|The luxury is typically associated with the decadent triumvirate of foie gras, caviar, and truffles. These days any self-respecting restaurant menu will offer some variation of a foie gras dish, from a perfectly delicate terrine slice to a succulently seared morsel with a plethora of fruit accompaniments. New Year's Eve celebrants would not even dream of ringing in the New Year without a little foie gras.
Foie gras is almost always assumed to be a French product. After all, foie gras is the French word that means, "fattened liver." During the Christmas holidays, French tables are laden with many delicacies, including terrines and cured foie gras. Gascony is the heartland of duck and goose foie gras production. For the French, foie gras is not just a familiar ingredient, but an intricate part of the historical and cultural heritage of the people.
Outside France, there exists a different story. While most people have heard of "paté", few know what it is exactly, how it relates to foie gras, and what are the proper handling and preparation techniques. The intensive labor and time required to produce foie gras ensures that it maintains a romantic and exclusive reputation. As an expensive commodity, foie gras can be intimidating for the home cook. In truth, foie gras is one of the most fascinating, versatile and simple ingredients that can showcase a chef's talent and enliven any amateur's repertoire. Flip through my reference book, Foie Gras…A Passion, and you will discover some amazing facts as well as dazzling photographs of the possibilities that foie gras affords.
Foie gras, the fattened liver of a waterfowl, namely a duck or a goose, is produced by a special feeding process. Physiologically, ducks and geese possess an anatomy that allows their bodies to store excess fat in the liver naturally, in preparation for long winter flights from northern Europe to the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and the Nile river basins. It was actually the Egyptians who recognized goose meat as a delicacy, particularly fattened geese, over 5000 years ago. In fact, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on the Tomb of Mereruka in Saqqara depict household scenes of servants force-feeding geese with grains. Two thousand years later, the Romans in trying to fatten geese for the prized flesh began to recognize the fattened liver as a delicacy in its own right. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Ashkenazi Jews of Western and Central Europe preserved the art of making foie gras and eventually reintroduced it to Renaissance Europeans
Today, foie gras is produced in France, Hungary, Poland, Israel, Canada, and the United States. Most of the European and Israeli production provides for the consumption needs of France. Until recently, raw poultry importation restrictions prohibited the sale of European foie gras in the United States.
Historically, foie gras was derived exclusively from fattened geese. Over the last fifteen years, however, most foie gras has been produced from ducks, moulard ducks specifically. Geese are more difficult to raise and are more susceptible to disease and stress. In either case, foie gras is a luxurious item. The liver is characterized by two lobes, putty beige in color, and slightly firm to the touch. Foie gras livers can weigh upwards of two pounds, with the average falling around a pound and a half. About 80 percent of a foie gras is comprised of fat, which makes it a very versatile product, suitable to a wide range of preparations, including grilling, searing, and roasting. The high fat content is frequently a cause of concern for eaters, but in truth, foie gras is such a luxurious item, you would have to consume an incredible amount, far more than you are likely to do, for it to have an adverse health effect.
The best way to learn more about foie gras is to eat it as often as possible.