind the French Menu’s links, include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 450 articles that include over 4,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations. 


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2021
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman
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