Thursday, February 28, 2008

On Foie Gras.

February 28 ...

On this day in 1784, a patent was granted to Jean-Joseph Clausse, chef to the Governor of Alsace, for his paté de foie gras, and Strasbourg has been the centre of the foie gras industry ever since.

I am not going to weigh in here on the ethics of foie gras production: I have read all of the arguments for and against, and I simply do not know if the geese and ducks find the force-feeding by gavage unpleasant or not. If they do not find it unpleasant, I do not know if it is true that this is because they don’t have a gag reflex like most other animals. I believe that the legal definition for foie gras in France requires that the birds be fed this way, but that it is not necessarily required elsewhere. I do not know if the difference in the end-product is identifiably different in taste or texture between gavaged birds and birds fed in other ways. I do suspect that the life of these geese and ducks is no more unpleasant than life in a factory-farm (“chook battery” we call them here in Australia) for chickens. I do admit to having eaten it and found it absolutely delicious.

That the history of foie gras production is ancient is not in doubt. The Ancient Egyptians forcibly fattened birds for the table, and the Romans are said to have enjoyed the livers of birds fattened on figs. For centuries before it became the symbol par excellence of unethical eating, it was the symbol of absolute luxury, and who better to give us an example of the thoroughly gilded culinary lily than Alexis Soyer - the man who “ortolanned a truffle” and invented “the hundred guinea dish” as easily as he fed the poor in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. The following recipe is from his book The Gastronomic Regenerator: A Simplified and Entirely New System of Cookery (1847) – but if this is “simplifed” cookery, I don’t know what complicated is.

Filets de Poulet a la Strasbourgienne.
Roast two large fowls in vegetables, and when cold take out the fillets, and with a thin knife divide each fillet in halves, to form two out of one, then pound two ounces of
foie gras de Strasbourg (a small tureen of which can be purchased at any respectable Italian warehouse in London) in a mortar, and rub it through a hair sieve, put a spoonful of chopped onions in a stewpan with half a pat of butter, stir them a few minutes over the fire, then add half a pint, of white sauce, reduce till rather thick, add the foie gras, and when ready to boil take it off" the fire and stir in the yolks of two eggs very quickly, leave it to get cold, then spread it over the fillets the eighth of an inch in thickness, have three eggs in a basin well-beaten, take each fillet on a fork, dip them into the eggs, throw them in a dish of bread-crumbs, take them out, pat them gently with a knife and repeat the operation, have four pounds of hot lard in a
stewpan, in which fry them a light brown colour, dress in crown on a small border of mashed potatoes, and serve with fried water-cresses in the centre quite dry, with a little gravy separate.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Bachelor Cooking.

Quotation for the Day …

You pay its weight in gold for it, then in most cases you put it to some paltry use. You smear it with foie gras, you bury it in poultry overloaded with fat, you chop it up and drown it in brown sauce, you mix it with vegetables covered in mayonnaise.....To hell with thin slices, strips, trimmings, and peelings of truffles! Is it not possible to like them for themselves?. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954)

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