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What the Hell is THAT?!? - Foie Gras

Foie gras (pronounced: fwah grah) is one of the more controversial items on the menu.  Along side caviar and truffles as a symbol of gastronomic decadence, foie gras is as adored by many as it is chastised by many.  Foie gras is also one of those items on the menu that make many people just dipping their toes into the fine dining pool scrunch their nose and wonder, “What the hell is THAT?!?”

Terrine of Foie Gras

Terrine of Foie Gras

Foie gras is French for “fatty liver,” which works out splendidly as foie gras is the fatty liver of a force-fed duck or goose, duck being more common in the United States.

Raw Foie Gras from Fork You Blog

Raw Foie Gras from Fork You Blog

“Force-fed” you say?!? Force-fed, I say.  The liver is fattened through a process called gavage (sounds like garage with a v). After the ducks are about 9 weeks old, they are force-fed grain and whatever else the farmer deems as “duck food” through a long metal tube stuck down their throat.  This gavage process happens a couple times a day for the next 2-3 weeks of the duck’s life before it is slaughtered and the now fattened liver is harvested.

Pan-Seared Foie Gras

Pan-Seared Foie Gras

Foie gras is most commonly served either as a terrine (meatloaf) or in pan-seared, sautéed slices.  With how strong the flavor of foie gras is, it is usually served as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to a main course, although the foie gras sluts of the world can certainly find main course offerings.  Speaking of flavor, it’s tough to describe the taste of foie gras, as the easiest way to describe it is that it tastes like foie gras.  Fatty, rich, lush with just a hint of the minerally trademark taste of liver is the best I can do.

It’s obviously from the gavage process that the heated debate over the ethics of foie gras stems from.  Is it cruel or is it not cruel; that is the question.  Those in favor of foie gras say that ducks and geese have no gag reflexes and that they naturally fatten their livers up ahead of winter migration.  Those opposing foie gras say that the force-feeding process is anything but natural and everything from the conditions in which the birds are kept in, to the irritation of a metal tube going down their throats, to the rapid expansion and fattening of a vital organ is an inhumane treatment of the animals.

Famous world-traveler and chef, Anthony Bourdain approached the subject on his No Reservations show in full support of foie gras:

Here’s a video produced by showing the other side of foie gras production (Warning: some graphic footage):

Personally, I’m on the side that it is inhumane and an unethical treatment of an animal.  But then again, I also think all meat eating is an inhumane treatment of an animal, and I’m sure as hell not going to put down the steak, pork chop or lobster tail anytime soon.  Foie gras goes that extra step of torturing the animal before it is killed, and that is where a significant line is crossed.

With that said, I’ve eaten it, and I’ll certainly eat it again. It’s fucking delicious! (hey, I never claimed to be a model citizen!) It’s like veal for me; I think it’s wrong, but I’ll give it a whirl as my taste buds trump my morals.  Beyond the unethical treatment of the animals though, I have a personal issue with eating livers anyway.  I rarely have a desire to eat nature’s Brita filter, so it really isn’t something I’ll go out of my way to get in any event.  But, foie gras is just so damn good. Toxins are tasty, I suppose.

The movement against foie gras has been trumpeted by people beyond the incessant shrill whine of PETA.  Most notably, superstar chefs Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter have been quite vocal about not offering foie gras in any of their restaurants.  As the organic / sustainable / farm-to-table food movement continues to exponentially gain popularity, I’m sure there will be many more notable cooks to sign up.  Hell, even James Bond says no to foie gras!

Chefs may not even have a choice as laws have been passed and are in the works to ban the raising and serving of foie gras.  The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a law banning the production and selling of foie gras in California which goes into full effect in 2012.  The City of Chicago banned foie gras in 2006, although that law was later repealed in 2008.

Foie Gras Custard Brulee from Sage

Foie Gras Custard Brulee from Sage

If you want to try foie gras (while you still can), you might as well go somewhere that does it right!  Chef Jean Paul Labadie of Marche Bacchus in the Desert Shores area of Las Vegas makes a Seared Foie Gras appetizer for $18Andre’s in the Monte Carlo resort has both a Foie Gras Terrine for $24 and the Pan-Seared Foie Gras variety for $28.  For a slightly different take on the umami packed delicacy, check out the Foie Gras Custard Brulee at Chef Shawn McClain’s Sage at the Aria resort for $25.  Of course you can roll with a Foie Gras Treatment of the Gods at either French Culinary legend Jöel Robuchon at the MGM Grand or Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, but that’s going to hit your wallet for a wee bit higher than anywhere else on Earth in town.

***UPDATE – 03/10/10***

Check out this amazing video of a presentation by Chef Dan Barber of NYC’s Blue Hill Restaurant about a visit to Eduardo Sousa’s ground-breaking farm in Spain.  It’s 20 minutes long, but it is WELL worth it!

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeDobranski.

Follow Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

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2 comments to What the Hell is THAT?!? – Foie Gras

  • The Truth

    Realize that the “force feeding” you mention in your blog is nothing more then a mimicking of what ducks naturally do before long flights. They consume extra food and fatten their livers in order to have reserves for the long flights ahead. Understand what you are talking about before you degregate a fine food product.

  • Well, first of all, I’ve never seen a duck head up to a metal pole, ram it down their throat, and sit there waiting for food to be pumped into it in the wild…have you?

    Secondly, yes ducks and geese gorge on food to fatten themselves before winter migration, but the ducks that have been harvested organically at winter migration time to take advantage of the self-inflicted fattened livers were no where near the size of their force-fed brothers and sisters. What does that tell you about the “mimicking” process? Flawed and excessive, no?

    Try again, “Truth.”

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