Monday, March 26, 2007

food stuff

I was over at Michael Ruhlman's blog where there has been a lot of talk about various polities' ban on foie gras as well as the disavowal of that dish by certain famous chefs. The discussion over there got me thinking a bit about food, perhaps helped along by celebrating a warm weekend evening by grilling some chicken out on the patio.

First off, I have no dog in the foie gras fight- the few occassions when I've had foie gras I've enjoyed it, but haven't found it to be all that wonderful, particularly for the price. Good, but not one of my favorite things. On the other hand, this is a dish which has been prepared for a long time and which American producers have only in recent years managed to develop. Also, this is fairly low-hanging fruit when it comes to battles over food. Foie gras is an expensive item associated with the wealthy. Fatty and rich, I doubt that it is very good for you. Not many people like liver and fewer still are likely to ever eat foie gras. Given all that, the contrarian and food enthusiast in me feels like going straight to Hudson Valley and ordering a terrine, just because an innovative American enterprise is filling a niche. Still, that stuff is darned expensive. Perhaps some magret (the breast from a duck produced & fed up for foie gras).

At least you can see the reason for the expense of foie gras and magret. The birds are handled a lot and fed a lot of good feed. For that matter, the operations raising them seem to be fairly small enterprises. If a person is going to worry about where his food comes from, he might do better to be concerned about his inexpensive grocery store chicken. Such a chicken seems like a bit less of a bargain if the bird spent it's life crammed with a half dozen others in a 2x2 cage. I dislike some people's tendency not to want to know where their meat comes from and get a little nervous about the hypocrisy of my own reluctance to contemplate the source of one of my meals. Nonetheless, I enjoy the occasional chicken and I haven't been able to tell any difference in the quality of "free range" and plain old grocery store chickens, at least on the plate. Perhaps I'll come across some grass fed birds one of these days and find them superior.

While magret duck breast is not prohibitively expensive, I prefer wild duck. Wild birds are much more lean than domestic duck and one of my favorite wild meats, although they can be challenging to a cook well. Wild duck is a good base for gumbo, excellent in stir fry, and best for me when roasted rare. I learned the basics from one of my favorite short stories, which originally appeared in Gray's Sporting Journal and can be found in slightly different form in Russell Chatham's "Dark Waters" collection. Prepare a sauce of equal parts butter, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Rinse the duck well, pat it dry, then put a couple of slivers of the lemon rind in the cavity, or perhaps a wedge of onion. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Roast in a very hot (at least 450F) oven, basting with the sauce. After twenty minutes, remove the duck to a warm platter and tent with foil. In a skillet, saute a little shallot or onion which you have finely chopped in a little butter, add the leftover sauce as well as any drippings from the roaster and duck platter. Reduce by 1/3 or so, then carve your duck. If you place the breast slices rare (bloody) side down in the sauce to cook for a minute or so, you'll take that bright edge off for comfort of the squeamish. Serve with rice, bread and a nice red wine.

So, maybe no magret for me. Perhaps a t-shirt from Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

In the meantime, I'll wish the foie gras producers well. Maybe I'll use some morally ambigous chicken for some chicken liver pate:
Simmer 1 lb. of chicken livers in chicken stock or in water to cover with a (low salt) bullion cube. Once tender, drain and place the hot livers in a food processor with 1 stick of butter, 1 t of cayenne, 1 t of curry powder, 1 t of black pepper, 1/2 t of salt, 2 T of sherry, and 3 T of fresh onion. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Use a spatula to transfer pate to a mold (lining it with plastic wrap will save some cleanup) then chill overnight. To serve, unmold and let it warm an hour or so.

Good (especially once you've balanced the seasonings to your taste) and inexpensive.


Steve Bodio said...

Mmmm, duck a la Russ (Homer Simpson voice)...

Pollo Real down in Socorro, run by Tom Delahanty, grows the most delicious chickens I have ever eaten. He uses good breeds and runs them on pasture under "yurts". They are a golden yellow color rather than pasty white and we try to get a few whenever we can.

mdmnm said...


Thanks for the tip on Pollo Real! I'll have to get down there and give it a try.