Foie gras, which means fat liver in French, is a controversial delicacy in French cuisine and is enjoyed around the world. The liver used in foie gras is duck or goose liver.
Foie gras is a popular splurge dish due to its unique taste and texture. It’s controversial because of ethical concerns
Many people describe foie gras tasting like meat-flavored butter. Despite its rich, buttery taste, foie gras still feels delicate. Flooding your gustatory and tactile senses, foie gras is a multisensory experience.
The high-fat content of foie gras produces the buttery sensation inside your mouth. The texture is almost like a cross between butter and whipped cream.
Holding the tension of opposites, foie gras also offers a strong umami flavor. Umami is the Japanese term for meatiness; it is known as the fifth taste, along with bitter, salty, sweet, and tart.
Foie gras does have a liver taste, but it’s milder than the traditional liver you’re used to. Foie gras is smoother — it almost melts in your mouth — while the chicken liver is drier and has a grainy texture.
Variations in taste and texture
Foie gras entier, cru refers to the whole (entier), raw (cru) duck or goose liver. You wouldn’t find foie gras entier, cru, at a restaurant. In this form, you will have to prepare it yourself, which involves removing the vein (careful because if you don’t do it correctly, you could ruin the liver), as well as cooking or curing it.
Foie gras mi-cuit is the typical delicacy you see served at restaurants. Mi-cuit means half-cooked; You’ll only find this in a restaurant (unless you make it at home from foie gras entier, cru) because the foie gras mi-cult is not preserved.
The foie gras mi-cuit is one of the milder liver tastes.
Foie gras entier is a whole liver or part of a liver that is sold in jars or tins. Foie gras entier is cooked in the container after being seasoned, usually with salt and pepper and cognac.
Bloc de foie gras avec morceaux is a pâté made with minced bits of intact liver. Morceaux actually means bits. It may have other ingredients added, but the percentage of foie gras is indicated on the container.
The higher the foie gras percentage, the more expensive the bloc de foie gras avec morceaux. And of course, the lower the foie gras percentage, the more the flavor will depart from a pure foie gras.
As you can imagine, the taste of a 98% bloc de foie gras avec morceaux will differ significantly from a 50% bloc de foie gras avec morceaux.
Bloc de foie gras is the lowest grade of foie gras, but still more decadent than your basic pâté because of course, it contains the sought after foie gras; in this iteration, it is just in paste form with no solid bits.
Even if you get the bloc de foie gras or another pâté de foie gras, remember that you don’t want to spread it. It’s meant to be enjoyed in small pieces and usually served with small pieces of bread or crackers and enjoyed in bites.
Foie gras is also prepared as a mousse, or parfait. In these preparations, a mold is made of the morceaux de foie gras and may have other flavors, such as truffles or wine, added.
As you can see from the wide variety of cooking and serving methods, the flavor and the texture of foie gras can vary greatly depending on the preparation.
Duck, duck, goose
Taste and texture will be different depending on whether you’re eating duck foie gras or goose foie gras. The duck foie gras has a lower fat content and a stronger taste, while the goose foie gras has a milder but more sophisticated taste and a higher fat content.
It’s difficult to find goose foie gras outside of France; most of the foie gras available is from duck throughout Europe and the United States.
If you sear, sauté, or fry foie gras, it changes the texture once again, as well as the flavor. These cooking methods result in a foie gras that resembles the taste and texture of the fatty part of the steak.
If you’re trying these cooking methods at home, be careful, with the high-fat content of foie gras, it won’t take much to melt the costly foie gras.
Starter or main?
Sometimes you’ll see foie gras as the main dish, but more often you’ll see it on a restaurant’s appetizer menu. At times, it’s added as a luxurious addition to steak, for velvety richness on top of meaty richness.
Because the taste of foie gras is unique, surrounding it with subdued flavors elevates and spotlights the foie gras.
Bread, toast, or baguette is a great vehicle for foie gras. Dried fruit, jam, or grapes are also suitable accompaniments for foie gras.
It also goes well with salad, as long as the dressing doesn’t contain too much vinegar or bitter taste; foie gras needs a mild partner so it can be the star of the show.
If you’re looking for a wine pairing, choose a sweet wine, nice champagne, or a complex and fruity red. As with the salad, you should avoid a bitter wine or one that is too light. A treat as special as foie gras deserves a complex partner.
Pâté or not to pâté
Pâté is a general term referring to a dish with a variety of ingredients, one of which is traditionally some kind of liver. But it’s not necessarily made with foie gras. In fact, pâté simply means paste in French. Of late, the pâté preparation has expanded to showcase vegetables, seafood, and herbs.
You could make a pâté out of foie gras. A pâté must have at least 50% foie gras in order to be called pâté de foie gras.
The controversy around foie gras stems from the manner in which the delicacy is achieved.
The unique texture and flavor of foie gras come from the high-fat content of the liver. However, in order to achieve the desired fat content, ducks and geese are force-fed in a process known as gavage. Two to three times per day, the ducks and geese have a tube inserted in their throat and fed corn which has been boiled in fat.
As a result, enormous amounts of fat are deposited on the fowl’s liver, creating the fat content necessary for sensory reaction in your mouth.
Fatty liver is not a diagnosis you want to receive from your doctor, and it’s not healthy for ducks and geese, either. To achieve the desired fat content, ducks are force-fed for about 12 days, and slaughtered after 100 days; geese are force-fed for approximately 17 days and slaughter after 112 days.
Amazingly, the duck and goose liver created by gavaging results in a liver that is enlarged 6-10 times its normal size.
Animal rights activists have three main concerns with the foie gras production process:
- Cruelty in force-feeding
- Close quarters for ducks and geese, preventing free movement
- Intentional diseasing of ducks and geese
Some countries have stopped the practice of gavaging and feed the fowl naturally and humanely; this more humane process, however, also affects the end result of the liver.
Due to the animal welfare concerns, a number of countries have banned the production and sale of gavaged foie gras. In Europe, only Belgium, Bulgaria, France, and Spain are permitted to gavage.
In the United States, California has a law banning the gavage method of force-feeding and also restricts foie gras from fowl raised with this method from being sold. New York is also close to banning this method.
Advocates of the traditional foie gras production maintain that because ducks and geese have no gag reflex, the force-feeding is not cruelty, and the fowl are unstressed and happy.
These advocates maintain that the treatment of geese and ducks is far better than other poultry and cattle, and that foie gras is an easy target because the industry is so much smaller and doesn’t affect the economy as much.
With these considerations, you might choose to consume foie gras that was produced in an ethical and humane manner without the image of a duck or goose being force-fed.
If you’re looking for a unique taste that duck or goose foie gras delivers. If you enjoy a gamey, flavor wrapped in a delicate casing, you’ll probably love foie gras. There are few culinary treats that can balance a velvety texture and complex umami flavor; it’s a party for your taste buds.
You have a number of texture choices for your duck or goose foie gras:
- slices of the liver
- tiny bits of the liver pressed into a mold
- pâté paste of the liver
Whatever preparation you choose, foie gras is meant to be savored. For some, full enjoyment is possible only when ethical concerns have been addressed.