Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's a Damn Bird, People!

Gavage - the force feeding of a bird yummy, yummy corn
In just a few days, July 1, 2012, The People's Republic of California will join a half dozen other countries in banning the production and sale of foie gras, the fattened liver of a goose or duck.  Opinions abound as to whether this procedure proves one inhumane, shows one's heritage, or accommodates one's gastronomic adventurousness.  Or whether it's just a damn stupid bird and we're going to kill it anyway.

I personally know people who would love to be cared for from cradle to grave while being overfed fattening food without having to lift a finger.

At any rate, I don't care.

First, birds aren't people.  I don't know why I feel it necessary to point this out, but I do.  Anthropomorphizing animals has become the new cool fad in this country.  The further away we grow from our agricultural roots as we become "urbanized" and "citified", the god damn dumber we get about animals in general and what is humane treatment and what is not.

Second, birds don't have a gag reflex.  Unlike you, who would find this procedure somewhat less than comfortable, the bird doesn't mind at all. 

And third, the bird doesn't care if it gets fat!  It doesn't care if its liver gets fat. It has no interest in wearing Chanel; it is not ever going to try to squeeze into a size 2 from Lanvin.

This procedure of force feeding was developed as far back as the Romans and is actually an exaggeration of the normal eating pattern in wild ducks and geese who gorge themselves before a long migration.  Thousands of years ago, humans observed this eating pattern in migrating fowl and simply introduced the technique (named gavage) into their practice of raising fowl.  What they discovered is that it produced a fattened liver of glorious and unique delicacy.

 And the birds don't mind one damn bit. 
Robert Gordon, former president of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, made a surprise visit to New York's Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm in 2005 and said what he saw surprised him.
"I didn't see any evidence of stress among birds that were tube-fed," he said. "In fact, many were trying to push their way to the front because they wanted to go next. Back then, I was quoted as saying, 'Taking the rectal temperature of a cat is more stressful than the tube feeding of these birds.'"

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But none of these arguments are as important as recognizing the underlying impulse that is finding greater and greater expression in our society today.  The fascistic desire of some to dictate to others what they can do, when they can do it, how they can do it, where they can do it, and if they can do it at all.
The most dire affect of the ban will be on Sonoma Valley’s Sonoma-Artisan, that will be forced to stop production completely by the date the ban goes into effect. Currently, Sonoma-Artisan supplies about 10%–15% of the domestic foie gras market, according to Guillermo Gonzalez, co-owner of the business with his wife, Junny.
“It is not about animal rights so much as it is about the hidden agenda of the vegan movement,” said Guillermo Gonzalez in response to the law, which was introduced in the state Senate at the request of a coalition of four animal rights organizations, two of which have a very strong provegetarianism or -veganism stance.
Chris Cosentino, owner and chef of Incanto restaurant and Boccalone salumeria in San Francisco and a vocal advocate for responsible meat eating, told me “Many of the primary supporters behind this law are on the record as supporting a complete ban on all meats. This approach raises a question about the whole principle of personal choice, which is much more fundamental than just banning foie gras."

Remember when you thought it was just about smoking? Or your Big Gulp? Or salt?

First they came for the smokers...and I did not speak out because I was not a smoker...

But now that I'm a full-fledged rebel and an enemy of the state (specifically The People's Republic of California), here is the recipe for duck foie gras from Thomas Keller's magnificent restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yontville, CA.

Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras au Torchon with Pickled Cherries

1 Grade B duck foie gras (appromixately 1 ¼ lbs.)
Milk to cover foie gras
2 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground white pepper
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp pink salt
About 2 quarts chicken stock or water

Pickled Cherries

24 Bing cherries
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup baby arugula
18 tiny mint leaves
Olive oil
Gray salt and black pepper
12 to 18 brioche Croutons


DAY ONE: Soaking the foie gras.  Rinse the foie gras under cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Place it in an airtight container and cover with milk. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours, to draw out the blood.

DAY TWO: Cleaning and marinating the foie gras.  Remove the foie gras from the milk, rinse, and pat dry. Cover it with a damp towel and let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes. Pull apart the two lobes. Keep one covered with the towel, while you work on the other. Remove any membranes from the outside of the foie gras. To butterfly the large lobe: locate the start of the primary vein at one end of the underside of the lobe. Slice through the lobe to the vein, following its path and pulling the foie gras apart to see the vein clearly.  The more veins you remove, the smoother the finished dish. Don’t worry about wrecking the foie gras. It can be put back together like Play-doh.  Also, cut away any gray bruised areas. Do this for the smaller lobe.

Mix the kosher salt, white pepper, sugar and pink salt. Press the foie gras into a container in an even layer ¾ to 1 inch thick. Sprinkle and press half of the marinating mixture over and into the liver. Flip the foie gras and repeat on the other side with the remaining marinating mixture. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the foie gras and enclose the container completely in more plastic wrap. Refrigerate 24 hours.

