Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nip/Tuck: Foie d’oie mi-cuit au torchon

There's an excellent article from an April 2005 issue of The Guardian in which the one-and-only Matthew Fort says: " 'Wicked' more or less sums up foie gras' place in the world. There are those who hold that it's very existence is wicked, the method of producing it is wicked, the people who produce it are wicked, and the people who eat, by definition, are wicked. And there are those for whom foie gras, like truffles and caviar, is wicked in the Richard Fort sense of the word - wickedly tempting, wickedly good, a wicked indulgence and wickedly wonderful."

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.

Crab Salad with Chilled Gazpacho Sauce

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.

Braised Beef Cheeks with Wild Mushrooms and Potato Puree

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a truly amazing menu, Chubby hubby and S are lucky to have you in their family.
Personally l love foie gras despite all it's wicked conotations. My preference is for goose also, which I find less gamey than duck. My only gripe with it is how common and trendy it has become in London restaurants, not to say that it shouldn't be availabe to everyone, rather it no longer seems a naughty indulgence to be had on special occasions.

3:10 am, April 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jocelyn this is so amazing. What a family dinner that must have been! Gastronauts all of you! Count me in on the side of the wicked too; although foie gras' days seem certain to be numbered in the States...May I dare to inquire how long it took you to make this fabulous meal?

8:11 am, April 16, 2006  
Blogger Chubby Hubby said...

Yum. Everything was so delicious. Thanks so much for slaving away for days. The foie gras was so much lighter than others I've eaten. Truly sublime. I loved the beef cheek and the crab course. But it was the dessert that was the true winner for me. Super-yum.

Thanks again!

2:38 pm, April 16, 2006  
Blogger Annette Tan said...

You leave with sick with envy :-) It doesn't help that I read this post with the amazing taste of a foie gras terrain that I had for brunch at Au Jardin last week still lingering persistently in my mind. Only you could pull something as grand as this off. It all looks too fabulous. S, if you read this, Happy Belated Birthday. You are a lucky girl indeed.

6:36 pm, April 16, 2006  
Blogger eat stuff said...

Wow wow wow wow wow

8:47 pm, April 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are entirely amazing. And your photos are splendid.

9:03 pm, April 16, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Superb, J - but that's really no surprise. I've wanted to try that Sherry Yard recipe for some time now. It sounds delish!

9:11 pm, April 16, 2006  
Blogger Vivilicious said...

Oh J., everything looks so amazing as usual and sounds fabulous! Count me in as one of the wicked gang, can't get enough of foie gras d'oie or even canard in a pinch! Lucky S., I'm sure she appreciated all your momentous effort...

9:56 pm, April 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fabulous-looking lunch - and it sounded like you had a great time making it! All the dishes look tasty but of course I'm drawn to dessert - that recipe stuck in my mind ever since Sherry Yard described as a version of a Twix bar.

8:21 am, April 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg J you are such an amazing chef! all these sound and look sososo good.

10:24 am, April 17, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Why do you think I, the heathen, have been considering seeking divine intervention to ensure that J becomes my SIL? Of course this desire is not based solely on that fact that she's a culinary goddess ;P

1:23 pm, April 17, 2006  
Blogger e d b m said...

J, is it too early to vote for you for the 2006 blog awards? Foie Gras is my weakness, you can put this on anything and it'll taste great. I love your presentation on the beef cheeks. High-5 to you.

4:28 pm, April 17, 2006  
Blogger Cindy said...

Everything looks so beautiful. I have a preference for the dessert coz I'm more of a sweet tooth.

6:46 pm, April 17, 2006  
Blogger Anne said...

Everything looks amazing. What a dream menu...foie gras....crab......beef cheeks and chocolate. I couldn't think of a more perfect supper than this. You're astounding. Truly astounding.

7:24 am, April 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J, you are to be commended for the skill with which you executed what is obviously a tremendous amount of work.

I also love foie gras, particularly foie gras torchon. The best torchon I've ever tried was at Susur, in Toronto, Canada. Unbelievably smooth and rich... pardon me while I lapse into reverie.

Cheeks are one of my favourite cuts. whether it's braised beef cheeks or cured pig cheeks, the results are always spectacular.

Wonderful post.

1:33 pm, April 18, 2006  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Wow, what an amazing menu! I'm with you ... love the decadent, the sinful and the foie gras. But I've never quite dared to cook it for fear of ruining an expensive treat which deserves to be treated with greater respect than these ham hock hands. Again, you are my culinary goddess!

2:50 pm, April 18, 2006  
Blogger FooDcrazEE said...

wow! impressive....the description and the cooking methodology are great stuff.

7:44 pm, April 18, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

Wonderful menu - I especially like the look of the braised beef cheeks and the dessert!

10:09 pm, April 18, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another stunning menu, Joycelyn! Like Pille, I'm especially interested in the beautiful braised beef cheeks... I so wish I lived near you, I think I'd *make* you cook a lunch for my birthday :) Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post, as always.

8:07 am, April 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything looks amazingly good! But I have to say that my favorite would be that which is the most "wicked"...the foie! One of my favorite things in life :)

11:40 pm, April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tagged you without your asking. Your writeup and photos are superb........Though your recipe are entirely different from mine. but enjoy to read your posting.

6:04 am, April 21, 2006  
Blogger Patrick said...


Love your blog.

I'm curious how you got such a clean-looking assembly on the Halsey tart. Would you mind telling me how you molded the caramel cream into such a neat cylinder?

7:39 am, April 21, 2006  
Blogger shaz said...

your crab salad looks absolutely gorgeous! wow.

10:03 am, April 21, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

S wants you to be her SIL, unfortunately my brother's not available, can I interest you in considering the position of "godsister".. (just joking!)

but truly, very lovely dishes and evidence of a lot of effort put in this celebratory dinner... great food porn again!

8:38 pm, April 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, a delcious sounding menu.


2:02 am, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Gustad said...

nice crab salad action you have going on there.

beef cheeks... how does that meats taste?

2:39 am, April 22, 2006  
Blogger Katherine said...

Hi I'm new - having read about you on Chubby's blog.

Please please please. Can you tell me where you shop for your ingredients e.g. beef cheeks.

With regards to the crab, some advice pls, I've never bought those live things, do I poke a chopstick thru' their eyes to kill-em and then steam them or any other humane method out there?

I get so very frustrated reading about all these great recipes and then the tedious search for ingredients. Thanks for sharing your shopping haunts.

9:40 pm, May 04, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey all,
did you know that keller passes his finished torchon through a tamis(read zero veinage)!!!then he presses it in a loaf pan, cuts a slice from the loaf and then cuts a round from the slice.thats why its perfect.

6:04 am, July 11, 2006  

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