When I was in Paris in May, I ordered foie gras at every restaurant I went to. It was rich and silky and utterly addicting. And it's going to be illegal here pretty soon. I can't possibly print my exact feelings about this travesty, but I will say this: make it while you can, boys and girls. And enjoy every bite.
Foie gras is duck liver, often from Mallard or Muscovy ducks. It is a salmon-pink color, and it quickly turns grayish tan on the surface as soon as it is exposed to air. As it ages, and the meat becomes further oxidized, a slice of foie gras looks like it has a band of gray followed by a band of pink. It should smell like liver, but shouldn’t smell rank or rancid. Foie gras is graded as to its color and texture, A being the “finest” and C having a slightly mottled or “bruised” surface. You can order it online from the Hudson Valley Company out of New York, or from Caviar Russe, who has a gorgeous selection of products, and from whose site I borrowed the beautiful pictures below.
The recipe du jour: foie gras torchon. The word “torchon” means “dish towel” in French, and here it refers to the method of preparation. The recipe was developed many years ago by French chefs, and is something of a French classic. It is a multi-step dish that is best done over a period of about three days, so you'll have to be patient and let the anticipation build. Gentlemen, if you serve this to your lady friends, they'll make sounds that will drive you crazy. Worth it? You tell me. If there was ever a food that could be equated with sex... this is it.
The order of the recipe is as follows: first, the foie gras is carefully cleaned and packed with a mixture of salt, crushed peppercorns, and herbs, and chilled for at least 24 hours. Next, it is pressed into the shape of a log and tightly wrapped in several layers of cheesecloth. Finally, the torchon is simmered very quickly in broth and then sliced and served with brioche toasts, cornichons, and a mixed green salad tossed with vinaigrette.
Foie Gras Torchon
1 Grade A or B foie gras (about 3 lbs)
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon pink Hawaiian salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons crushed pink & black peppercorns
2 quarts veal or chicken stock
6 ounces cornichons
Brioche (recipe follows)
Mixed Greens Salad (recipe follows)
DAY ONE: clean the foie gras. The is the most time-consuming step of the whole process, but it is vitally important! The better the foie is cleaned, the more refined and smooth the end result will be. Note: You may want to wear gloves for this, to prevent the foie from slipping out of your hands!
First, rinse it under cool running water. Carefully separate the two lobes from each other. Lay the lobes on a hard cutting surface and inspect for veins and discolorations. The larger lobe is likely to have a substantial vein running through it. With a sharp paring knife, carefully remove any blood vessels and connective tissue. Pare away any bile spots or other bruise spots. When this is accomplished, rinse the lobes again and pat dry.
Place the cleaned pieces into a glass dish and cover with milk. Seal with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
DAY TWO: Seasoning the foie gras. In a small mixing bowl, combine the salts, sugar, and crushed peppercorns. Remove the foie gras from the milk and pat it dry with thick paper towels. Discard the milk. Coat the meat with the salt mixture, until it is completely surrounded with seasonings. Wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate overnight.
DAY THREE: Creating the torchon. Remove the plastic wrap from the foie gras and scrape off excess seasonings. Set both lobes on a piece of parchment paper and begin to press them into the shape of rectangular brick. Once you have formed a kind of "brick," roll it back and forth to soften the edges to create a spherical log shape. Keep in mind that foie gras is like modeling clay; don’t be afraid of doing something wrong, because you can always press it back in the desired shape.
Discard the parchment paper and wrap the log in two layers of cheesecloth, twisting both ends tightly to keep the log intact. Tie the ends.
In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Place the torchon into the simmering liquid.. and don't step away from the pan! It should simmer for just 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and plunge into an ice-water bath for 3 to 4 minutes; remove and pat dry. Some of the foie might have leaked out of the ends of the cheesecloth; wipe it away and re-twist the cheesecloth. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
NEXT: Make the brioche dough.
1/2 cup lukewarm water (115°F)
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 stick plus two tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices, at room temperature
In a bowl, combine the water and the yeast together with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let it sit for 10 minutes, or until the surface of the water becomes foamy, a sign that the yeast is working!
In a mixer with a dough hook, combine the flours, the rest of the sugar and salt. Add the eggs, one a time, alternating with some of the yeast water. When all ingredients have been added, beat slowly, scraping the sides with a spatula.
Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, beating for a minute after each addition, until all the butter is incorporated. Beat the dough on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl; it should be soft and elastic to the touch. Place into an oiled bowl and cover with a dishtowel; let it rest in a warm place until the dough is nearly doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Punch the dough down and remove from the bowl. Place on a floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes. Return to the bowl; cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight. You may refrigerate it longer than that if you wish, but remember to punch down the dough every day.
When you are ready to make the brioche bread, place the dough on a floured work surface and divide into two equal parts. Place each piece into a buttered mini loaf pan (5 3/4 x 3 /14 x 2 1/4) and let them sit, covered, in warm place until the dough has risen above the top of the pan.
Cook in a 350°oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the edges begin to pull away from the sides. Remove them from a pan and let them cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before you slice them.
DAY FOUR: All your hard work pays off! Peel away the cheesecloth from the foie gras log, and slice into 3/4-inch rounds. Arrange them on a plate and serve with mixed greens salad (recipe below), cornichons, and toasted brioche slices. It is also nice to have something sweet on the plate; a quince paste is lovely, as is a sour cherry jam. Figs are in season right now, too, and the flavor of the figs together with the foie gras is orgasmic.
To round out your luxurious meal, enjoy a white Burgundy or nice rosé, or ~ if you're celebrating ~ crack open the champagne!
Mixed Greens Salad
2 cups mixed baby greens
1/2 cup chopped assorted herbs: tarragon, basil, thyme, chives
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
In a salad bowl, toss the greens and herbs together. Drizzle with olive oil; toss to coat. Squeeze lemon over the salad; toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
Worried about the ducks? Read what Sonoma Foie Gras says about the subject.
The two foie gras photos are from Caviar Russe.