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.