DAY THREE: Forming, cooking and hanging the torchon. Remove the liver from the container, place it on a piece of parchment paper, and break it up as necessary to form a loaf about 6 inches long and 3½ inches wide. Using the parchment, roll the foie gras into a log, twisting and squeezing the ends of the parchment paper to help compact the foie gras.

Unwrap the foie gras, discard the paper and transfer the log to a piece of cheesecloth about 1 foot wide and 2 feet long, placing it along a short end of the cheesecloth. Rolling it away from you, roll it up in the cheesecloth into a tight log, again twisting the ends as you roll to force the foie gras into a compact log. If possible, have a second person hold the end of the cheesecloth flat on the work surface as you roll.

Loop a length of string around your index finger. With the same hand, hold one end of the cheesecloth tightly and wind the string about ¼ in into the foie gras. Continue wrapping the string about ¼ in into the foie gras, as this will help force the foie gras to compress into a tight roll. Tie a knot around the cheesecloth. Repeat the procedure on the other end. If you have rolled and tied the torchon tightly enough, you will see bits of the foie gras being forced through the cheesecloth.  Tie three pieces of string equally spaced around the width of the torchon.

Bring enough water or stock to cover the foie gras to a simmer in a wide pot. Place the torchon in the simmering liquid and poach for 90 seconds. Immediately remove the torchon to an ice-water bath to cool.

The foie gras will have lost volume (it loses fat in the poaching) and must be re-formed. Compress the torchon (still in the cheesecloth) in a thin cotton dish towel. Twist and tie the ends of the towel, returning the liver to the original density and pressing out excess fat. Tie the ends of the towel with string and hang the torchon from a shelf in the refrigerator overnight.

FOR THE PICKLED CHERRIES: If you prefer your cherries pitted, carefully remove the pits through the bottom of the cherries, keeping stems intact. One way to accomplish this is by bending a tine of an old fork at a 90-degree angle and using it to make a hole in the bottom of the cherry to loosen and remove the pit. (My method: cut a plastic drink straw. It is the perfect size and removes the pit easily.)

Place the cherries, vinegar, water, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Immediately remove from the heat. Cool the cherries, then refrigerate them in the pickling liquid for a few hours, or up to a few days.

DAY FOUR: Just before serving, remove the towel and cheesecloth from the torchon. You will see that the outside of it is gray and oxidized. Cut the ends from the log. Slice the foie gras into 6 ¾ inch slices. Use a round cutter (about 2¼ inches) to cut away the darkened exterior.

Place a slice of torchon on each plate. Stack 4 cherries on the side of each slice of foie gras. Toss the arugula and mint leaves with a little olive oil. Garnish each plate with a small stack of greens and sprinkle with gray salt and pepper. Serve with the crouton on the side.

Bon appetit!


  1. Buttercup -- I have not read a woman humorist who is actually witty since Erma Bombeck (well, Rachel Lucas, but nobody else). Kudos on a funny, witty and entertaining blog. Hope you publish, or at least put up a tip jar.

    1. Lambert, your words are very kind and warm my hard little heart (my liver may be fat, but my heart is flinty!)

      I blog because my husband got supremely fed up with hearing me rant all day long about one thing or another and suggested I find a more receptive audience. I have no idea where it will take me, but for now I'm having fun.

      Try the recipe from The French Laundry if you don't live in The People's Republic of California like I do and so can actually get your hands on duck foie gras. It is DIVINE!! Double exclamation point.

  2. Unfortunately, San Diego County has not yet seceded from the PRC.

    1. you are a political prisoner like I am. Maybe we should consider bootlegging.

  3. My wife would make a good study for your blog. She is a hard conservative, she will never be a vegetarian, though she does not love any cow meat outside a good hamburger...

    However, when it comes to animals she is a total softy. She adores her chickens as much as her horses, dogs and cats. She could watch a movie about how children are used to make a more tender soylent green and laugh about it, but in O Brother where art thou, she had to turn the movie off when pretty boy Floyd opened up on a field of cows. She can't stand those cruelty to animals commercials as we can't take on another rescue at the moment...Oh wait, yes we can, we just took in 17 more chickens less than two weeks ago, before our vacation.

    But I love her. Right now, I cannot imagine a scenario, but if we ever visit the PRC, I will bring the Foie Gras.

    1. I guess my point was that it ISN'T cruel to the birds. They don't mind. AT. ALL. They do it to themselves whenever they get a chance and definitely put all their effort into it before migration.

      We just help them, is all.

      I love animals, too. Born on a cattle ranch in Idaho. Animals were our livelihood. Horses are in my blood. But I absolutely understand the relationship between people and animals and that animals are NOT people. We owe them kindness and regard. But I am totally fine with offing them. It's what's for dinner!


    2. And you are DEFINITELY on the for contraband foie gras!!!