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The Mensch Chef Mitchell Davis
by Mitchell Davis  
Whole-Roasted Foie Gras with Apple and Caramelized Onion

One of the most interesting things I learned while working on my last cookbook, Foie Gras…A Passion, is that much of the European, and especially French tradition of raising geese, fattening them, and cooking with the fat and the fattened liver comes from Ashkenazi culture. Jewish women in Medieval Europe would raise and fatten geese as a source of income. The rendered fat, gense schmaltz in Yiddish, would be used to cook just about everything, sweet and savory, almost as a substitute for lard. And the prized liver would be reserved for special occasions, such as the Passover seder. I take great pleasure in knowing that the historical antecedent of modern-day chopped liver was actually foie gras.

This recipe, though given to me by my friend Dano in upstate New York, actually has its roots in old Jewish cooking. It is similar to a classic recipe for "Goose Liver, Old Jewish Law" that appeared in the 1901 German cookbook Ausfuhrliches Kochbuch, and that had been made for a long time before that.

You will need a beautiful foie gras and some extra duck liver. (Although goose foie gras would be more historically accurate, it is not produced in this country.) Don't be nervous about cooking foie gras; nothing could be simpler than this dish, Although the original recipe called for cooking the apples with the liver, you can add them to the hot fat at the end of the cooking process so they remain tart and crisp, and are therefore better suited to cut through the richness of the liver. Serve it with a large loaf of challah or peasant bread, and encourage your guests to spread the liver on the bread along with the onions, apples, and fat. Though not quite a substitute for chopped liver, this dish is nevertheless a welcome addition to any holiday feast.

Yield: Makes 12 to 14 appetizer servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds (about 2 cups) rendered duck fat (available from www.hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com or www.dartagnan.com)
  • 3 large yellow onions (1 1/2 pounds), sliced thinly
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 whole Grade-A foie gras, about 1 1/2 pounds, cleaned of any visible surface imperfections (available from www.hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com or www.dartagnan.com)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large, sweet eating apples (1 pound), such as Golden Delicious, Mutsu, or Gala

Special Equipment:

  • Deep 10-inch baking dish

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, melt the duck fat. Add the sliced onion and cook until lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking an additional 2 or 3 minutes until soft. Transfer this mixture to a deep 10-inch baking dish. Meanwhile, season the whole foie gras with the salt and pepper. Bury the foie gras, smooth side up, in the onion and fat mixture so that it is more than half way covered with the fat. Set in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until the liver feels firm. It will have released some of its fat and shrunk somewhat, but it will still be more or less in tact.

While the liver is baking, peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut the quarters into slices. As soon as you remove the foie gras from the oven, place the apple slices in the hot fat surrounding the liver. Cool to room temperature in the baking dish on a wire rack. The foie gras should be served at room temperature or slightly warmed in the baking dish with plenty of challah. Guests should just dig in with a knife to get some liver, and spread it onto the bread with some of the apple, onion, and duck fat from the pan. Yum.

A Bissel Advice

So much fat? Well, first let me say that the people of Gascony, France's foie gras region, who consume more saturated fat than any population on the planet, and in the form of duck liver, no less, also happen to have the longest life expectancy. That's the French paradox. Shut up, pour yourself a glass of red wine, and enjoy.

Can I made a smaller amount? You can really only make one liver's worth of this dish because once you start cutting into the liver, it looses its fat more readily and tends to disintegrate when it is baked. Besides, this is a dish for special occasions only.

Kosher Status

Fleishig.

Mental Nosh

Foie gras is considered one of the most luxurious culinary indulgences. And throughout history, because it was produced by Jewish butchers, the question of its kosher status has been seriously scrutinized. It just so happens Israel is one of the world's largest producers of foie gras today, and much of it is kosher. The ducks are scrupulous observed to make sure they are not injured in the process of making the liver. And then the liver is koshered like any other liver.


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