Amidst the righteous PETA bluster attending foie gras legislation and the earnest journalists trying their balanced best to cover the issue and the misslonelyhearts marching outside Union Square Café (a business that's an emblem of quality and excellence in the culture of American restaurants), indignant foodies railing, committed gourmands wailing, and the food terrorists harassing chefs–well, it's actually relatively quiet now, so I thought it a perfect opportunity to cut right to the core of the issue. The fat liver itself. Which no one seems to talk about anymore.
Foie gras is a marvel and a wonder. If I'd had some left over fresh a few moments ago, I'd have diced it and sprinkled it over my gently scrambling eggs (or should I call them unborn chickens?). That would be a treat on a Wednesday morning! Foie in farm fresh eggs. Almost reason enough to open a bottle of Schramsberg blanc de blanc to go with it (but that would kill the day, wouldn't it ((not necessarily a bad thing!))?).
What's the great fact about foie gras for American home cooks? It's this: that what's available to you is the exact same thing that's available to the country's best chefs. This is a rare circumstance. The caviar that Eric Ripert gets you and I can't get, don't even think about it (and he sends half his back at the delivery door, and you couldn't even get that). Not available to you and me, wouldn't be even if we were rich as Bloomberg. The truffles and fingerling potatoes Joel Robuchon can send to his Vegas outpost–you and I can't have it. Gotta head to Vegas and pay through the nose (entirely worth it, surely, but a nose is a nose). The lamb Grant Achatz lovingly heats sous vide, fragrant with the smells of the carefully grown alfalfa raised and cut and stored by Keith Martin in Pennsylvania–gotta go to Chicago for that.
But foie gras, here the playing field between the chef and the home cook is leveled. There are four growers in the United States, and you can buy from the same one most chefs do, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Daniel Boulud's A foie is going to be of the same quality as the A foie you order. Yes, he's going to pay a little less because his volume is greater, but even so, and even though it's considered a luxury item at restaurants, it's not really more expensive for the home cook having a dinner party, say, than a beef tenderloin. An A foie, will serve ten healthy portions and it will cost about a hundred bucks with shipping. Ten bucks a head, which, if you're one to go all out for your guests or you're having a special party, is not out of control. And it's a very cool thing to offer your guests, if you run with that kind of crowd.
Moreover, foie gras is one of the easiest things in the world to cook, one of those the-less-done-to-it-the-better food items. Salt the whole thing, put it in a hot pan to give the top a beautiful golden brown, flip it, drop some thyme and garlic in the pan and pop it in a hot oven for ten minutes, basting once or twice with the copious fat that renders. Slice at the table. Or slice it an inch thick, pluck out any large dark veins, salt it, and briefly cook in a really hot pan on either side till you have a nice crust (you'll need a good exhaust system for saute, not a method for the unventilated fifth floor studio walk up).
Or for something truly amazing, the foie-iest foie of all, spread out the lobes, remove the veins, give it a healthy sprinkle of salt and some white pepper and some pink salt if you have some, pour some milk on it to help leach out any residual blood and refrigerate overnight. Then rinse it roll it into a cylinder in cheesecloth and poach it for a couple minutes, just so it all melts together inside. Chill, unroll, slice an inch thick and serve with something sweet and acidic and some good bread and Champagne. That is a luxury beyond luxuries, and available to you, home cook. (This preparation has the fancy name torchon with the unfancy translation dish towel–really all you need for this preparation: a dishtowel to roll it in.)
Foie gras can be roasted first, then pressed into a terrine mold and chilled, maybe layered somehow with a fruit that goes well with it, mango or quince. Slice and serve it cold. Poach it in wine. There are so many wonderful thing you can do with foie gras, so easily, there's so much fun to be done, so much pleasure to give to your closest friends, it saddens me that we've lost sight of the foie itself amidst all the noise.
There's nothing else like it in the culinary world. It's a gift. We need to protect it or we'll lose it.