In France, consuming foie gras is not a question of ethics, there’s no quibbling over whether we should have it or boycott its very existence. The debate is: how much foie gras do we need?
Within an hour of arriving in France and settling in at the future in-laws, there was a heated discussion over lunch. Voices rose, hands flew, the argument moved back and forth and tempers flared. My French is appallingly bad, but I do, however, speak fluent food and wine.
After a couple of minutes I turned to the Chef in my life (who was hotly defending his point of view at the time) and asked “are you guys arguing over… food?” “Yes,” he quickly replied “my Dad thinks we need five kilos of foie gras, there’s only fourteen of us for dinner and four are children, we certainly don’t need five kilos of foie gras, that’s just insane!”
[text_box class=”red”] These are the things worth arguing over in France: how much is enough? How many escargots will we need, will two hundred be enough? What to serve as a cold appetizer? What shall we serve as a main? What sorbet shall we serve to clear the palate between courses? What condiments to serve? What wine? What if there’s not enough foie gras?! [/text_box]
This was a two hour discussion, reviewing (in detail) every meal, my likes and dislikes, the (incredibly fussy) eating habits of the child in tow, and what did my Burgundy boy miss from home that his dear Mama could make him. All this as lunch was being served and wine flowed. Notes were made, a compromise of four kilos was reached on the topic of foie gras, glasses chimed and all was well.
Food is serious business in France, it is a gourmet culture unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Even the simplest of meals is treated with the utmost care and attention. One could speculate that this stems from hundreds and hundreds of years of war, and the feast and famine cycles that result. There is a sense of honouring the ingredient, no matter what it is, from the simplest compound butter to the most complex of sauces.
In the case of foie gras in the Gelinotte household, when the five star chef in the family is home for the holidays, you don’t purchase your foie gras processed. (Quelle Horreur!) Instead you purchase raw, uncooked lobes of foie gras liver which he will lovingly de-nerve, season, marinade and poach, with his own hands. (Post: Foie Gras – Pure and Simple. Pure foie gras porn…)
With menu in hand for our two week stay, we set off to retrieve our list of ingredients, including the much debated foie gras. And where must one go for such things? The local gourmet store? Some exclusive butcher perhaps? Nope, we were off to Carrefour, the French version of a supermarket.
Supermarkets anywhere have the same basic layout; there are coolers and freezer isles, dried goods, produce, meats, fish, poultry and in most cases a selection of necessities and household items. Carrefour is no different, except that in its larger locations it is a superstore, with everything from tires to champagne. Picture Bust Buy, Canadian Tire, a clothing store, a (very) large liquor store and a high-end grocery store all under one roof, and then of course, factor in the fact that it’s— in France.
This might explain the entire section dedicated to foie gras. Not a single row in the deli case, but two fifty-foot coolers, back-to-back, a section under deli glass, an end isle display in the meat department, plus a specialty cooler for flavoured foie gras with bits of truffle, mushroom or pepper.
There were full lobes of foie gras, smooth and coarse foie gras, torchons, terrines, and jars of foie gras. There was a selection of bargain foie gras, different grades, and even discounts on the stuff. I have never seen this much duck liver in one place in my life, except when it’s flying overhead, heading south for the winter.
Let us not forget the wine recommended to pair with your foie gras, serving suggestions, condiments and just when you thought you’d seen everything… there was foie gras sampling! Chef B’s Dad, (Daniel Gelinotte) indulged, amid sniffing, head nodding, poking and a ten minute discussion over the tiniest morsel.
When in the land of foie gras…
Just smile, nod and enjoy your duck liver. Make lip smacking noises over it, say “mmmmmm” a lot and close your eyes while eating it, to enjoy its fatty smoothness as it coats your mouth, paired expertly with a sweet, white wine.
It’s only polite to deeply appreciate something made with such care and reverence, in a culture where life is food. Vive la France.