The whole subject of Foie gras is without doubt one of the most divisive issues in gastronomy. You can’t argue convincingly with the extraordinarily pleasurable experience of eating foie gras. However, you also can’t argue convincingly, although many “foodies” may try, that the force-feeding process, which produces the stuff, isn’t at minimum, animal cruelty in some shape or form. I must admit that as a chef who cares passionately about the ingredients I use, I am incredibly torn on the issue.
Foie Gras is literally goose or duck liver. The name actually means “fatty liver” in French. It’s history and origins date all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, who noticed their geese would eat large amounts of food during the winter, which resulted in their livers expanding. The Egyptians soon began eating goose liver, taking it with them as sustenance on their trips down the Nile River. Ancient drawings show Egyptian farmers force-feeding the geese, a pictorial testament of the early origins of foie gras production. By the first century B.C., the Romans force-fed their geese with figs, which made the Foie Gras richer and extra sweet. Soon, it became a prized delicacy, enjoyed by emperors and noble men the world over.
At our restaurant, I actually stopped putting it on the menu for a number of years but the fact is that I simply love foie gras. And there it is…for many like me who love food, it has an utterly unique kind of buttery, velvety beauty and it becomes a delicious yet sinful guilty pleasure as we avert our eyes to the harsh realities of how it was produced.
There is however, some good news. Companies such as Sousa & Labourdette from the green hills of Spain’s Extremadura region supply ethical goose foie gras that is naturally obtained from free-range geese without the controversial force-feeding method known as gavage. The result is a product that ticks all the boxes for superb flavour and texture, organic status, and immaculate ethical credentials. At Patería de Sousa there no cages; the fences on the 500-hectare farm are only there to keep predators out. There is such an abundance of food that the geese gorge themselves until the chemical change within their livers occurs naturally. Wild geese on their way from Africa to Scandinavia come down and mate with the domestic geese before flying on, passing on the genetic instinct for migration. The secret is that if geese think they’re about to begin a 3,000km trip north, they’ll store as much fat as they can. No gavage is necessary. So where do you stand on the production, and consumption, of foie gras?
Fillet of beef with foie gras and Pedro Ximenez sauce & a date puree
- 4 fillet steaks, 180g each
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to season
Ingredients for foie gras and Pedro Ximenez sauce
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 large shallot, chopped
- 3 tbsp Pedro Ximenez sherry
- 200g foie gras
- 250ml cream
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to season
Ingredients for date puree
- 120g dates, stoned
- 200ml water
- 1⁄2 tsp anise
- Salt and pepper to season
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. For the sauce, soften the shallot with the butter in a medium saucepan for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the balsamic vinegar, Pedro Ximenez and cream. Cook until boiled down a little and slightly thickened.
Add the foie gras and blend in the pan to form a sauce. Once blended, transfer to a bowl until needed.
For the date puree, place all the ingredients in a different saucepan over a gentle flame and cook for 8 minutes. When cooked, blend in a food processor and pulse several times to form a puree.
Season the fillet steaks with salt and pepper. Heat a spoonful of olive oil in a large non- stick frying pan over a high temperature. Cook the steaks for about 3 minutes for medium, turning them once to seal all over. Cook for a further 1-2 minutes for well done or 1 minute less for rare.
Remove from the pan and place the steaks on a shallow baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with foie gras-Pedro Ximenez sauce and a puree of dates.
Pressed Duck & Foie Gras Terrine with pumpkin and pineapple chutney
For those who still can’t resist foie gras, this is a classic terrine recipe. We often serve this wonderful chutney as a garnish for our duck & foie gras dish at Marc Fosh restaurant on our weekly lunch menu. You can buy individual, cooked confit duck legs in most supermarkets but you may need to find a specialist supplier for fresh foie gras. Alternatively, you could happily omit the foie and simply add more duck confit.
For the foie
- 1 small duck foie gras
- ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
- 200ml white dry port
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 2 tsp flor de sal
Pull apart the foie gras lobes and remove any excess fat.
Using a sharp knife, make an incision lengthways along the lobes and carefully remove the veins and any blood spots. Sprinkle the foie gras with the salt, sugar, pepper and port. Place in the refrigerator and leave to marinate for 2-3 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 140C.
Place the duck confit legs in a baking dish and heat slowly in the oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour the duck fat in a bowl for later. Remove the skin from the duck legs and flake the meat into a separate bowl.
Add the spinach leaves, brandy & nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Place the foie gras in the baking dish and heat in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the fat from the foie gras to the duck mixture along with 2-3 tablespoons of reserved duck fat.
Line a rectangular mould with cling film and Press foie gras lightly to form the first layer. Top up with the duck mixture. Cut a piece of cardboard to the same size as the mould and wrap this tightly with cling film; use this to press the terrine with a weight on top (such as a couple of cans). Leave to set overnight in the fridge. Un-mould the terrine carefully removing the cling film and cut into thick slices. Serve with pineapple & pumpkin chutney.
For the duck mixture
- 2 duck confit legs
- 1 small bunch of raw spinach leaves
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 75ml brandy
- A little grated nutmeg
Pineapple & Pumpkin Chutney
- 1 pineapple, peeled & cut into chunks
- 1 small pumpkin, peeled & cut into chunks
- 1 litre fresh orange juice
- 200g brown sugar
- 1 vanilla pod
- 300g white wine
- 1 tsp saffron powder
- 1 tsp agar-agar
Bring orange juice, sugar, vanilla, saffron and white wine to the boil and add the diced pumpkin and pineapple. Simmer slowly for about 1 hour until the ingredients are soft and all the liquid has almost disappeared. Add the agar agar and boil it for another 2 minutes, cool and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours.