C’est Pas Foie Gras, Or, Liver Follies and Foibles

I have a confession to make: I don’t really like liver. For one thing, the gamey taste lingers on the back of my tongue a tad bit too long.

For another thing, the smell of liver frying in butter nauseates me. It’s enough to gag a goat.

Don’t ask me why on earth I ended up cooking 20 pounds of goat liver one day in Haiti.

It’s a long story.

The abbreviated version sounds pleasant enough.

I landed a job making goat liver paté for a development project dedicated to rearing goats from the central plateau. Among other things, the project wanted to create and market a paté aimed at the French-influenced Haitian elite. Proceeds from the sales would help poor farmers. Testing took place in an upscale supermarket and at a butcher shop owned by a French-Canadian butcher. Although the recipe I chose as the guinea pig, Jane Grigson’s Pâté de Foie de Porc, turned out well enough in the trial stages, I found that with goat liver as a base, I needed to add a little more oomph with a splash of brandy and quatre-épices (black or white pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon or ginger) to pep things up a bit. The cost of doing it Grigson’s way, unfortunately, precluded mass marketing.

So the project manager handed me a recipe she thought would substitute well.

And that is where the arc of this story changed.  Shall we say that the uncensored version would include the part where I raced out of the kitchen, retching from the odor of all that goat liver sizzling on the stove. For days afterward every time I moved, my stomach muscles twitched in a funny way …

Here’s her recipe exactly as we ended up testing it:

1 pound goat liver, cut into thin slices
Butter or margarine for frying
3 T. mayonnaise
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. butter (goat or cow)
1 T. finely chopped onion
8 – 10 drops bottled hot pepper sauce like Tabasco
½ t. salt
½ t. dry mustard
Dash pepper

Cook liver, covered, in butter/margarine, turning when brown. Put liver through meat grinder; blend with remaining ingredients. Place mixture in a 2-cup mold. Chill several hours; carefully unmold. Garnish with chopped hard-cooked egg, snipped chives, or snipped parsley. Serve with crackers or French country bread.

Not really paté at all, more like a spread. Not very authentique, either. (I personally would add more butter and spice.)

But she wrote the checks, so that recipe ruled.

The people who tasted the paté said they liked it and would buy it. But we never found out if that would really have happened, because civil unrest in Haiti got so bad that all humanitarian aid personnel had to leave, including us.

As for foie gras, on a recent foray in the Foix area of France, or Ariège, I ate the real thing embedded in a paté — a big silver-dollar sized circle — and found it quite palatable. But then I always knew I had champagne taste on a beer budget. Or put another, more appropriate, way:  foie gras taste on a liverwurst budget.

Foie gras has come a long ways from the days of chef Jean-Joseph Clause, who popularized paté de foie gras around 1779, during the reign of Louis XVI.

For those of you who love liver, try these links to reputable recipes for paté.

Saveur recipe for duck paté; substitute duck livers if you wish.

Michael Ruhlman’s Paté de CampagneRuhlman’s recipe contains liver, but Grigson’s recipe does not. See more references after the photo.

And if you find foie gras fascinating in theory, as I do, check out these books and a magazine devoted to foie gras:

Caviar, Truffles, and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence, by Katherine Alford and Ellen Silverman (2001)


The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World’s Fiercest Food Fight, by Mark Caro (2009)


Foie Gras: A Passion, by Michael A. Ginor and Mitchell Davis (1999)


Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, by Jane Grigson (2008)

Foie Gras, Magret, and Other Good Food From Gascony, by Anne De Ravel and Andre Daguin (1988)

© 2010 C. Bertelsen


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