No Geese Were Hurt In the Making Of This ‘Foie Gras’
Article by Shelly Banjo
The Wall Street Journal Online – August 1, 2007
In short order, the status of foie gras has slipped from prized delicacy to unhealthy fat food to politically incorrect contraband. Now, to deal with the loss, a few enterprising chefs are plating a substitute: faux gras.
Foie gras, of course, is French for “fatty liver.” Made from the livers of ducks and geese, it has long been considered the height of haute cuisine. But now, amid an international debate over farming practices of those fowls — and with the sale of foie gras now banned in Chicago — chefs are trying to perform alchemy on sundry ingredients such as chicken livers, tofu and truffles.
The goal: re-creating the smooth mousse-like texture and buttery taste of foie gras without the side of guilt.
For Jaden Hair, author of The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight’s Dinner and self-described cook for the common man, “an arrest record with a foie gras felony” is not worth the risk of serving the real stuff. Instead, she teaches students at her Sarasota, Fla.-based cooking classes how to make faux gras with chicken liver. (Flouting the Chicago ban isn’t a felony, of course. But it can mean paying a $250 to $500 fine per offense.)
Dating back to ancient Egypt but more commonly known as a signature French delicacy, foie gras is made by force-feeding ducks and geese through metal tubes to expand their livers up to 10 times their normal size. The fattiness gives the dish its rich taste.
Animal-rights activists have assailed the practice, leading to outright bans on the sale of foie gras in Chicago and, in 2012, California. Bans are under consideration in Philadelphia, San Diego, New York City and the states of New Jersey and Oregon. Leading the protest is advocacy group Farm Sanctuary and its Web site nofoiegras.com, who promote vegetarian psubstituting duck liver with tofu, seitan or chicken-style meat substitutes made from wheat.
Some aficionados say it is easy to tell that faux gras is a fake. Linda Reck from Arlington, Va., who discovered foie gras while taking cooking classes in Italy, says faux gras doesn’t fully capture the richness and sweetness of real foie gras. But she did find that the faux gras she tasted at the restaurant Central in Washington, D.C., was silky and luscious and “not your mother’s chopped liver.”
Some chefs have found a way to slip their customers foie gras via a loophole in the Chicago ban: While selling foie gras is forbidden, giving it away isn’t. Didier Durand, owner of Cyrano’s Bistrot in Chicago, used to sell foie gras, grilled brioche and salad. He still sells the brioche and salad (for $60.95) and now offers foie gras on the side, compliments of the chef. The customer has to actually ask for the fois gras, but the high price tag for what looks like just a salad and bread prompts many to inquire. “It is like we are returning to the days of the Prohibition but now we are called ‘Duckeasies,’ ” he says.
Mr. Durand, who once farmed foie gras with his mother on a family farm in Bergerac, France, calls the effort to re-create the delicacy pure quackery. “It can’t have the same taste or consistency, it is simply ridicule,” he says.
Other chefs will also surreptitiously serve the real stuff to customers in the know. Josh Steinfeld, an executive compensation consultant in Chicago, refuses to try faux gras. And he still gets his favorite Kobe beef burger with foie gras pate and truffle mayonnaise at the restaurant Sweets and Savories. “The truth is the real foie isn’t gone … and there’s no reason to eat faux gras,” says Mr. Steinfeld, who attended a “farewell to foie gras” dinner at the restaurant — where about 40 people ate almost 15 pounds of foie gras — before the ban went into effect last August. Indeed, Sweets and Savories’ executive chef, David Richards, says he still offers the burger with foie gras as a special for anyone who asks.
In order to get the rich, fatty flavor back into faux gras, Ms. Hair of steamykitchen.com says she pan fries pureed chicken liver and adds a lot of butter, serving it with a cucumber gelee on French bread. “You’ll never get the faux gras as silky smooth as true foie gras but with the ban this is the closest you’re going to come,” she says.
Joel Palmer House owner Jack Czarnecki hand picks truffles and chanterelles:
At the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, OR, executive chef and owner Jack Czarnecki says adding truffles to chicken liver is the key to creating a dish that mimics the elegance of real foie gras. He sells a faux starter that highlights local ingredients, including Oregon’s fresh white truffles ($10.50). “Some people look at the menu and snicker, wondering if I simply spelled the words wrong or don’t know French,” he says.
The truffles speak for themselves, says Linda Stradley, Portland-based author of What’s Cooking America, who has sampled Mr. Czarnecki’s faux gras. “I’ve talked to my girlfriends about this. Just the smell is so sensuous and since it’s only a small taste, it leaves you wanting more,” she says.
Some chefs are taking an ideological stand with their faux foods. Drew Scott, executive chef at Elevation Restaurant in Aspen, Colo., created a chicken faux gras appetizer with an Asian twist-soy balsamic jelly and sweet ginger and pear compote ($13). “We decided we didn’t want to serve foie gras because it wasn’t something we believed in anymore,” he says. “I love fine dining but there are plenty of other ingredients out there.”
A do-it-yourself faux gras recipe by celebrity chef Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central in Washington, quickly gained popularity through his latest cookbook “Happy in the Kitchen: The Craft of Cooking, the Art of Eating” and has since been plastered on cooking web sites and blogs. This 45-minute chicken liver mousse gelee with sprinkled parsley is colorful and fairly simple, yet can get messy when pureeing and straining the liver. It calls for garlic, heavy cream and butter and needs several hours to chill. Born in France, Mr. Richard says, “The reason I love this country is because people are supposed to have the freedom to choose whether or not to eat foie gras.”
Although he doesn’t agree with the ban, he says he developed the recipe in order to appeal to more people and introduces the recipe as: “Absolutely the creamiest thing on earth. If you don’t tell people what it is, they will think it is foie gras and that you are an extravagant host.”
On a recent trip to Central near Capitol Hill, Steve Siegel, contributing blogger on food Web site Chow.com, says he and six fellow foodies immediately ordered the faux gras appetizer. “Anything on the menu that comes in quotation marks will attract your attention,” says Mr. Siegel. He says Mr. Richard’s faux gras both surprised and delighted the group.
At trendy Tru in Chicago, Chef Rick Tramonto says he reluctantly took foie gras off the menu after the ban. He says he invented a chicken liver faux gras to uphold his reputation as a foie gras connoisseur. “Taking foie gras away from me is like taking blue away from a painter,” he says. He invites customers yearning for a true foie fix to evade Chicago’s ban and drive 25 miles south to his newly opened sister restaurant, Osteria di Tramonto, in Wheeling, Ill.