Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Foie Gras or Fight!

     Firstly, for those of you that are unsure: Foie gras (French for "fat liver") is a food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage (force-feeding) corn, according to French law, though outside of France it is occasionally produced using natural feeding.

So, allow me to lob my own missile into this hard drawn battle...this foie gras war.

     So foie gras is the new fur, eh?  Everyone is calling each other a liar in this bitter dispute over an ancient delicacy.  On the one hand is the industry.  It is vast, and of course has vested interests.  You can never blindly trust any biased corporation related propaganda.  There is no escaping the fact that gavage is, even during the most humane of productions...not entirely attractive.  On the other hand are the activists.  They attack with religious fervour bolstered by some members' politicized hidden agendas that boil down to a deep loathing of us carnivores and our flesh eating.  Foie gras is easily the 'weakest link' of targets especially when one knows nothing of the history, production or flavour- and is presented with brutal scare tactics.
  The debate on foie gras has heated up and The Terminator himself has passed a bill which eradicates all Californian foie gras production by 2012.  Under immense pressure from his own Hollywood flock, Schwarzenwhatevah has decided to wield his power to control what the rest of Californians can and cannot eat.  (What about fast food?)  The gilded cages of Sir Paul McCartney, Kim Basinger and Roger Moore etc. have opened up just long enough for them to come down to tell us all how 'immoral' we are in our consumption of this delicacy.  As usual the success of special interest groups rarely reflects that of the silent majority's stance or apathy, as is often the case.  I don't want to come off as a grease-splattered, mad-eyed chef waving his cleaver in the confines of his own kingdom (kitchen) giving a two fingered salute to a bunch of amoeba nurturing vegans, but....come on, where does all this end?  Certainly anyone that knows me is aware of my passionate dedication to locally produced, seasonal and often wild product free from chemicals and ill treatment.  I whole heartedly believe that animals should be cared for as much as possible to ensure they aren't caused any grief that would toughen up their little carcasses before I get to work on them.  The same rule applies to the foie gras I purchase.  I don't want poor quality, bruised and bile speckled lobes.  I buy only grade 'A' foie gras from a supplier that free-range their ducks until the last ten days when they do receive that unattractive yet 'means to an ends' twice a day force-feeding.  I have seen the horror movies on the animal rights websites.  It is easy to find bad practise in any industry.  I loathe this sort of production the same way I despise imprisoned, steroid plumped battery hens.  The technique employed in quality foie gras production is carefully time controlled.  Stress greatly affects the flavour and look of the lobes, hence reputable producers take great pains to eradicate as much discomfort as possible under the circumstances.  
     The act of foie gras is an exploitation of a process that ducks and geese perform naturally, that is to over feed for the migration period.  It really disturbs me when I hear certain people comparing the duck or any other animal for that matter to us humans.  That is a duck.  An animal without a gag reflex I might add, hence the force feeding does not choke them as many would like you to believe.  The very lining of a duck's throat is keratinized.  This means it is composed of a fibrous combination of protein cells that resemble bristles or fingernails, allowing large, coarse pieces of food to pass safely.  The technique and tradition of creating foie gras reaches back to Egyptian times and thank God for the bloody French that managed to thwart the ever-frustrating EU machine into allowing them to continue their 30,000 employee industry under 'heritage grounds'.  Vive la France, Vive le foie gras!
'The Foie Gras Wars'  A superb and well-balanced read on the subject.

'Tarte Tatin au foie gras, creme fraiche estragon'

I weep at the modern trend of taking advice from celebrities.  The brain drain is truly under way.
     Lastly, I see foie gras as a treat to be delighted in a few times a year.  It is too rich and too expensive to be a weekly food stuff.  Foie gras has pride of place on many chefs' menus for good reason.  It isn't just the incredibly wonderful flavour or the velvet texture.  It is fab to work with.  Very malleable and pairs well with so many other elements.  If you don't like the idea- fine.  If you don't like the flavour- fine.  But please, I implore you...let us chefs continue to play with one of our most treasured and delicious ingredients.

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