For pure indulgence, try fresh foie gras

It's less costly and easier to buy than you might expect
CHRISTINE WEBER HALE

Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Apples

Foie gras. First it was French and expensive. Now it's scattered among first courses and main dishes on every upscale menu, and even a few that aren't so grand. What's behind this luxurious explosion?

Availability. Until recent years, foie gras ― fatted liver from specially fed ducks and geese ― was imported. But now there are two well-established domestic producers, one in New York, the other in Sonoma, California, where Guillermo and Junny Gonzalez produce 1,000 duck foies gras a week.

Foie gras bears little resemblance to what most of us think of as liver. Its color ranges from cream to a pale café au lait. When sautéed quickly, the meltingly silky foie gras becomes delicately crisp on the surface. Its flavor is subtle to some, sublime to others.

A whole foie gras, composed of two lobes, weighs from 1 to 2 pounds and makes as many as 12 appetizer portions. Grade determines the price and is based on appearance and texture. For a classic foie gras terrine, use grade A. But if slices are to be browned, grades B and C are quite acceptable.

High prices and fat content undoubtedly put foie gras in the special-occasion category. Even so, there is an economical side: few restaurants offer servings for less than $10, so home-cooked is almost a bargain. To order fresh foie gras from the Gonzalezes ($38.50 a pound for grade A), call (800) 427-4559.

HANDLING AND COOKING

Keep foie gras chilled until you use it ― up to a week sealed in its wrapper. (Foie gras gets soft and difficult to handle when warm.)

To sauté foie gras, you need a hot pan and good ventilation, because the rendered fat spatters and smokes. Pour off the fat as it accumulates and use oven mitts to protect your hands.