It's been years that we've been enjoying home-cooked foie gras here and there, beginning with the one my mother cooks for Christmas, a delicate mi-cuit foie gras which retains all this beautiful taste. Cooking foie gras oneself is the door to an affordable culinary luxury, and it's been more and more easy over the years to buy raw duck- or goose liver, as if charcuterie shops were selling so much of foie gras that they didn't even care about the competition of home cooking. In spite of the easy availability of the raw material of late, it's only now that I jumped in the cold water and tried my talents on this cooking adventure.
I was helped a lot by the rock bottom prices for raw foie gras in Budapest. Among the many covered markets I've been to there, the Nagyvásárcsarnok or Great Market Hall in Hungarian is N° 1 for the choice and supply, and with prices generally at 5000 Forints a kilogram (16 € or 17,5 USD) or even below, I couldn't let this pass.The production of foie gras and the related breeding of geese and ducks is an important sector of the Hungarian agriculture, with some 30,000 Hungarian goose farmers being dependent on the foie gras industry. Much of these foies gras are exported to France where, through the intricate subtilities of the French and EU labelling laws, they can be labelled as being "Product of France" after being shortly processed there.
We're here in the same register as when the Maisons de Champagne of the Marne went shopping in the Aube for their grapes a century ago and got all the proceeds of the juicy business although the Aube growers did all the hard work for pennies. Because of the big difference in the production costs (you see what I paid for retail, just imagine the wholesale price...) I think that the share for Hungarian and Bulgarian raw material in the French final product is willfully underestimated by the CIFOG (French Union of producers of foie gras), especially for the canned foie gras. Their page about the French production doesn't say even a word about this supply source and about the fact that a duck or a goose born, raised and fed in Hungary can have its raw liver exported to France where it'll be processed and sold/re-exported as French Foie Gras. According to this decade-old document (in English), Hungary which is the 2nd world producer of foie gras exports eighty five percent of its foie gras to France.
Actually my first indirect try with foie gras was last year when I bought a big foie gras in Budapest in this same market last april and brought it back to Paris in the plane with the idea to ask my mother (who has a long experience in cooking raw foie gras) to take care of it and cook the foie gras. I left her the liver but when I called back days later she told me she had dumped it because it didn't smell right. Hours at warm temperature during the trip back to Paris including the commuting time may not have been good for the raw foie gras but I suspect my mother to have been excessively careful in this case (man, 700 or 800 grams of foie gras in the trash, this was a big loss!), whatever, I didn't give up.
Adventure ! This time, january 2016 was the right time, I went back to the market and ended up choosing a duck [kacsa in Hungarian] liver over a goose [liba] liver (I think I bought a goose liver the first time), my intent being to why-not cook it here in Budapest.
The duck foie gras is smaller and tastes better I feel, although I'll try the experiment with a goose liver in the future. I checked the many charcuterie/butcher shops in the covered market (there are many of them), not only for the price comparison but looking at the outside aspect of the foie gras, I'm not an expert on raw foie gras but some of them looked better, and I opted to pay the right price, it wouldn't ruin me anyway.
I chose this duck liver which was priced at 4999 Forints a kilogram, it was weighing exactly 400 Grams so I paid 2000 Forints (6,4 € or 7 USD), a bargain especially when you're dealing with fresh (not frozen) product. 5000 Forints a kg is really cheap, it makes 16 €/kg when in France you'd pay something like minimum 60 € a kilogram.
For the recipe I went on the Internet and trusted the famous French recipe website Marmiton because its foie-gras recipe was simple and easy enough for me, especially that I might not have all the tools I have at home, but at least there was a microwave oven where I stayed.
I planned carefully my cooking project, first I tried to find a small glass pot with a lid, because the writer of the recipe says you better use a container as small as possible so that the foie gras remains sort of contained. To help me do the step, we had met in december friends who had cooked their own raw foie gras with a microwave oven and they said it was so simple, they'd just cook a minute or less, check the inner temperature of the liver with a sharp knife and cook again until it was just barely cooked inside.
I found the small glass container near Oktogon on Teréz körút, a large, lively avenue which along with Erzsébet körút makes me think to the Grands Boulevards in Paris. Finding the glass pot was an important preliminary step in this process and I bought the liver only after.
The first thing you must do with the foie gras is wash it lightly under the tap water (I added this, it's oddly not in the recipe), then immerse it in water with coarse salt (gros sel in French) for an hour, but I hadn't any of this uncrushed, unwashed sea salt, so I used vulgar white salt instead.
After that you're supposed to devein the liver (something we oddly call dénerver in French instead of déveiner) but I feared I'd risk destroy the liver if I did it wrong (although from my reading here and there it's usually going smoothly), so I just passed this step and it proved later to be perfectly OK when in the plate. Proof that when you're scared of one aspect of a recipe you can forgo it and still make something great. My fear was that by cutting the liver in two to take out the nerves or veins (whatever) I'd be clumsy and mess up the orderly appearance of the liver (don't hire me to prepare your Fugu...) and this video proves me right, it seems a mess to take the veins out.
So let's go straight to my 2nd step : after you take the salty water out, just put back some salt plus pepper on the liver, plus a bit of white wine. The web recipe tells about Montbazillac or white Porto, so I spent some time looking at the wine selection at the local SPAR, focusing on édes [sweet] white wine [fehérbor] instead of száraz [dry]. For some reason I got mixed up and ended buying this Sárga Borház [winery] Szamorodni 2009 because in a corner of my mind a Szamorodni is édes but this one wasn't, it was clearly labelled as száraz... I realized my mistake too late and decided to keep going, and when I opened the bottle to taste the wine before using it I was pleasantly surprised, the wine had a vin-de-voile feel, it was very aromatic (nuts) and with a lot of character, if dry indeed, I was sure it'd work perfectly here.
