Indulge Yourself

How to prepare and enjoy foie gras at home.
Try seared foie gras–crisped in a hot pan, then drizzled with a sweet tart sauce to cut the richness. photo: Olivier Koning

There’s nothing quite so unctuously delicious as foie gras, the "fat liver" of a goose or duck that melts on your tongue with flavorful richness. Served cold as a pâté or warm (seared) and accompanied by a sauce, foie gras is truly one of life’s most indulgent foods.

Most of us have foie gras in restaurants, since chefs prepare it so well. In Honolulu, you can find it seared with a seasonal fruit sauce at 3660 On The Rise; as sushi with a kabayaki sauce at Sansei; paired with grilled eggplant and miso sauce at Hiroshi’s; or accompanied by a li hing mui pineapple chutney at Alan Wong’s. But why not indulge in a meal of foie gras with friends at home?

In the traditional French kitchen, foie gras was always poached. Then, the solid block of butter-like liver was served cold, sliced and served with toasts. In the past decade, seared foie gras has become more fashionable, especially in the U.S.

Foie gras history

Egyptians discovered foie gras more than 4,000 years ago, when they noticed that the livers of migratory geese were bigger, paler and tastier during the migration season, no doubt as a result of the geese’s own gorging to store energy for their long journey. Egyptians began feeding geese figs and reproduced fat livers throughout the year.

The French further developed a method of force-feeding, known as gavage, forcing corn down the animal’s throat through a tube. The result is a fattened and enlarged but healthy liver.

Today, most foie gras comes from ducks. Gavage continues, usually done one duck at a time, by hand, two to three times a day for a portion of the duck’s lifetime.

Gavage has raised the ire of animal-protection groups, who feel the process is cruel to the animals. A law to ban the production and sale of foie gras has already passed in California, which will take effect in 2012. Similar bills are being considered in other states, including Hawai’i. Depending on your point of view, foie gras is never to be eaten or is to be eaten with gusto and delight. I am of the latter mind.

Buying foie gras

Among the brands available are Rougie, produced in France; Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from New York; and Sonoma Foie Gras, from California. Subtle differences among brands exist. Look for Grade A for searing, Grade B if you want to poach it.

Choose between whole foie gras, fresh or frozen, or frozen, pre-sliced pieces. A whole foie gras, usually 1 to 1 1/2 pounds, will satisfy eight to 10 people with two to three generous portions apiece. If you’re planning on just an appetizer for a few people, frozen, pre-sliced pieces may be preferable, though you may sacrifice a little in flavor.

R. Field Wine Co. (at the Foodland on Beretania and in Kailua) keeps frozen full lobes and sliced foie gras on hand; fresh lobes can be special ordered. Price ranges from $76 to $85 per pound. Pre-sliced, frozen Rougie foie gras can be purchased by the piece (about 3 ounces per piece), at $85 per pound.

For fresh or frozen foie gras, prices range from $30 to $48 per pound at Island Epicure, at Y. Hata (845-4429) or Gourmet Foods Hawai’i (841-8071).

As you cut the foie gras, dip the knife blade in water after each slice. photo: Olivier Koning

How to sear foie gras

To get some expert advice, we asked chef Ernesto Limcaco at Y. Hata to show us how to sear foie gras.

"Keep it cold," he began as he unwrapped the whole lobe. "Foie gras softens and begins to melt at room temperature."

There is a vein within the lobes of foie gras that can be removed, though Limcaco says it is unnecessary when you are searing it. Trim away any dark spots. Slice foie gras into 1/2-inch thick medallions, about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. As you cut foie gras, keep the blade of your knife clean. Try dipping the blade in hot water after you make each slice.

Season slices with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Heat a sauté pan over high heat until smoking hot. Turn on your overhead fan. Place slices of foie gras in the pan–the foie gras will instantly begin melting. The idea is to sear it quickly before it all melts away. After a minute, turn the slice and sear the other side for a minute. Remove from the pan immediately. Foie gras should be brown and crisp, though not firmly cooked all the way through.

Frozen slices can go directly into the hot pan. "You get a better sear," says Limcaco, "and less fat melting off. If anything, you want to undercook it."

Some chefs will sear slightly thicker slices for just 30 seconds on each side then roast them in a hot oven (375 degrees) for three to five minutes. "We do this for a crowd," says Sansei’s D.K. Kodama. "You can sear it ahead of time and clear the kitchen of smoke."

Pairings for foie gras

A slightly acidic sauce helps to cut the fatty richness of seared foie gras. For a simple sauce, chef Limcaco recommends sautéing chopped shallots in the foie gras fat that remains in the pan, with a little port wine and balsamic vinegar; simmer for a minute or two and it’s ready.

Fruits like apple, pear, pineapple, mango and figs marry well with foie gras. Sauté them ahead of time in a little butter, with a splash of vinegar or lemon, and have them ready to serve with hot foie gras.

Syrupy reductions of balsamic vinegar, pomegranate or other fruit juices, drizzled over the seared pieces of foie gras provide a nice counterpoint.

Sauternes, a sweet and syrupy wine, is traditionally served with foie gras and makes a decadent, silky match.

To round out a foie gras meal, add a green salad with a slightly tart dressing.

exclusive web content >> FOIE GRAS TIPS

1. Good ventilation is essential: All that fat can produce a lot of smoke. If you have an outdoor burner, use it.

2. Bits and pieces of uncooked foie gras should be saved. "Use it in fried rice," says Y. Hata chef Ernesto Limcaco. Or, as chef Alan Wong does, use it in a grilled cheese sandwich with kalua pig.

3. The oil left in the pan after searing can also be saved and used to sauté mushrooms, potatoes or meats.

4. If you can’t use all of a fresh foie gras, cut it into portions and freeze it.

5. Treat foie gras like cheese: each time you handle it, wrap it in a fresh piece of plastic wrap.

6. Foie gras is a decadent treat: An average serving of just over 3 ounces of foie gras has about 450 calories, most of which is cholesterol-laden fat.