Category Archives: French

Foie Gras (Fat Liver) with Sake and Chilli

foiegras_sake2pNo matter if we have guests or not, fat liver (foie gras) terrine is the only item I cannot imagine my Christmas without. Undisciplined and messy cook that I am, I never manage it to look as good as I’d like,  the shape is never neat and, in general, it’s far from being perfect. I’m sure professional chefs would consider it unacceptable, but I love my homemade terrine and never even think of buying it already cooked. Now is the best moment to plan a trip to a good duck liver supplier, so I thought I’d share with you my most recent seasoning variation, successfully tested and planned for this Christmas too.

Probably because foie gras is expensive, most people (also in France) think it’s very difficult to prepare a terrine, i.e. seasoned half cooked whole liver. There are different methods, such as poaching it rolled into a piece of fabric or cling film, but I’ve always practiced the most popular one among home cooks: hot water bath baking in a rectangular terrine dish. Seasoning options are endless, though most cooks use only salt or some dry spices and/or aromatic alcohols. The first time I made it I was surprised how easy it was, though I had been scared to spoil the whole liver. It doesn’t require any skills (apart from a bit of patience if you have to remove the veins, but nowadays the liver is often sold deveined) and most of the process consists in… waiting, since you need to prepare it several days in advance.

Apart from those who love cooking and experimenting, people often decide to make this terrine at home because the price is about three times lower (and it’s still costly!), so if you have access to the raw or good quality but frozen liver, do not hesitate (I have no experience with goose liver, so I cannot give any advise on it). Disciplined, meticulous cooks will obtain a beautiful visual result even the first time, but since I’m clumsy and don’t care for the visual improvement that much, I only pay attention to the flavours; good taste is all that counts and it’s very simple to achieve.

I like experimenting with new flavours, but since I’m never sure of the results, I always do it with only a half of my liver (or just one, if I buy two). Last year I prepared half with “safe” Armagnac (see below) and half with a slightly risky mixture of sake and powdered chilli, which reminded me a bit of Korean cuisine. The result was moderately spicy and the delicate sake aroma was still recognisable, so this year I’ll repeat this version, but I have already planned a new experiment for the other half of my liver….

If you prefer a more traditional version of foie gras, you might like the Armagnac seasoning:

foie_gras_a

TIPS: 

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones. Try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course, the fresher it is, the better and even famous French chefs recommend frozen product if one is not sure about the raw liver’s freshness because livers are normally frozen the same day the animals were slaughtered. Obviously, it’s better to buy liver from a local producer and if it’s imported, but some countries don’t have the same level of hygiene/quality/medicine use regulations (or simply don’t respect theirs). The difference in taste will be huge. I always try to look for free-range birds, which are force-fed only during last weeks of their lives.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All my tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

The terrine must spend 48 hours in the fridge before being served. This is obligatory: I once tasted foie gras about 12 hours after cooking and it was awful. I already thought I had spoilt it, but it was just too early to eat it…. Both the texture and the taste really improve with time.

Since it’s a half-cooked product, you should eat it in four-five days after you cook it. If you see you won’t be able to finish it, freeze the remaining part whole or in small portions.

Remember, even if you forget a step, even if you overcook your liver or you make any other mistake, don’t despair. It might prove totally edible! You will be able to learn it only after 48 hours in the fridge. I once forgot mine in the oven and was surprised it was actually quite good.

How to serve it? 

Foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. For me the simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as damson jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast/brunch is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, actually prefer it with red wine).

If you don’t like the shape of your cooked terrine or if it falls into pieces, serve it on small toasts as canapés.

