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Foie gras

The liver from a goose or duck after the bird has been especially fattened by force-feeding to enlarge this organ. The phrase literally means "fat liver" in French. Ducks have only been utilised in France since about 1970, and are much easier to rear - and produce a faster profitable return (they now account for about 90% of French output).

The technique was developed by the ancient Egyptians and carried forward by the Greeks and Romans. The process of fattening the birds is called "le gavage" in France, and the heart of production there, is in the Perigord area of South-West France and Alsace in Eastern France (France produces around 660 tons a year, but consumes three times as much). Although Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel, Slovakia and Luxemburg also produce good foie gras. Traditionally, foie gras was only available in France during the winter months, after the birds had been fed maize left over from the autumn harvest.

The Goose being a larger bird produces a bigger liver, but the duck product is excellent (although more delicate and with a tendency to disintegrate when cooked, unless great care is taken).

There are certain moral issues raised over the methods used to achieve livers may times their natural size (a goose liver can weigh over 4 lb (2 kilos). A funnel is poked down a bird"s throat, through which it is force-feed corn mash three times a day. During its life, it will be forced to eat over 70 lbs of food in this way. Factory techniques account for about 80% of foie gras production - whereby birds are kept in cages, and force-fed by pneumatic pumps that inject as much as half a kilo of maize and fat in seconds, several times a day.

The various types are -

Goose foie gras: the original, and most expensive. The lobes are bigger than those from a duck (although the difference isn"t as much as you might expect. Less rustic and more delicate in flavour than the duck variety.

Duck foie gras: more easily available than goose, and considerably cheaper - gourmets consider it inferior, but although goose foie gras is creamier, this is very good if morals allow!

Raw foie gras: these are raw lobes, generally found vacuum-packed; if preparing at home, they need careful "cleaning" to remove any internal sinews, without destroying the overall shape of the lobes. A little firming in the deep-freeze makes this operation easier.

Cooked foie gras; (called mi-cuit, or cuit in France): this is found in jars, tins and sometimes vacuum-packed.

Paté de foie gras: this must contain a minimum of 50% foie gras, but might be surrounded by forcemeat, and encased in pastry.

Mousse/purée de foie gras: this must contain a minimum of 50% foie gras.

Foie gras is at its best flash fried, or turned into an unctuous terrine. See Gourmet Britain Recipe section.

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