After being invited by my friend to her parents farm this weekend to help with the duck, I thought I would give a resumé of my experience and share my new found knowledge on how to make "real" foie gras.
For those of you concerned about the well being of the animals, rest assured I saw no evidence of any battery farming, no unhappy looking animals and plenty of space for them to live and nest. However you must bear in mind that these animals are bred to eat, much like other livestock and are not pets. For those of you that are squeemish or vegetarians, you may prefer not to read on!
I have never been a person that enjoys killing anything (except rats or spiders!) and thought I would find the killing a bit too much to handle. However, I disconnected myself from the fact that this was a cute duck and treated it as a means to an end. The process of producing foie gras has been used for many years and only in recent years has commercial production on such a large scale meant that battery farming has hit the headlines. This foie gras was produced by the farmer for the sole use of his family and keep them in food over the winter months.
Anyway now I have got the politics out of the way, I will continue!
An early start in freezing weather was the order of the day for Friday morning. 8 barberry ducks were to meet their end and when I arrived at 8.30am proceedings were already under way. It was a real family affair with uncles, aunts, son in law's and grandsons and the all important expert farmers themselves were in attendance.
For the last 20 days the ducks have been fed solely on a diet of maize which gives the skin and the liver a yellow colour. Each duck was chosen at random and was killed expertly and quickly by André the farmer. Within 2 minutes the duck was dunked in a boiling vat of water and plucked. This process is done to blanch the skin and make it easy to remove the feathers. Timing is critical as too long in the water and the skin starts to cook, not long enough and the feathers don't come out easily. After plucking, the bald beast was whisked away for any small feathers to be removed and little ones to be blasted off by a blow torch.
It was then washed and weighed, the biggest bird of the day weighed in at just under 6kg.
Then one person held the duck, breast upwards, and the other cut a slit from its bottom to the base of its neckneck with a very sharp knife. This is a delicate process as the liver is very close to the surface of the skin, about 3 inches from the anus and not protected by anything other than the skin. Open the slit in the skin and with two fingers, push up under the ribcage to dislodge the liver from the bone and sinews and then use a pair of sharp scissors to cut the bone down to the wishbone and the neck bone to split the carcase in two pieces on one side.
Open up the bird and gently dislodge the liver all the way around its edges making sure you don’t split the liver itself. The most important part of the whole process is to ensure that the waste tube from the liver that then passes out through the bird is cut cleanly and none of the green goo is absorbed in to the liver.
Once the liver is removed, it is washed and weighed then lightly salted and covered in white pepper and garlic powder. A small amount is added to the base of a jar and then the liver is placed in the jar and sealed. The jar is then sterilised/boiled for 30-40 minutes and left too cool. The fat that comes out of the liver in the cooking process sets in the jar around the liver and acts as a preservative. The bird is then tied back together and left for further preparation the following day.
When the bird is butchered the French way every part is used except for the intestine, the wind pipe and the testies!
The meat is removed from the carcase in one piece and is known as a monteau as it looks like a cloak. The thighs, breast, neck and wings were preserved in salt, the bones were cut in to bbq sized pieces and head and feet were used to boil with carrots and onions as a stock. The fat, (of which there was alot) skin and neck skin was cut into small pieces. The tongue was removed from the beak and all was cooked in a large vat until the liquid fat could be drained off cooled and stored for cooking use later. After draining the remaining skin and tongue meat it was fried until crispy and wrapped in muslin cloth to extract any oil, and then tossed in a mixture of garlic and salt. These crispy duck pieces are known as fritons, a bit like pork scratchings, and are eaten as nibbles with an aperitif.
After 4 hours everything was packed away and the whole process starts again in 15 days to finish the last batch of duck for the year.
If you have a go at foie gras yourself, let me know how successful it is. I am sure the farmer and his wife will be impressed if the wider world is aware of their methods and using them to produce their own French delicacy.