The Nasty Bits: Foie Gras Butter
Foie gras is one of those foods I would list in a game of, "If I could eat something everyday, it would be..." Like a first love, the first bite of foie gras is so unerringly delicious, you may never experience that same degree of foie-induced pleasure again. That indelible initial impression won't stop you from trying to recapture the sensation, and you will go years and years haunted by the memory of your first foie. At least, I did.
I finally reconciled myself to the idea that subsequent foies would never be as good. First of all, because I already knew what to expect. Once those circuits of my brain that respond to the signal of fat knew what they were in for, they stopped being impressed by more bites of the substance.
But secondly, and this is stranger, if you can believe it, the foie was never fatty enough for me after the first bite. Not because foie isn't fatty food. But I think that if you spend a great deal of time building up in your head the intense rush of fat that you will experience, no actual lobe of foie gras, which is still just goose or duck liver—albeit a very large, very fatty one—can live up to that expectation.
Enter, foie gras butter. It's exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of foie and butter, subtly spiced with salt, pepper, and whatever else you decide to use as flavoring. It is, obviously, fattier than foie because you manipulate the substance and jack it up with more fat.
The recipe is from Jennifer McLagan's excellent cookbook, Fat, for which this recipe is easily my favorite. As per McLagan's instructions, I flavored my foie butter with quatre epices, which is a mixture of nutmeg, cloves, white pepper, and cinnamon that the French are fond of using.
Better yet, I took additional foie fat, already cooked, that had melted off of the large lobes, and added that to my butter as well. The recipe took no time at all to make, and the results were so good, I ate several rounds of toast with the foie butter, groaned with pleasure, ate more still. Then I had to call someone to talk me down from the precipice of eating the whole jar.
"Tell me," I begged, "that my rational capacities are being held hostage by my baser instincts. Make me sheepishly ashamed."
Not only did he talk me down from the ledge, he lectured me on the concept of Aristotelian weakness of will. (The concept, akrasia, is often juxtaposed against Platonic conceptions of decision-making, for you philosophy buffs out there.) I sniffed in offense. As if I didn't know that I was suffering from an extreme, akrasic lapse of my better judgment.
So yes, foie gras butter is a shameless and tawdry appeal that most deep-seated and primal of all gastronomic pleasures: fat. To make it, you simply take a few small pieces of foie, which can be the trimmings from a larger lobe. Mash the foie up with your fork until it looks like cat food: the sweet-smelling, most expense cat food ever.
Then you form the foie into a log and poach it just briefly, until the fat begins to melt. Mix the poached foie with an equal part of butter, and if you happen to have more cooked foie fat on reserve, toss that in there too. Flavor with salt, butter, and spices. Eat it on rounds of toast. Eat it in good health, and with enough friends present to help you exert what little self-control you will have left after your first bite.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.