Food: Chewing the fat

Simon Hopkinson's step-by-step guide to fresh foie gras terrine
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Something controversial this week: foie gras. I felt nudged into talking about it after last week's chicken terrine recipe, although the only real similarity between the two is the layering and pressing of meat. I experienced a fleeting lapse of taste, thinking that a stratum of melting and rich foie gras might have added a further dimension to the simple notion of just chicken.

But I would have been wrong. The chicken needed nothing more than its hint of lemon, garlic and basil to lift it; the addition of foie gras would have turned it into another "restaurant pate".

The thing with foie gras - the only thing, really - is that it is downright in-your-face, slip-across-the-tongue, clog-those-arteries RICH. It does not let up, foie gras. Its fat, perfectly pink lumps of liver attend upon the palate like no other sybaritic food - save that of finest Beluga, but I find I can always eat more caviar than the liver thing.

Don't misunderstand this admission of an over-healthy greed for luxury foods. It's not flippant, it's just that I can only take deliciously small helpings of foie gras these days - smearings rather than slabs. The first time I was presented with it, as the initial dish of a six-course lunch, was at a one-star Michelin restaurant in Chartres, in 1981. Two rosy slabs had been hewn from a whole terrine which surely could not have been much smaller than a pale pink Patrick Cox shoe box. I ate it all, spread thickly on golden slices of toasted brioche. As I recall, the fourth course was carved duck breast with sauce ...

To enhance the taste of a simple - and I mean that in the purest sense, rather than in the constructional - terrine of foie gras, it needs to be marinated and seasoned by a few aromatic ingredients. Port, a good amontillado, and either Armagnac or Cognac provide the correct alcoholic bath for the liver. Many cooks find a warm spice mixture called quatre epices to be the ideal seasoner. This is easily made at home (I have never seen it for sale here, let alone in France) by grinding together peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg, and then stirring in powdered ginger; naturally, if you can find dried whole lumps of ginger, then grind this up with the other spices. Quantities will follow later.

I won't beat about the bush - foie gras is not easy to make at home. It's really quite difficult; I still find it tricky, even after making it on and off for around about 15 years, but it is worth having a go, and - once you have mastered the thing - is much cheaper than buying it ready-made, or eating it in a restaurant.

To assist in the making of this foie gras terrine, Jason the Camera and I have put together a series of step-by-step pics. The final frame includes lovely strips of black truffle within the terrine. These will make the foie gras taste particularly good, and are a classic addition if you have some to hand.

"Where am I supposed to get my fresh foie gras in the first place, let alone black truffles?" I hear you ask. Princesse d'Isenbourg et cie, is the answer. This reputable firm, operating out of west London, can provide you, mail order, with fresh foie gras, black (and white) truffles in season, Iranian caviar, dried mushrooms and the finest saffron - among other de luxe sundries for your delectation. For details, call 0181-960 3600. Now then, let's get at that big liver.

Fresh foie gras terrine, serves 8, perfectly

The wizard wheeze for making your very own fatty liver parcel of joy is to use an individual take-away carton. Naturally, this should be an unused, pristine carton, not one that has been scraped of its fragmentary smears of sweet-and-sour prawn balls, chicken and cashews or anonymous curried matter. First, you must make the quatre epices:

125g white peppercorns

10g cloves

30g ground (or whole dried) ginger

35g whole nutmeg (crush slightly before grinding)

The best machine to use is a small coffee grinder. Once you have ground the spices as far as you think fit, tip into a sieve and sift over a sheet of grease-proof paper. Tip into a screw-top jar and label it (it is surprising how quickly one can forget what was put in a jar).

1 x 650-750g fresh foie gras (it will arrive vacuum-packed); try to keep within the weight parameters as these are right for the carton size

2 tsp Maldon sea salt

1 rounded tsp caster sugar

1 rounded tsp quatre epices

2 tbsp port

1 tbsp medium sherry

1 scant tbsp Cognac or Armagnac

First of all, remove the liver from its vacuum packet. Slip into a bowl of cold water and, using your fingers, gently massage the liver clean of juices that have collected in the packet. Carefully ease the two lobes apart (one is much bigger than the other), rinse in between them, and then lift out and chuck away the water. Fill the bowl with clean water and re-immerse the liver. Sprinkle in a little salt and leave the liver to soften up for about 1-112 hours, at kitchen temperature.

Drain once more, and pat dry thoroughly with kitchen paper. In between the two lobes, you will see a distinct fatty nerve that holds the lobes together. Cut through this with a small sharp knife to separate them (you will need this knife throughout the preparation). Place the large lobe on to a chopping board and turn it over, smooth side down.