One of the reason I chose the bottle is that it comes from Disznókő, a large but excellent domaine in Tokaj (which I happened to visit 10 years ago). I sipped the wine on the side as you're asked to put just a couple of spoons on the liver (I ended putting a bit more to be sure it really got an aromatic impact), it really reminded me of some veil jura wine. This wine was was really cheap, like about 1000 Forints if I remember (3 €).
You're supposed to leave the raw foie gras with the wine at least one hour in the cold. I added back some salt and pepper on the surface of the liver and put the glass pot in the fridge with its centimeter or so of wine in the bottom.
After that you take the wine out and leave the foie gras at the room temperature for a while so that it's not cooked straight after the fridge stage (put the lid away so that it warms correctly). Be generous in time just to be sure, no hurry here.
Then you can begin to cook : put the lid back, position the glass pot in the microwave and start cooking (high setting) for 30 seconds, then take the pot out and check the temperature deep inside the liver with a knive, touching the tip of the knife with your lips to feel if it lightly warm or not. If not, the cooking must go on, do it 30 seconds by 30 seconds to be sure to not overcook it, ideally a foie gras is better when demi cuit, so lightly cooked that in the inside it's almost rosy. For some reason I don't find the picture of the liver during this stage (may have forgotten to take it in the first place), it's interesting because every time you take out the liver from the microwave, you find it bathing in liquid fat (perfectly translucid and lightly brownish if I remember). I'd put out this oil in the sink each time before putting it back in the oven but it would keep bleeding this fatty liquid as soon as back in the oven.
To take this oily fat away, just tilt carefully the pot over the sink (or over another container if you want to use this fat), make sure you don't damage the liver because it's very fragile when hot. At the end when you feel it's cooked (when the tip of the knife tells you the heart of the liver begins to be warm) you have to put the foie gras back into the fridge for 48 hours before you can eat it. I had taken out the liquid fat before putting the glass pot in the fridge but it certainly kept somehow bleeding its oil and the picture above shows how the whole thing looked after a few hours in the fridge, immersed in another load of fat which turned solid and white/yellow with the cold.
At the end your foie gras is a bit smaller than when you bought it but I guess it's better to have the fat gone for a large part. You can keep this fat and use it for other cooking recipes, it certainly has good qualities. On the other hand, had I known that the foie gras would shrink this way I'd have tried a bigger raw liver, but duck's liver isn't very big anyway, so either I'll put two livers in this glass pot next time or I'll make the step of buying a goose liver and experiment with the taste difference. But man, just think that for a total time of 135 minutes (according to the recipe I followed), during most of which you can do something else because it's waiting/soaking time, you have your own home-made foie gras! That's so easy I can't understand I didn't do it before. I guess the reason is that when you pay 60 € to 100 € per kg in France the excercise could prove costly if you miss your first try.
I tasted a tiny slice in Budapest with the very wine I used to damp it in, as expected it turned beautifully, with a match between it's kind of veil-wine aromas and it's elegant bitterness with the strong character of the foie gras underlined by the pepper. The foie gras has the desired pink color inside like a demi-cuit, even though I think I cooked it just a bit more than necessary, this is because I knew the foie gras would have to stand a few hours time between Budapest and our Paris fridge.
Like you can see, although I didn't devein the liver it was very clean and we hadn't a particular problem with nerves or blood vessels while cutting the slices.
There was also the issue of bringing the foie gras in the hand/cabin luggage through security at the airport in Budapest, it's unclear if foie gras can raise an alarm at the x-ray screening machine, but this time it was fine (same for the ill-fated raw foie gras last year). I wanted to buy also honey on the Hunyadi market (that's where I found terrific old goat- and sheep cheese) and bring it back but I think unlike the cheese it wouldn't have passed through the x-rays machine.
Szamorodni is a traditional type of wine in the region of Tokaj, I guess it was made at a time the aszu grapes weren't picked separately, the whole grapes being vinified together including the ones with noble rot. Today they do Szamorodni when there aren't enough aszu grapes in the fruit load, keeping all the grapes together and vinifying them without sorting. Making a good dry Szamorodni is said to be difficult, it depends of the initial sugar content and of the tricky evolution during the minimum two-year élevage in barrel required by the appellation.
This was a very nice pairing thanks to the racy aromas and character of this unusual white. Again you can do wonders with a dry white with a foie gras.
As we would eat this delicacy over a few days I had the opportunity to try some other wine, or rather a sake with this 900 ml bottle of Kenbishi which I bought in Tokyo at Takeya near Okachimachi station. I went there initially to buy a Japanese wood saw like I use to for my Loire needs, but somehow I couldn't find the gardening/tools section as the store is spread over a bunch of buildings, so I gave up after several tries and instead had a look at the drink section where this bottle of Kenbishi seemed a very good deal :
Kenbishi Shuzo which is located in Kobe west of Osaka is among the best sake breweries in Japan and I paid something like ¥ 1000 (7,6 € or 8,5 USD) if I remember. There are of course different qualities in the cuvées range of this brewery but I'd trust their lowest cuvée blind given what I saw during my visit there 4 years ago and given that I don't read Japanese Kenbishi is anyway the only quality brewery I can spot on the shelves because of their iconic black sign.
There's one thing with foie gras it's that it's charm has also a lot to do with its smooth texture and its taste is not outwardly demonstrative, it's all in nuances, and a sake goes well with it because it is also a drink with a lovely, smooth mouthfeel.