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should be ok too)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but it’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver, weighing max. 500g (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons sake (I have used here really cheap sake I use for Japanese cooking – though not the sweet mirin! – and it was perfect)

5 flat tablespoons (or more) powdered medium hot chilli (I have used here Kashmiri chilli) or sweet paprika, if you prefer it mild

3 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce (you can add 5 if you use low-sodium version)

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (10 g/about 2 teaspoons per kilo, since there is also soy sauce)

(some more medium hot or sweet chilli powder to sprinkle just before serving)

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, chilli, soy sauce and half of the sake (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

You may sprinkle it with some more chilli powder just before serving.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Grilled Razor Clams with Garlic and Parsley

couteauxpI love razor clams for their delicate taste, still recognisable in the presence of strong seasoning, and, most of all, for their texture: soft, but slightly al dente. For years, imagining they were tricky to prepare and/or clean, I was too scared to buy them and ruin the whole big bunch (they are sold in bunches here). Last weekend I finally dared cooking them for the first time and… they turned out to be the best razor clams of my life! I still cannot believe such a simple process yields such outstanding results. You can easily serve them as a starter, as a light main course with a salad or simply have them as a gourmet snack (which begs for a glass of chilled rosé!).

For this first experience with razor clams I didn’t use any particular recipe. I simply chose the most popular French way to serve this shellfish, i.e. grilled with a mixture of parsley, garlic and butter. Some recipes also add some breadcrumbs for an additional crunch, but I chose to skip them this time. There is also a choice between seasoning the clams before the grilling process and after. I preferred to add parsley butter before. As much as I didn’t search a precise recipe, I did look well for best ways to clean the clams. Luckily salt water soaking was cited everywhere as the best way to get rid of sand (the laziest seafood cleaning method I can imagine).

TIPS: You can use only olive oil in the parsley mixture and skip the butter.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking

Ingredients (serves two as a main course or four as a starter):

500 – 600 g razor clams

several tablespoons salt

extra virgin olive oil

(freshly ground pepper)

Parsley and garlic butter:

2 tablespoons softened butter

about two handfuls of roughly chopped parsley leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Place the razor clams into a big bowl filled with cold salted water (count at least two tablespoons per litre) and leave them for one hour. This way they will get rid of their sand (hopefully!).

In the meantime prepare the parsley butter, mixing the garlic, the butter, the salt and the parsley leaves in a food processor.

Wash the razor clams in cold water and rinse well.

Place them in an empty pan at medium heat and warm until all of them open up (you can put a lid to accelerate the process, but usually it takes about 3 minutes).

Do this in several batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. (Don’t worry if some of them fall completely out of their shells, you will put them back into their homes afterwards).

Remove the upper shell’s part (it’s not necessary, but this part is completely useless and takes space on a baking tray). Place the open razor clams in a baking dish/tray on their shell’s lower part and brush with garlicky butter.

Heat the oven grill/broiler and grill them until the garlic bits start becoming golden (this should take about ten minutes). Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown too much; it will become bitter.

You can also grill them in a normal grill and spread the garlic butter juste before serving.

Sprinkle them with olive oil while they are still hot and serve them simply with good quality bread or baguette (you can also season them with ground pepper).

 

Terrine de foie gras (Fat Duck Liver Terrine) with Armagnac

foie_gras_aFat duck liver terrine was love at first bite. The first time I tasted it I was lucky to discover a superior product made by a friend’s uncle, duck farmer. Afterwards, having tasted inferior copies even in decent-looking restaurants, I started to assume it was extremely difficult to prepare. This was before I made it on my own and realised that the aesthetic side wasn’t easy to achieve for a me at least (as you can see above…), but even the clumsiest home terrine often tasted much better than some excellent-looking, but undeniably low-quality specimens served by professional chefs, not to mention supermarket-bought jars.

Fat liver production dates as far back as Ancient Rome, when birds were fed figs, and the method was so widely practised that the latin “ficum” is a root word for French “foie” or Italian “fegato” (both meaning “liver”). Until now figs or fig jam are considered good company for fat duck liver. Even though goose fat liver is also popular in some countries (such as Hungary), in France the duck liver prevails and it’s even difficult to find a goose liver, raw or transformed.

Fat liver can be prepared in many ways, the most famous two being very simple, quickly fried hot “steaks” and more elaborate and complex “terrine”, usually (though not always) cooked in hot water bath, and served cold and definitely my favourite. The terrine is not difficult to make, but it takes several days, so if one wants to follow the French trend and serve it for Christmas, it should be bought at least four days before being served.

