As winter and holidays approach, it’s time to indulge in fat and luxury without guilt--at the very least for our guests’ sake. Foie gras, a specially fattened duck or goose liver, is the soul of both, arguably the most luxurious and sensual product you can eat. There’s no better gift to serve to people.
And what’s best about it for the home cook is that it is actually fairly simple to prepare and that anyone can order foie gras from the same places restaurants get theirs, meaning you’re always getting a top-quality product.
Fresh foie gras is one of the more recently acquired tastes in America. Until the 1980s, foie gras was available only as an imported canned pate.
Now it’s making up for lost time, featured routinely on menus throughout the country in myriad forms--seared and served hot as a main item, as a garnish on something else, stuffed into ravioli, cooked and served cold, poached, roasted whole and carved tableside, even blended into sauces like butter.
This adaptability is foie gras’ chief asset in the kitchen. You can do so much with it so easily--and the less you fuss the better it is. Fresh duck foie gras is an amazing creation, and more people who entertain at home ought to take advantage of it.
But because of its expense and its unfamiliarity, foie gras is still rarely found in American kitchens. A top-quality, Grade A foie gras, which will easily serve six, can cost more than $100 when you figure in tax and overnight delivery (it can also cost significantly less, see “Where to Find Your Foie Gras,” H6). It’s certainly not an item you want to take chances with. But we urge people not to fear the foie. The only real danger is overcooking it--it’s almost entirely composed of fat, so you’ll know you’ve overcooked it when there’s nothing of it left to eat.
One of the most familiar ways to prepare foie gras is simply sauteed. The great pleasure of perfectly sauteed foie gras is its texture--a seared crisp exterior and a rich, almost molten interior. To saute foie gras, cut the pieces 3/4 of an inch to an inch thick, score both sides with shallow crosswise cuts, season it with salt and pepper, and cook it in a dry, very hot pan until it’s medium rare, about a minute to a minute and a half per side (if it’s thick, be sure to hit the edges briefly, too). Hot foie gras is best paired with sweet, sharp and spicy ingredients--fruits, chutneys or peppery salads--and something crunchy is always desirable.
You can also pan-roast foie gras: Simply sear it on the stove top as you would, say, a pork loin, toss in some garlic and thyme and then roast it in a medium-hot oven for 10 or 15 minutes. It slices beautifully and is a dramatic offering at a dinner party.
Foie gras chunks, or even scraps, make a brilliant ravioli stuffing, but the pasta must be very thin or the foie might overcook before the pasta is done. Wonton wrappers are an easy, good solution. Serve them in soups or with a simple sauce.
People in this country seem less familiar with foie gras served cold. But this may be even easier to cook perfectly than sauteing or roasting. There are several methods. The most common is foie gras cooked in a terrine mold, then chilled with a weight on top to compress it as it cools. Another method is to marinate a foie gras overnight, wrap it tightly in cheesecloth, poach it for a minute or two (just enough to melt it together), then hang it in the refrigerator to chill--a preparation called torchon , meaning dish towel, because that’s what was originally used to wrap it.
But the following method is the easiest of all--foie gras seasoned, wrapped in plastic, gently poached, then cooled. The exact cooking temperature and long cooking time ensure consistent results, even given varying weights of foie gras.
Foie gras is a two-lobed organ with a small network of veins running through it that some people might find unpalatable when served cold. The major veins can be removed with a paring knife or needle-nosed pliers if desired.
This plastic-wrapped, slow-poached preparation can be served cool, at room temperature, or warmed beneath a broiler. Serve it with something crisp and dry such as toasted bread or brioche, because it’s so rich.
Most important, as with any luxury item, don’t skimp on portions--be generous so people understand what the fuss is about.
Keller is chef at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. He and Ruhlman are co-authors of ‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ (Artisan, $50). Previous columns by them can be found on The Times’ Web site, at www.latimes.com/keller.