Definitely something for this time of year, and one of the most unashamedly self-indulgent aspects of Christmas. In years gone by, when we generally spent Christmas on the windswept bleakness of the Larzac plateau, one fixed item in the seasonal timetable was a foray to the market in Millau to get - amongst many, many other things - a Foie Gras, to be prepared from scratch. Never forgotten, forgiven or excused sufficiently was the year when we had a stock on the go in the kitchen which was the rich result of the previous week's consumption of Duck, Goose, and Guineau Fowl, and the cooks decided that this would be a wonderful vehicle for poaching our splendid, succulent, and newly-purchased Foie Gras. So, into the simmering stock it went, and it poached, and it poached and it poached.........until no amount of fishing around in the stock could find anything solid at all, and eventually we had to conclude ruefully that we'd managed to poach it away to nothing. Much to general irritation amongst the waiting diners......The following year, a much more reliable strategy was adopted, and I remember feasting on the thing for days on end, washed down with glasses of Blanquette de Cassis.......Perfect!
This following treatment is unusual, and entirely foolproof. Originally, I got it from the Chef at the Café des Artistes in Key West - Andrew Berman - and have subsequently verified it against various sources in France. The method allows you to shape your Foie Gras into a size which will work perfectly for its intended use. Generally, I use a Foie Gras of around 800 grammes weight - but, as you'll see, the treatment isn't quantity-specific.
1. The first step is to remove unsightly and undesirable veins within the liver: Bring the foie gras completely to room temperature. If the liver is too cold, it will break rather than bend. Remove any coarse membrane or veins, but disturb the liver as little as possible. The coarsest veins lie between the two lobes and you can get at them by gently easing the two lobes apart. When the liver is at room temperature the lobes can be eased apart without breaking or damaging the structure.
The level of perfection required in this task is proportional to the event - there is no need to be over scrupulous unless you are in charge of a 5 * restaurant. A little bit of red within the foie gras is normal and acceptable at most tables.
In fact, you don't have to remove the veins any more than you do if you are frying a slice of cal'sf liver. You can leave them in place and if when you slice the foie gras you see anything that looks amiss - remove it before serving. If your knife is not razor sharp, the foie gras will slice like butter, but a tough vein will tend to pull out of the slice as you cut.
The problem with digging out the veins in advance is that it necessarily divides the liver into several separate pieces. If you were to cook the liver, as for a classic terrine, these pieces would be welded together again by the melted fat. But if the liver is salt-cured - as here - the pieces remain separate and the eventual slices are more likely to fall apart.
Also since the slices at both ends are the least attractive, I start by cutting the roll in half, and then slice portions starting from each cut face. The two ends are usually leftovers for another day.
2. Seasoning the liver before you re-form it: You can season your foie gras with a little pepper, or with anything you fancy. A few drops of Armagnac, for example, and any number of spices is also a possibility. My personal preference is for a plain approach, with perhaps just a few grindings of fresh pepper.
3. Reform the liver into a cylindrical shape. Roll it in a cling film and twist the free ends of the film tightly so that it forms a tight cylinder. You will be slicing the cylinder into serving portions, so the cylinder diameter will determine your portion size. Put it in the refrigerator to firm. About an hour, or until the liver is hard and will retain its shape.
4. Remove the cling film, then wrap the fois gras in a single layer of muslin before burying the cylinder in salt. If you have a long thin pate mould or a similar shaped bread tin, this works well. Place the container in the fridge.
5. For a 450gram liver formed into a 2-3" diameter cylinder, 24 hours in salt in the refrigerator followed by 24 hours more in the refrigerator after the salt has been removed salt should be enough. When you remove the salt, disgard the muslin and wrap the foie gras in clingfilm. Like this, the fois gras will keep a week in the 'fridge.
6. To serve, remove the clingilm. Keep cold and covered until needed. Slice and serve with toasted brioche. (For slicing, a thin knife dipped in hot water does the neatest job.) Alternatively, fry the slices to colour each side. It helps if the slices are very cold so you have time to colour the outside before the middle gets too hot and starts to melt.
At this stage, it would be normal to say 'Serve', or 'Enjoy'. With this kind of thing though, I think the appropriate exhortation has to be 'Luxuriate'!
*You can freeze the liver at this stage and it will keep well - most fats have a long shelf life if they are very cold and away from other smells. Eventually they all oxidise and taste 'off'. Defrost and serve as above.