Most people don’t dare preparing fat liver at home. I was also afraid of experimenting with such an expensive product, but, encouraged by my mother-in-law whose terrines were always fabulous, I made it one day and was genuinely surprised it was actually good. As I have mentioned above, excellent visual results are difficult to obtain (at least for some cooks…), but, even though it takes time and requires patience, a good-tasting terrine is not difficult to prepare.

The only difficult part in the preparation is deveining, though many butchers sell it already deveined. The liver has big and small veins and the more of these are removed, the better. The trick is to find the right compromise between removing as many veins as possible and not tearing the liver apart in hundred pieces.

Fat liver terrine recipes are galore and mine is loosely based on mixed sources, such as my mother-in-law’s advice or tips from internet and cookery books. Different spices and/or aromatic alcohols or even fruits/vegetables can be used (I have had fantastic terrine with artichoke for example!), but even made with simple tawny port terrine is really good and even salt and pepper are sufficient, as long as the raw product’s quality is good.

TIPS:

If you buy fat liver for the first time, the most important thing is the weight. The heavier the liver is the worst the quality. A good duck fat liver should weigh between 400 and 500 grams. If it’s a bit heavier, it’s not important, but never buy the huge 700 g ones! (I have seen such livers too). Then try to buy the product which is not too soft (delicately pressed it should “bounce” slightly but definitely not leave traces) and not bruised. Of course the fresher it is the better and good French chefs recommend even frozen product if we are not sure about the liver’s freshness.

Some friends have already asked me, so I prefer to warn you : I have never cooked goose liver, which is bigger, has a different texture and taste, so I have no idea how to prepare it. All the tips and advice concern fat duck liver.

What to serve it with? As I have mentioned above, foie gras is often served with fig jam and also with sweet onion jam or fruit chutneys. The simplest and often the best way to enjoy it without hiding its delicate flavours is to serve it with good quality sea salt and crunchy “airy” French-style bread. This is the way I prefer it but I also like it sometimes with tangy jams (such as violet plum jam).

Foie gras is usually served as a starter, on individual plates in slices (which should never ever be squashed and spread on the bread like a vulgar supermarket pâté!), together with toasts, but it also makes wonderful finger food when served on mini toasts. Good quality – flaked or grainy – salt sprinkled over a piece of the terrine or a toast is the ultimate touch.

Every meal and every time of the day is perfect for foie gars. A late Sunday breakfast is one of my favourite moments to enjoy it…

Traditionally sweetish sauternes wines are advised with fat liver, but I have it only with dry wines. (Don’t be ashamed to try it with red wine! Many people living in south-western France, famous for its fat duck livers, prefer it with red wine).

Special equipment:

good tweezers (the best would be special fish bones removal tweezers, but good eyebrow tweezers should do)

a “terrine”/pâté dish (with a cover and, ideally with a fitting lid, but tit’s not obligatory)

a cooking thermometer (this is not obligatory, but makes the cooking time control much easier)

Preparation: about 4 days (2,5 hours + 24 hours in the fridge + 30-40 minutes cooking+minimum 48 hours in the fridge before serving)

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8):

1 whole duck liver (see the tips above)

10 tablespoons armagnac or another aromatic alcohol of your choice (e.g. port), but alcohol is not necessary really

about 1/2 litre water

about 1/2 litre milk

salt (15 g/about 3 teaspoons per kilo)

ground pepper

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Let it warm up to the room temperature.

Divide the two lobes and carefully take out first of all the main veins and as many small ones as you manage.

Put it into tepid mixture of water and milk for 2 hours.

Take it out, pat dry. Put the first part of the liver in the terrine dish.

Season with salt, pepper and half of the Armagnac (if your terrine is small but tall, you might have to divide the seasoning into three portions and make three layers of the liver; in this case start with a third of all those).

Put the second part, season once more (if you have three layers, place a third layer and season once more) and slightly press.

Cover the dish (otherwise it will change its colours to gray!) and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven at 130°C/266°F.

Take the liver out of the fridge.

Put some hot water (80°C/176°F) in a big shallow dish, put the dish with the liver (make sure it’s at room temperature) inside, so that the water covers 3/4 of the dish’s height.

