Nip/Tuck: Foie d’oie mi-cuit au torchon
I'm no saint. In fact, I have an express preference for most foods that in the guilt stricken popular parlance just so happen to be variously described as sinful, decadent, and of course, wicked, be it in terms of the ethics of production (say milk-fed veal) or the nutritional front (say chocolate). Unconscionable and unapologetic, I'll go so far as to say I even know exactly the manner in which I prefer to commit my unregenerate acts of sin. In the case of fattened liver, goose rather than duck, and cold rather than hot (which is not to say I don't enjoy foie gras de canard or certain hot preparations).
Goose liver, because the delicacy of its taste (duck liver tastes more, well, livery) is the sublime counterpart to the delicacy of its texture - smoother, silkier, sexier. Served in a mi-cuit preparation that's chilled, because when barely cooked, very little of the fat (and foie is almost all-fat) gets a chance to escape, the fine taste and rosy tint are retained, and the resulting texure is utterly buttery, because when chilled, all the better to savour how exceptionally creamy it feels when melting slowly on the tongue.
We hosted a family lunch on Friday in celebration of S's birthday; as anyone who visits Chubby Hubby will know, foodie is rather too pedestrian a term to describe this lovely lady, gastronaut is more like it. Much belated to accommodate everybody's travel schedules, the menu was one we'd discussed quite some weeks ago - the foie course was an option, dependant on what ingredients looked to be available. Earlier this week, whilst actually shopping for moulard duck magrets, I came across some wonderful lobes of goose liver imported from Southwest France, not exactly the easiest ingredient to find in these parts; I'm not one to ignore signs right under my nose, and so the choice was clear.
The choice of recipe was equally obvious. No questions, it would be Thomas Keller's au torchon method as laid out in The French Laundry Cookbook. Adapting the recipe for goose rather than the intended duck foie (so specified in the recipe I suspect because that is what's more readily available in the United States through specialist suppliers such as D'Artagnan, although at The French Laundry itself, Keller exclusively uses goose liver in cold preparations such as the torchon and terrine), the flavour being less assertive and thus in need of a touch more salt, I simply nudged the seasoning up a notch.
The preparation is so-named after the cloth (torchon simply means dish towel) used to bind the pieces of foie into a fat cylinder before being poached. While not difficult, it does require a bit of planning - at least 4 days before you intend to eat. The foie is first soaked overnight in milk to draw out some of the blood, afterwhich comes the cleaning and marinade of salt, pepper and sugar, in which the foie needs to cure for another 24 hours. On the 3rd day, the foie is formed into a tight, compact log (you can use cheesecloth; I used some unbleached calico cotton pudding cloth, which has a much tighter weave) before being poached for exactly 90 seconds in a gently simmering bath of chicken stock, veal stock or even water. Needing to replenish my "stock bank" anyways, I made a veal stock using Keller's method, which requires an initial extraction from the bones and aromatics, a remouillage or second extraction, a merging of the two and a final further reduction. While time-consuming, it's a process that can be spaced out over several days - for instance, concurrently whilst the foie is being readied - and well worth the while. After the poaching, the torchon - having lost a little volume - needs to be reformed then chilled overnight before serving.
The trickiest part, which you will (depending on your constitution) either find immensely gratifying or infuriatingly fiddly, is the bit of culinary sclerotherapy involved in the cleaning - scraping gently but thoroughly across the flesh pink interior of the butterflied lobes to extricate as many veins as possible, locating the primary vein first before weeding out the pesky secondary ones running throughout the liver. Wielding a small sharp paring knife in one hand and a pair of needle-nosed tweezers in the other, high-tech laser technology it is not, tedious it is, but what better motivation than the refined texture of the end product? And provided you have been careful while nipping the veins not to damage the exterior, tucking the lobes back into a semblance of their origianal form before sprinkling on the dry cure shouldn't prove too challenging.
To go with the torchon, two things that, much like the stock making, make the best possible use of the time you're already setting aside to prepare the foie. Rich little croutons of brioche (I like Peter Reinhart's recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which amusingly enough is called "Rich Man's Brioche" for its extravagant 87.7% butter-to-flour ratio), and some sweet-yet-tart poached fruit, relish or compote to cut through all that deliciously heart-stopping fattiness. To fit the bill, I poached some pears in a Gewurzstraminer syrup spiked with verjuice and subtly spiced with star anise, cinnamon, and peppercorns, using maceration and cooking techniques gleaned from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures.
Below, the other courses at lunch.
Inspired by a recipe in Eric Ripert's beautiful volume, A Return to Cooking - crabmeat, freshly picked and loosely bound by mayonnaise flecked with chives, paired with ripe avocadoes and a refreshing raw tomato-based sauce that's a vibrant shade of coral. For the gazpacho, Ripert takes the purist's minimalist approach by simply whizzing together tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar - this, of course, works a treat if you have access to heirloom varieties ripened to perfection, grown for taste rather than regularity of appearance or vastness of yield. I don't, so I took the liquid salad Andalusian approach which mixes tomatoes with peppers, cucumbers, onions and garlic (I like the recipes and advice in Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table and Teresa Barrenechea's The Cuisines of Spain. Another good recipe can also be found in Sam & Sam Clark's Moro: The Cookbook). For the right depth of flavour, a hojiblanca varietal extra virgin olive oil as well as some good vinagre de Jerez reserva are musts. For the most velvety texture, pushing the blended soup through a fine-meshed chinois is a good idea. So is at least one night's rest, necessary for the flavours to really mature and marry.
Another adaptation of a recipe from A Return to Cooking, this time a classic French plat mijoté in which the constituents come together into a harmonious amalgam thanks to a slow simmer at the merest blip. I used beef cheeks (the recipe calls for veal cheeks), a much-underrated cut I really adore. Having possibly worked the hardest in the beast's lifetime of cud chewing, the cheek is also a nifty package that layers tough muscle with generous seams of connective tissue and fat - braised in veal stock, the collagen-rich content of the cheeks ensures plump meaty morsels of an incredible succulence. Slivers of lemon confit (otherwise known as Morrocan-style salt-preserved lemons; I happened to have made a jar that's been curing for a couple of months to date) are stirred in right at the end. It sounds rather odd on paper, but makes perfect sense on hindsight - the zesty fillip, full of lemon flavour with none of the acidity, brightened what is essentially a hearty meat stew, performing much the same function that gremolada say does in ossobuco alla Milanese. In fact, Ripert uses preserved lemons in quite a few of his recipes much like salt or spice, as a condiment and seasoning.Halsey Tart
From Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking, it's her signature spin on the Twix bar combination of chocolate, caramel and cookie, named in honour of Mr. Halsey, a retired candy maker for Mars. Whipped caramel cream hides a secret centre of creamy caramel sauce (I found it much easier to construct the tart in a tall narrow ring mold rather than a squat wide one, as was probably used for the shape seen in the book's picture). Chocolate comes in the form of the short, crumbly sablée disc on which the filling sits, the ganache glaze, and the crisp tuile.