28 December 2008

A Boxing Day gift

I got a Boxing Day gift this year. That may be a first. If you come from any English-speaking country besides the U.S., you probably know what Boxing Day is. It's the day after Christmas — or, technically, the first weekday after Christmas Day. It has nothing to do with prizefights. There was an article in the New York Times about it a day or two ago.

Whole duck liver lightly cooked and packed in a canning jar

What was the gift? It wasn't something Walt went out and bought, but something he went looking for in the house. It's a tripod. It was packed away in a cabinet with some other old photography gear. We knew we had it, or at least he knew. And it is going to be very useful to me because now I won't have to take (and complain about having taken) so many blurry photos in the kitchen. It is especially useful in this season of short days and dim sunlight.

So of course I took many many pictures on Friday. In this post, I'm including a series of pictures of one of the special foods of the end-of-year holiday season in France: foie gras.

A slice of foie gras ready to be spread on toasted bread

In our case, we had foie gras de canard, or a fattened duck's liver, this year. We bought it in a little jar, as you see in the pictures. It is a piece of whole duck liver, not just some chunks in a kind of pâté of duck liver, which you can also buy. This little jar cost €7.50, so it is not inexpensive. But it didn't break the bank, either.

I know foie gras is controversial in a lot of places — California and the rest of the U.S., parts of Europe, and Israel (where its production is banned, I think) — but it's not controversial in France. It's a special food for the holidays. Down in the Dordogne, where a lot of foie gras is produced, it's a year-round food, I think.

Nice country-style bread from the bakery in the vineyard

Fattening ducks and geese and eating the "fat liver" is a practice going back at least to Roman times. The birds are force-fed, and that process imitates the birds' natural instinct to gorge themselves on food in the fall before they begin their annual migration toward the south for the winter. That's what they tell us, anyway.

From reports I've seen about foie gras production in France, it doesn't seem any more cruel or violent that does keeping chickens in tiny cages where they can't even stand up or turn around. Much less, in fact, because the ducks and geese live outdoors in good, natural conditions.

The foie gras in the little jar is a « semi-conserve », according to the label. In other words, it is not completely cooked — at least not to the point where it could be vacuum-packed and stored at room temperature the way you can store a can of pâté, which is fully cooked before canning. The foie gras needs to be kept in the refrigerator, even before you open the jar. And it of course needs to be eaten up pretty quickly. It doesn't need further cooking.

Le foie gras et ses toasts

How do you eat it? You more of less spread it on bread the way you would spread pâté on bread. The consistency is very buttery, and the flavor is both rich and mild. As an accompaniment, you eat something sweet like fresh figs (though this is not their season), or prunes you've soaked in wine or alcohol to re-hydrate them slightly, or fruit preserves.

We had some dried figs in the refrigerator. We soaked them in strong tea for a few hours, and then we sliced them up and cooked them in some wine, adding sugar. I also added some apple jelly and some plum preserves I had canned last season. That gave the preserves a good sheen.

Figues confites — made with dried figs

The figues confites — stewed figs — were excellent with the foie gras. I should say "are" excellent because we still have a serving in the refrigerator, which we will eat tomorrow. We got three ample servings for two out of the little jar.

One of the wines we had with foie gras was a
2002 Vouvray moelleux

And what do you drink with it? A sweet wine. If you are wealthy or want to splurge, you have a fine Sauternes from the Bordeaux area. On a tighter budget, you have a Monbazillac wine from Bergerac in the Dordogne. We had a bottle of Monbazillac that I got for €3.99 at SuperU.

The other wine option is a bottle of Vouvray moelleux from the Loire Valley. We also had one of those in the pantry. I had bought it at the Aubert winery back in November. As you can see, it was a 2002 vintage.

A Vouvray cork on the screw

Moelleux means "mellow" or "soft" is the name for the Vouvray wines with the greatest amount of residual sugar in them — the sweetest ones, in other words. I think the bottle cost between 5 and 6 euros. It wasn't as sweet and rich as the Monbazillac, but a little more acidic. That went well with the foie gras, I thought.

So you can see I am going to enjoy my "new" tripod. No camera shake — what a concept! No blur. Walt has been using a tripod for good close-up pictures for a while, but I had resisted. In the end, resistance is futile, as they say. Hope you will appreciate the sharpness of the pictures.

P.S. Oops, I didn't look at Walt's blog yesterday. We are definitely living
in the same household — overlapping, even.


  1. Enjoy your new gift! At first I thought the gift was the foie gras itself...very nice pictures of it.

  2. Hi Ken, Did you take the picture before or after eating the foie gras? The jar looks kind of empy to me and the seal is broken ;-)).
    It's hard to resist a good foie gras, isn't it?

  3. If there's one thing worth splurging on, in my opinion, it's good food.

    Enjoy your tripod and we'll enjoy it with you. I should have had one along last fall when photographing my pastry purchases. Most of my other photos were decent, but all the pastry photos came out blurry. (My husband claims my hands were shaking with anticipation.)

  4. I love the new photo heading... very lovely.
    Everything you've been writing about in the past few days has been so interesting! Thanks! And the photos are great :))

  5. Salut Martine, nous avons mangé du foie gras le jour de Noël, et puis j'ai eu mon trépied le lendemain. Donc tu as raison.

    Today we went to Blois to have lunch chez les M., our summertime neighbors who live up there. The menu: foie gras with onion jam (confiture d'oignons), persimmon butter (confiture de nèfles), and fig/pear preserves (confiture de figues et de poires). The wine was a late-harvest gewürtztraminer from Alsace. Then a roasted chapon de pintade (a guinea-fowl capon) with chestnuts and shallots. And green beans. With a Chinon red wine. It was like Christmas dinner all over again. But it was so good. Oh, and a gâteau de crêpes with apple compote for dessert. We have to stop eating like this.

  6. Many thanks for your blog which I enjoy reading and my very best wishes for the coming year.
    I was thinking : as you are in the Loire valley, how about trying a Coteau du Layon to go with the foie gras?


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