Everyone has a favourite food. Sure, mine comes with a bit of controversy, but I'm standing by it: I absolutely love foie gras. The French delicacy, which translates literally as "liver fat," is made from the whole liver of a goose. In Canada, most foie gras is duck liver instead of goose, but I grew up with the traditional foie gras that my mère Bretonne would serve every Christmas as an appetizer.
Foie gras can be served two ways; either pan-seared (foie gras poêlé) or as a pâté ( torchon de foie gras). Personally, I prefer the torchon, but most chefs and connoisseurs will argue that pan-seared is really the only way that good foie gras should be enjoyed.
Typically, I have foie gras in restaurants, where others go through the prep work. But with the holidays approaching, I decided that it was about time I learned how to prepare and serve foie gras at home. To that end, I enlisted the help of my firm's executive catering chef and found out how simple it actually is.
First, you have to decide if you want to serve it poêlé or as a pâté. To make a pâté, you are looking at three steps over the same number of days, so the process requires some commitment. (A recipe for torchon de foie gras can be found at http://www.eatertainment.com.) But for the poêlé version, the process is quick and the result is just as likely to dazzle guests.
For a small group of up to 10 guests, order a half duck liver lobe from a high-end butcher and make sure that the major veins are removed. (For fewer people, the butcher can provide ready-to-sear slices of duck liver and remove even more of the veins.)
When you get the half liver home, cut 8 to 10 slices (each about 1 to 1.5 inches thick) on a 60-degree angle (this allows for the largest amount of surface area to sit against the bottom of the pan). Check each slice for veins and carefully remove any with a bamboo skewer. Score the top of each slice by lightly running a knife twice horizontally and twice vertically across the surface, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
When you're ready to start searing - this should be done almost immediately before serving - set a small, shallow pan on high heat for about 2 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium/high and place one of the slices in the centre of the pan (scored side down) and cook for about 90 seconds. Do not add anything else to the pan. If the pan smokes, reduce the heat some more. Within 60 to 90 seconds, the first side of the foie gras will be cooked. You can tell by gently pushing against the slice with a silicon spatula; if the foie gras no longer sticks to the bottom of the pan and can be pushed away from the middle, it is ready to be flipped.
Once you flip the foie gras, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the element. Tilt the pan on a 15-degree angle so the fat from the liver collects in the edge of the pan and, with a soup spoon, baste the cooked side of the foie gras with the fat continuously. The residual heat of the pan and the hot duck-liver fat will be enough to cook the second side of the liver within about 90 seconds. You will know when its done by gently pushing your thumb against the top of the cooked side. It should give a little and then bounce back toward you.
Serve the seared foie gras with lightly toasted baguette slices and a hearty red wine. Your guests will feel like they are in a Breton cottage at Christmas.
Sebastien Centner is the director of Eatertainment Special Events in Toronto ( http://www.eatertainment.com).