Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Foie gras

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The technique of producing foie gras may actually go as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Researchers have discovered painting on tombs dating as far back from the fourth and fifth Egyptian dynasties, showing farmers holding geese by the neck and feeding them packed balls of grain, to increase their weight quickly. This method, called gavage, has basically gone unchanged, and its principles are still used today. It has been theorized that a farmer in Egypt had a flock of geese, and for some reason, one bird aquired an enormous appetite. When that goose was finally killed by the farmer for consumption, the farmer discovered that this goose had an enormous liver that he found to be quite delicious. (Gascony 5)

Foie gras also was utilized by the ancient Romans. Evidence can be found in their poems and literature, which featured the fattened livers of geese. A Roman that has been said to have advanced the technique to produce foie gras was Consul Quintus Caecilius Metullus Pius Scripio. He fed his geese a diet of figs to give the livers and meat extra sweetness. Half a century later, Roman, Marcus Gavius Apicius, applied the technique to ducks and pigs. (Gascony 5)

Foie gras was continued to be produced throughout the years, and by the fifteenth century it had become a thriving industry. The boom first began with geese, and then it later ducks. It was not until 1747 that the first published recipe using foie gras was produced. It was called “Pate de foie gras”. It consisted of fresh sliced foie gras, seasoning it with truffles and baking it in puff pastry. This recipe was published in Amsterdam. (Gascony 5)

After Christopher Columbus returned from the new world, he brought with him corn. A new type of cereal was born. Not only that, since corn had replaced figs in south western French diets, the entire region turned to corn production, to become the known as the “foie gras region”. Later, the development of sterilization allowed foie gras to extend to the rest of France, which today is known for its excellence of its foie gras. (The Impressionists Foie Gras)

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Still to this day, United States law prohibits the importation of fresh meat, so foie gras of any kind from the European nations is unknown. Imported foie gras can only be purchased in can form. “In the New York Catskill Mountains at a farm called Common Wealth Enterprises Products Corporation, scientists have cross bread the Pekin and the Muscovy duck to yield moulards (Gascony 6).” This is the only combination that was found to produce fattened livers that equal the size and quality of those ducks bred in France. According to American and French Chefs the foie gras produced have on a commercial level seem to be almost identical to those produced in France.

The method of production of foie gras has remained relatively unchanged for 4500 years. Once the mallard eggs hatch they are sorted by sex. Female ducks are sold, because they have been found to produce a poor quality foie gras, and are used for meat. The males are transported to a nursery. Their nails are clipped to prevent them from harming one another. At this stage, they are given high-protein feed, vitamins and water and temperature is kept warm. This keeps a good environment for fast, stress free growth. They move down the line of pens as they get older, where the youngest are at one beginning of the line, and the oldest at the very end. Once they reach 1 to 14 weeks old, the ducks are brought to the feeding barn. They are put into large pens 10-1 per pen, the lights are dim, and numerous fans maintain a warm breeze. The highest stress day for the duck is the first day of feeding. This is due to the ducks never really being in contact with humans or fed by hand. Duck feeding ratio is generally 50 ducks to one employer. Those ducks that the employer feeds that day, will be the only ones allowed to feed those particular ducks. This lessens the stress on the duck. On the first day the ducks are fed twice, once in the morning and then later on in the afternoon. There is a plastic funnel with a small electric motor attached above every pen The feeder puts the duck between his/her legs, one hand opens the ducks mouth and the other hand feels the ducks throat to ensure it is empty,. He/she then inserts the funnel into the ducks mouth. The tube is gently moved down to the ducks crop. Then feed is put into the funnel activating a motor moving the food down the tube and into the ducks crop. After the feed is gone the duck is taken to the water trough. Overfeeding the bird could result in stress in the duck, and would require it to be discontinued from the feeing process.

By the second day, the ducks should be used to the feeding procedure, and its feeding is increased to three times a day. During the first two weeks, the ducks are developing body fat. The liver also is getting white from the corn, but has not yet expanded. The growth of foie gras does not take place until around the seventeenth day. As it expands it becomes beige, but loses air due to a hole in the liver. The grading factor decides how it is to be fed from this point on. For grade A foie gras the farmer must continuously feed the ducks until it is time for them to be process. For B grade foie gras, you want the liver to be softer, so you don’t feel them the day before they are set to be slaughtered.

Once at the processing plant, the ducks are killed, bled and cleaned. The liver cannot be removed immediately afterwards. It is too soft to be removed, so in the mean time the carcass is chilled overnight. The following day the bird is USDA inspected for wholesomeness. Then the liver is removed, weighed, graded and then placed on ice. The rest of the duck is separated and packaged. The feathers are shipped to pillow manufacturers, and the tongues and feet sent to Chinese markets. It takes one to three days for this foie gras to be sent out after it is taken from the carcass.

The first issue with producing foie gras is that many people including the animal rights activists consider it inhumane the way they feed the ducks. Farmers would say otherwise. Foie gras consists of a small part of the United States poultry industry. Unlike many luxury goods that the animal right people fight against like furs, which the animal it came from is more or less unused, the entire duck is utilized. As I stated earlier, the feathers are used for pillows, the legs and wings are used for confits, the fat is used as a cooking medium, carcasses for stocks, and tongues sold to Asian markets. As for the inhumanity during the feeding, the method is not at all harmful or fatal to the duck. These birds do in fact overeat before going on long flights to amass energy. Also, a ducks throat is not the same as humans. It is designed to accommodate large pieces of food, meaning the tube going down their throat cause no discomfort.

As much as one must think, foie gras does not have an adverse affect on ones health. It is not consumed enough to have any effect on a persons health. Nutritionists say that all negative affects by the saturated fat contained in foie gras are counteracted by Oleic acid, which is found in the Mediterranean diet. In France during the 10’s, there was a diet developed that consisted of just eating foie gras, cheese and drinking wine called the “Montignac Diet (Foie Gras a Passion 85)”. Foie gras contains Vitamin A, and enough iron to meat one third of the daily requirements for a woman and half for a man.

Due to the high perish ability of foie gras, you will not find it readily available at retail outlets outside the US. Foie gras is sold in individual vacuum packages. Livers should be kept in these packages until used. Fresh foie gras will last about two weeks inside its vacuum package. Once removed it should be used immediately or wrapped in plastic wrap and used within two days since it oxidizes coming in contact with air. The ideal temperature of foie gras in the refrigerator is around degrees. If it is to be frozen, it can last up to a year. Frozen foie gras should only be used for sauces, and mousses, because the freezing dehydrates the liver, losing its creamy properties. The weight loss on foie gras is usually around 15 to 0 percent, whereas goose liver it is 5-40 percent.

To clean foie gras, it first after removing it from the packaging, it must be rinsed and patted dry. A traditional French method would be to soak the liver in salted milk for several days. This supposedly helps draw out blood left inside the veins of the liver. The liver of the duck contains two lobes. A bile sack is also located around. It should be removed or it will give the foie gras a bitter taste. Blood or green spots should be removed as well. Whether you removed the full outer membrane is the chefs choice. It does, however, help the foie gras maintain its shape..

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