Cook in the oven for around 40 minutes, checking the central temperature of the liver.

It shouldn’t have more than 65°C-70°C/about 149°F-158°F inside in the centre, while being taken out of the oven (depending on how pink you want it to be inside).

Take it out and let it cool.

Discard most of the fat formed at the top of the terrine.

Press it slightly (or press with something heavy, such as a wooden board; the best thing is to have a special terrine dish with a special adjusted board).

(You can also reserve the fat discarded from the terrine, press the terrine with a board, leave in the fridge for 12 hours and then and pour the fat back on top. This will create a nice yellowish layer on top. I never bother doing this.)

Put into the fridge for at least 48 hours (this half-cooked terrine should be consumed within four-five days after being cooked).

Keep in covered (otherwise it will dry and the colour will change to gray).

Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Serve it either in individual slices with bread/toast aside or as finger food on small toast.

Dipping the knife in hot water makes the cutting easier.

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle Mushrooms and Goat Cheese

chant_filoppEvery year, when I see first chanterelles on the market, I am looking forward to baking my chanterelle and goat cheese tart, the most delicious way I can imagine to prepare this wonderful mushroom. This year however, as a follow up of my recent filo experiments, I decided to fill these Greek pastry sheets with the mixture I usually put into the tart/tartlets, thus creating a lighter and slightly quicker way to enjoy my beloved chanterelle and goat cheese combination.

For those who don’t know chanterelle (Cantarellus Cibarius), it’s an orange/yellow trumpet-shaped wild mushroom with a delicate aroma and taste. Chanterelle picking it is a very rewarding activity, since this mushroom is well visible thanks to its bright colour; moreover, it tends to grow in groups. I haven’t picked mushrooms for ages, but luckily, when season comes, certain varieties, such as chanterelles, are abundant here on markets and even in supermarkets. In spite of its delicate flavours, chanterelle pairs perfectly with goat cheese and fresh marjoram, so I encourage all those who can buy it to try this surprisingly good mixture of flavours. Thin, flaky filo/phyllo pastry sheets are a perfect light and neutral company for this delicious filling. 

TIPS: If you cannot get chanterelle, try replacing it with any other wild mushroom as long as it has a delicate taste and keeps firm after being cooked (I wouldn’t use here the farmed button mushroom/crimini, or whatever it’s called in your country).

I prefer to use here only fresh goat cheese or half fresh cheese and half ripening cheese. If you use only ripening goat cheese, the result will be very rich, fattier and much heavier, but of course it’s up to you (a Greek goat cheese, which has a feta consistency, is also a good option, though it’s very salty, so adjust the salt added to the mushrooms accordingly or maybe combine it with another, less salty cheese).

Fresh marjoram can be replaced with fresh oregano or fresh thyme, but if you cannot get either, do not add dried herbs because they are slightly bitter and will completely spoil this unique combination. 

Preparation: about one hour

Ingredients (yields 5 filo rolls):

5 filo/phyllo sheets

200 g fresh chanterelle mushrooms (cleaned)

150 g fresh goat cheese or a mixture of fresh cheese and ripening cheese

3 tablespoons cream or Greek yogurt

1 shallot or small onion, chopped

fresh marjoram or oregano or thyme (leaves only)

salt, pepper

1 tablespoon butter

Heat the oven at 190°C.

Wash the chanterelles and cut the bigger ones into pieces.

Heat some oil in a pan and at low heat fry the shallot.

When it softens a bit, add the chanterelles and fry at medium heat until they lose their juices.

Add salt, pepper, marjoram leaves and combine with goat cheese (crumbled if it’s hard) and with cream/yogurt.

Divide into 5 equal portions and roll into individual filo sheets.

Brush every sheet with melted butter and bake until golden (about 10 minutes).

Thin Strawberry Tartlets (Tartelettes Fines aux Fraises) with Vanilla Pastry Cream

tartefraiseppA cute colourful mini-tart with delicate buttery crust is what comes first to my mind when I think of the magical world of French pastry. I have always particularly appreciated its typical thin crust and its version called “tarte fine” – with extremely thin, completely flat base – leaves even a greater space for the ripe fruits’ fragrance and flavours, especially when enhanced with light vanilla cream. 

Strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream is quite popular and many pastry shops sell it in season. Whether you prepare a standard tart with crust also the sides or this light “tarte fine”, the recipe is not complicated, but it does take time. The secret of the best result lies in the perfect crème pâtissière, or pastry cream (often called simply “custard”), with a real vanilla pod, the 100% butter-based thinly rolled out pastry sheet and, of course, in the highest fruit quality. The pastry cream is inspired by the recipe I have found in “Plaisirs sucrés” by Pierre Hermé, a famous confectioner whose macarons’ discovery was one of the most unforgettable moments in my life. Even though this is the best and lightest pastry cream I have ever tasted, I have slightly modified it after the first test (mostly cutting down the sugar amount). The same recipe can be adapted of course to a big tart, but I usually prefer individual portions.

Here are some other strawberry sweet treats you might like:

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse with Chocolate Ganache

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Coconut and Strawberry Wobbly Cream with Agar

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Yogurt Strawberry Mousse

Strawberry Gratin

Strawberry Gratin

And see here what to do with leftover egg whites, though 99% of the time I prepare my Easy Moist Coconut Biscuits (Macaroons for US visitors):

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

Chewy Coconut Cookies (Macaroons)

TIPS: If you don’t feel like playing with sideless, very thin crust, you can of course make the same tartlets or tart with more popular crust, baking it in a tart/-let form. In this case, while baking the crust, put a piece of baking paper over each tartlet form filled with raw pastry and cover it with dried beans (to stop the bottom from rising).

Needless to say, you can make one big strawberry tart (tarte fine aux fraises) instead of individual portions.

You don’t need to decorate these tartlets with mint leaves, but I find a hint of mint fragrance fantastic with both strawberries and vanilla cream.

Special equipment :

a round pastry cutter and 6 small round ramekins of the same or slightly bigger diameter

Preparation: less than 2 hours

Ingredients (makes 6 x 10 cm diameter tartlets):

about 200 grams/about 7 oz thinly rolled out all-butter puff pastry (or home-made sweet butter pastry)

400 – 500 g/about 14-18 oz strawberries (preferably equally sized); the amount depends on the way you place them on the custard (you use less if you slice them and more if you place halves, for example)

Pastry cream/Custard:

500 ml/about 17 fl oz milk

5 flat tablespoons corn starch

4 heaped tablespoons caster sugar (or more if you like very sweet desserts)

1 vanilla pod

4 egg yolks

50 g/about 1,8 oz butter (can be omitted, but the taste will be simply worse)

(fresh mint leaves for decoration)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).

Cut out the circles. Put them on the baking paper. Cover with another layer of baking paper and block from rising, blocking them with round ramekins with a similar diameter.

Bake until golden (check often because they burn quickly).

Put aside to cool down.

In the meantime prepare the pastry cream.

Bring to boil 400 ml/about 13,5 oz milk with the vanilla pod cut in two lengthwise.

Put aside and let it cool down.

Scrape off the two vanilla pieces so that the small vanilla grains stay in the milk.

Combine the yolks, the sugar, the corn starch and the remaining cold milk.

Strain the warm vanilla milk, constantly stirring, into the yolks mixture.

Discard the vanilla pods (wash them, dry them and put into a confectioner’s sugar jar: you’ll have vanilla scented sugar or you can also reuse them: they will yield hardly any grains, but will still give a slight vanilla aroma).

Put back the obtained mixture into the pan and, constantly stirring, bring to the boil.

Put aside when it thickens to a cream consistency.

If the cream is not smooth and you see lumps, mix it in a blender.

When the cream is no longer hot, but still very warm, combine it with butter.

Let it cool down in the fridge, covered with plastic film (otherwise a darker “skin” will form at the top).

Put a couple of tablespoons of the cream on each tart circle.

Cover with the strawberries (cut in halves, in four pieces, sliced or whole… whatever suits your strawberries shape and size).

Serve slightly chilled.

You can decorate the tartlets with fresh mint leaves.