Foie gras, the fattened liver of the Moulard duck, retains an exclusive aura that places it among the higher echelon of gourmet dishes. Famously expensive, it comes as a smooth terrine, ready to eat, or as raw liver, which needs flash cooking. In both cases, the buttery texture and delicate flavor pair well with fruity, slightly acidic accompaniments. The foie gras, however, should always be the star.
Although it's sometimes mistakenly referred to as a pate, foie gras that is ready to eat comes as a terrine -- cooked in a vessel of the same name but not ground up or mixed with other cuts.
Smooth foie gras terrine behaves similarly to butter, melting in the mouth as soon as it reaches body temperature but solid enough to slice straight out the fridge. Like butter too, it has a high saturated fat content that needs tart or acidic flavors for balance.
Spread it on crusty bread or brioche, accompanied by red fruits, green apple, figs, onion jam or any other variation that offers traces of sweet acidity without overpowering the terrine. Alternatively, enjoy it "neat" on a fruit bread.
Foie gras is often paired with Champagne to consolidate its epicurean nature, but sweet wines such as Sauternes or gewurztraminer also cut through its fatty mouth-feel pleasantly. Steer away from tanniny reds, which can be too sour.
Foie gras terrine is usually sold in a tin, which you can immerse briefly in hot water to make extracting the contents easier. Allow it to sit at room temperature first for the aromas to gather, but always serve it on a cold plate to stop the fat pooling.
- To slice terrine, use a non-serrated knife that's been held under hot running water
so that it doesn’t catch and break apart the foie gras. Allow roughly 2
ounces per person, just enough to pamper the taste buds without sending the
body’s saturated fats rocketing.
- Terrine can be frozen, but should be wrapped to stop it absorbing
Seared Foie Gras
Usually sold vacuum-packed, raw foie gras presents two bulbous lobes weighing up to 2 pounds. These can be frozen or kept for up to a week in the refrigerator. For a smoother flavor, drizzle the liver with a sweet, syrupy wine or spirit, such as Sauternes or Armagnac, and marinate it for 24 hours in the refrigerator, covered.
Before cooking the liver, remove any veins or membrane, as these leave a bitter flavor. Use tweezers or the tip of a paring knife, and work on the foie gras while it's still cold -- its structure becomes less manageable for precision knife-work as it warms.
Foie gras should be seared in a hot skillet with no oil for just 30 seconds per side, then allowed to rest for a minute while the center reaches medium rare. Season first with salt and pepper, and cut it into slices at least 1/2 inch thick. Any thinner, and the liver will coagulate in the skillet rather than sear.
Seared foie gras is one of those appetizers by which customers gauge the ambition of a fine-dining restaurant. Expect to see it served with poached or caramelized figs, peaches or plums, a red fruit coulis or other treats such as truffles. As a rule of thumb, whatever goes well with cheese should bring out the best in foie gras, so stay away from any accompaniment that is excessively salty, spicy or sour.