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.

26 thoughts on “Terrine de foie gras (Fat Duck Liver Terrine) with Armagnac

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, A_Boleyn. It does require patience, but the work is minimal really (deveining, but here it’s often sold deveined too).

  1. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    ooh, I’m in love with your plate Sissi! just beautiful and right up my alley. Such a great contrast too to your lovely terrine de foie gras. I love that you made your own pâté — I have often wanted to do so and have played around with a few lentil versions (not nearly as tasty as animal fat though :D), I have been meaning to revisit with refinements. My husband would simply adore this recipe! p.s. great photo — beautiful elements, textures and contrasting colors.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Kelly. Thank you so much for so many compliments! You have put such a big smile on my face! I was so worried it wouldn’t look appetising… though it does smell and taste heavenly… It’s really very easy to prepare, the only messy and/or difficult part being the veins removal.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Katerina! I wish I could serve you a slice. I fell in love with foie gras from the first bite, but I know many people outside of France dislike it.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Nipponnin. You are so kind… Thank you for the compliments! In France many people make foie gras terrine at home (though the majority buys the supermarket jars or a piece of it from the butcher’s). (I am glad you like the plate! It’s a present from my generous Japanese friend; it’s made by a Japanese designer and I love it… I have two similar plates, but each is unique in a way).

  2. Shu Han

    A very beautiful dish Sissi! One that is perfect for entertaining! And really hats off for all the care you’ve put into preparing this. I do like foie gras, though have been somewhat put off it by a video my friend showed me of the poor geese being force fed. I guess the tricky bit is finding a good source for this!

    oh and happy holidays Sissi, one of my oldest blog friends! 🙂 I’ll likely be trying to stay away from the computer for the next week or so, so I’ll look forward to more from you in the new year! xx

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Shu Han. It’s not really difficult… does take time, but not much effort. As a regular organic and free-range food eater, I must confess I couldn’t stop eating foie gras… I do try to find the liver with free-range label, but force-feeding is inevitable. Happy Holidays to you too!!!!! I’m also looking forward to reading about your New Year’s adventures!

  3. Mr. Three-Cookies

    Sounds complex. One day, when I have acquired sufficient cooking knowledge and savings, I will definitely try this:) What concerns me most is the deveining process, and the 4 day waiting time. The only ones I am familiar with are the good quality ones packed in a jar. Was delicious, but I am guessing its a few notches below this good home made one.

    1. Sissi Post author

      It’s really not that complex… Does take time and requires following some steps, but it’s not difficult. As I have mentioned, in France deveined livers are easily available, so it’s even easier this way. If you ever taste a homemade terrine, you’ll never want the one in a jar 🙂

  4. mjskit

    I am so impressed Sissi!! This terrine is absolutely awesome! I’m looking at the photo and the texture of your terrine and, what kind I say, it’s perfect. foie gras is something that I have never worked with so I’m always amazed when people can make such things of beauty. I’ve got to get you over here to make me one of these. 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, MJ, for all the compliments. It does look much more impressive than it merits 😉 I’m packing my luggage then!

  5. Charles

    Ah, such a gorgeous thing! This is very “French” for me – I would see it so often there. I think the chance of finding a fatty duck liver here is minimal at BEST so I can but look and dream but I’m glad to hear it’s not so hard to make.

    Actually one of the things I wanted to make – which I guess I actually can here – is paté, or terrine, or anything like that. They looked so nice in the charcuterie all the time, in the big dishes with the jelly and I would love to make them.

    Well done on a successful terrine de foie gras Sissi – it looks absolutely wonderful. By the way, perhaps you could tell me – what is the difference between this and something like a “mousse de canard”. Is one whipped, or…? They look quite similar to me, but then I’m far from an expert.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Charles. It’s very easy, but many people are afraid and keep on buying the jars with are not as good and moreover, more expensive. Actually making a proper french pâté is much more complicated!
      Mousse de canard contains very small amounts of duck liver actually… The majority is fat and chicken livers and a small amount of duck livers. This is why it’s so cheap in comparison (but if it’s well made, it’s addictive and I prefer it from a foie gras in a jar or can!). Some butchers make excellent mousse de canard…

  6. Eva Taylor

    Fois Gras is definitely my guilty pleasure. I’ll never forget the first time I had it in Montreal several years ago, it was during a tasting menu and the chef made it into a mousse. My first spoonful I was hooked! It actually transported me to another time and place. I still keep it on my ‘to do’ list.
    Fois Gras is quite controversial here, some US states have even made it illegal to sell and serve. Illinois recently reversed its decision and now you can sell and serve it.
    It is my understanding that the Hungarians are a major supplier of Fois Gras to the French and I believe there was a time that the transport trucks were hijacked and their goods were stolen on a regular basis!

      1. Sissi Post author

        Thank you so much for this kind message, Eva. I hope you have spent wonderful Christmas and also wish you Happy New Year!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Eva. This is a perfect description of how I see it too 😉 I have heard there are many restaurants in Quebec with delicious foie gras dishes.
      Hungarians produce goose liver (I have seen only goose liver in Budapest shops) rather than duck liver which is the huge majority of fat liver consumed in France. But maybe they produce duck livers for exportation only? Personally I have never seen raw duck liver from outside of France, but I know that foreign livers are used in industrial canned foie gras which mention only the EU as origins I think.

  7. jo

    Delighted to find such a down-to-earth recipe for preparing foie gras from scratch. After over a decade here I haven’t plucked up the courage( or found a sensible recipe) but I think I’m going to give your’s a go when the foie gras season really kicks in before Christmas. I’ve been a bit scared about giving my guests food poisoning by not doing it properly but you’ve ‘de-mystified’ the process!!

    PS I arrived on your site after ‘Googling’ a recipe for refrigerator cake using speculoos biscuits, having given up on trying to find digestives (graham crackers?) which I used to use in the UK. So, thanks for that as well! Congratulations on a great site!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Jo. Thank you so much for such a kind comment and for all the compliments. Foie gras is really very easy… and every time I panic because I think it has spent too much time in the oven or not enough or too much fat has been released… finally it’s always delicious. Maybe not as perfect as in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but definitely better than bought from butcher’s (not to mention the canned version which is always inferior to fresh one made at home). Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or doubts (I always worry I don’t explain things clearly).
      You should try it once at least before serving it to guests so that you find your own seasoning and alcohol preferences… and it’ll be a good excuse to enjoy it more often. I hope you will like the speculoos version too. Thank you once more for such a nice comment and for your visit.

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