Foie gras (pronounced fwa-gra) is the pinnacle of luxury for many foodies, due to its remarkably rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. You may have read about it recently, as a federal judge overturned a California law banning the sale of foie gras in the state. NPR did a piece about the lifted ban; read or listen here. The term foie gras is officially defined by the French government as the liver of a duck or goose specially fattened by gavage.1 Oxford Dictionaries defines gavage as the administration of food or drugs by force, especially to an animal, typically through a tube leading down the throat to the stomach.2 Bringing me to another foie gras fact that most diners don’t realize–foie gras is, by definition, from birds that have been fattened through force feedings. The table below is taken directly from the European Union’s (EU) Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare’s (SCAHAW) 1998 report on the welfare aspects of foie gras production. It’s important to illustrate with numbers why the liver of a force fed bird (foie gras) is different from the liver of a bird fed normally (i.e. why the practice continues).
Mean weight and composition of the liver from force fed and not-force fed geese (Babile et al., 1998)
Force fed Not force fed Liver weight (g) 982 76 Water content (%) 34.3 70.4 Protein content (%) 7.6 20.7 Lipid content (%) 55.8 6.6
You can access the SCAHAW’s full report here. In my opinion, foie gras production as it is today is inhumane. I haven’t eaten foie gras since learning about its production methods, but back in my blissfully ignorant days, I tried it a few times. I can’t deny that it’s special, which is why I was interested to try monkfish liver, often nicknamed foie gras of the sea due to its delicate flavor and texture. Most monkfish are wild caught off the coast of New England. The latest numbers show their population is above target levels, and numerous practices are in place to minimize fishing impact on habitats and protected species. For more information, read the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fish Watch report on monkfish. As far as I can tell, monkfish go about their normal lives until they’re caught.
I made a monkfish liver pâté to find out if it would live up to its nickname. It was delicious, with a smooth buttery texture much like foie gras. However, the flavor was (not surprisingly) slightly fishy or “of the sea”. I wouldn’t attempt to pass it off as duck or goose foie gras, but it’s just as decadent, and especially lovely if you’re a fan of seafood. This recipe would be perfect for a special occasion or dinner party.
0.5 lbs monkfish liver
0.5 cups of diced onion
2 cloves diced garlic
0.25 cups unsalted chicken stock
0.25 cup white wine
2 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, about 6 inches long, plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp cream cheese
- Clean the liver by removing as many of the veins as possible. Also remove the thin membrane that surrounds the whole liver. If not removed, these parts will toughen when cooked and detract from the silky smooth texture we’re looking for. This process will force you to tear up your liver, but it’s okay if it looks messy, since we’ll be pureeing it in the end anyway. Keep your monkfish liver on ice until you’re ready to cook. Keeping seafood ice cold prevents it from developing a fishy aroma.3
- In a small saucepan, add your onion and garlic and cook over medium-low heat until translucent. Avoid adding oil or butter; it will cause separation in the final product. If your pan is looking too dry, add a bit of stock to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to low and add the monkfish liver, stock, wine, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Break the liver into chunks to help it cook more evenly. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the liver has cooked through. When done, it should look opaque and beige or orange in color.
- Remove the woody thyme stems and transfer to a mini food processor (or use an immersion blender). Add the cream cheese and process until smooth. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette. Garnish with a few leaves of fresh thyme.
Makes about a pint of pâté.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 2004), 188, 192.