Now it's time to remove the veins. This is the bit that's a bit of a bitch. First of all, remove a uniform lump of liver from the middle of the lobe - you can just pull this away and put on one side. Then, using the back of the small knife (otherwise you will cut the veins, rather than lift them away), start to work the soft flesh of the liver away from the centre of the lobe. You will begin to see a network of pinky-red veins, heralded by one large one that you can hold between two fingers. Having grabbed this, continue to cut back the flesh so the veins reveal themselves, rather like the Nile delta.

Once you cannot see any more veins, gently lift the network away, by lightly tugging and easing away with the knife. When these veins have been removed, there are more. Up at the top, narrower end of the liver, you will find another prominent beginning to a network of veins (it is well worth doing this, I promise you). Once again, seize the beginning of the vein and proceed as you did before. This network, in fact, travels underneath the ones you have just removed. Finally, check around for any stray ones you may have missed.

You may be shocked by how the lobe looks now, but worry not, as it all melts back together later on in the process. Carefully place on a shallow tray and simply put any stray lumps of liver on top, including the first lump that you put on one side. Take the other smaller lobe now, and treat it in exactly the same way as the larger one; the network of veins lie in similar distribution here, too. Put this one on the tray with the larger lobe.

When the two lobes are displayed, gashes prominent, upon the tray, sprinkle with about half of the given amount of seasoning (if you wish to insert slices of black truffle, do so now). Close up the flaps of cut-away liver, enclosing the seasoning within, and try to reform the original shape to the lobes.

Place the livers, smooth-side up this time, into a deep-ish porcelain oval dish, or similar, that will take them snugly. Spoon over the alcohols, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining seasoning. Cover with clingfilm and put into the fridge to marinate for at least 12 hours and as much as 24, turning once half-way through.

Pre-heat the oven to around 100C-125C - or equivalent. Allow the livers to come up to room temperature - for about 1 hour, until they feel soft. Loosely cover with foil and put into the oven for 45-55 minutes, checking the internal temperature from time to time, using your finger: it should only be warm, not hot, and the livers will have an almost jelly-like consistency. Do not be alarmed at the amount of deep yellow fat that has accumulated, this you cannot help. Remove from the oven and have two portion-size, foil take-away cartons handy (available from supermarkets).

Allow the foie gras to cool for half an hour in its dish. I know it looks a bit odd now - sort of flobbery - but be brave. When cool enough to handle, lift out first the smaller lobe, using a fish-slice and your hand, and slip it into the foil carton. Then take the larger one and flop it on top of the other with the best-looking, smooth side uppermost. Tuck and jiggle it around, so the surface looks nice and neat. Do not worry that it may be slightly proud from the rim of the carton; this is the idea. Place the lid on to the carton, silvered side against the liver, and clamp around the edges, but not the corners. Do not discard the fat and juices from the cooking dish.

Now put the empty carton into another dish, upside down, and then deftly place the carton containing the foie gras, upside down, on to the empty carton. The action of this, will, under its own weight, press the livers together. Leave like this, the juices and excess fat dripping out of each corner of the carton, for at least 1 hour. Then, without budging the thing, place in the fridge for 4 hours. Scrape the liver's cooking fat and juices from the dish and place in a small pan.

Remove the liver from the fridge and revert. Chuck out the empty carton and add the fat and juices that have collected in the bottom of the dish, to the small pan. Put this on to warm through; the fat will rise to the top. Set aside. Remove the lid from the foie gras and spoon enough of the fat over the surface to seal and cover. Place in the fridge like this for 30 minutes until the fat hardens, then wrap in clingfilm and put back into the fridge. I like to leave it there for at least 2 days before eating. It will keep, well-covered, for about 10 days.

To serve, cut around the edge of the fat (it may crack a little, but you are not going to serve the fat - at least, I don't), and tip out the terrine by pulling away the sides of the carton (another very good reason for using a disposable vessel). Dip a sharp knife into hot water and slice the foie gras thick. Serve with thin, hot, crust-less toast

Caption: That's rich (from left): first, find your lobes of foie gras and, after rinsing, ease apart; next, it's time to remove the veins, using the back of the knife, otherwise you will cut them; place in a bowl, sprinkle with seasoning and alcohols (having inserted black truffle, if you wish to do so); slip the previously heated flobbery foie gras into a foil carton and deftly place on top of another empty carton, this will press the livers together; to serve, dip a sharp knife into hot water, slice the foie gras thick to eat on thin crustless toast. Enjoy

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