WHAT TO EAT WITH FOIE GRAS
“I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.”–Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)
In What to Eat in France: Foie Gras, we talked about how foie gras is made and the different legal classifications, which determine both the quality and price. Let’s move on to the fun part now. We’ve bought our high-quality foie gras and we want to eat it in the best way possible. Here are some ideas, both traditional and inventive.
Cooked Foie Gras
So you’ve bought a foie gras entier, a foie gras, or a bloc de foie gras. You’ll be eating pure or fairly pure foie gras, but how do you eat it and with what?
There is no one way to eat it. The Romans soaked it in honey and milk to fatten it still more before cooking. The first recipe on record comes from Apicius in his fourth century De re culinaria: Thinly slice the foie gras with a reed. Soak in garum. Crush some pepper, lovage and two bay leaves. Wrap in a caul. Grill and serve.
Today we eat it differently. Cold foie gras is most often eaten with something acidic to help digest the fat. This traditionally includes cold, sweet garnishes such as apple, rhubarb, fresh or dried figs, grapes, or pears, and toast, but contemporary chefs venture outside these limits, serving it with dried fruit and nuts and toasted brioche or raisin-fruit bread. More contemporary garnitures are onion jam or caramelized onions, Balsamic vinegar, port or Sauternes jelly, chutney, cassis berries, raspberries, blueberries or coarse sea salt.
Some people simply eat it with green salad, although I find that salad dressing deadens the natural depth of flavor. It’s also possible to eat it with cornichons and pickled onions. like one does with regular pâté, but once again, the vinegar is likely to overpower the delicate flavor.
Cooked foie gras should never be reheated. It should be eaten just colder than room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes before serving. Slice it with a knife while it is still cold. It is usually served with cold garnishes, most often as a starter.
Raw Foie Gras
Today, the most common way of cooking raw foie gras at home is sliced thinly and pan-seared. The accompaniments are similar to those of cold foie gras, but served hot and most often in the form of sauces. Classics are port, Armagnac and fruit sauces, but chefs take a lot of liberty. One finds sautéed potatoes and apples, mushroom duxelles, candied carrots, lentils, honey preparations, capers: the list is endless. I still hold that acidic fruit preparations help digest the fat. Raw foie gras is occasionally served raw in the form of carpaccio with sea salt.
In restaurants, preparations can be more complex. The great chef Escoffier noted foie gras in brioche, with truffle sauce, cooked in Madeira (Financière), with paprika, and in the form of a tourte and a soufflé. These preparations are time-consuming and not often seen these days. In addition, they are generally too heavy to suit modern tastes.
Jonell Galloway grew up on Wendell Berry and food straight from a backyard Kentucky garden. She is a freelance writer. She attended Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris and the Académie du Vin, worked for the GaultMillau restaurant guide and CityGuides in France and Paris and for Gannett Company in the U.S., and collaborated on Le tour du monde en 80 pains / Around the World with 80 Breads with Jean-Philippe de Tonnac in France; André Raboud, Sculptures 2002-2009 in Switzerland; Ma Cuisine Méditerranéenne with Christophe Certain in France, At the Table: Food and Family around the World with Ken Albala, and a biography of French chef Pierre Gagnaire. She ran a cooking school in France, and owned a farm-to-table restaurant, The Three Sisters’ Café, with her two sisters in the U.S. She organizes the Taste Unlocked bespoke food and wine tasting awareness workshops with James Flewellen, is an active member of Slow Food, and runs the food writing website The Rambling Epicure. Her work has been published in numerous international publications and she has been interviewed on international public radio in France, Switzerland, and the U.S. She has just signed on at In Search of Taste, a British print publication, and is now working on two books, What to Eat in France and What to Eat in Venice.