Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipes: Foie Gras is a Semitist Issue

In France foie gras is traditional for Christmas and New Year.

There seems to be a movement in the US to ban foie gras for 'cruelty' to animals. This is nonsense - neither ducks nor geese have a gag reflex - and anti-Semitic.

Sephardi Jews had olive oil, but Ashkenazim had to use fat. Pork schmaltz is not kosher, so instead they continued the ancient Roman practice of over-feeding geese and ducks to produce more fat for cooking. A fatty liver - foie gras - is an agricultural by-product of kosher cuisine. Banning foie gras can therefore be interpreted as anti-Semitism, striking at the heart of Jewish culture - the home.

Carolin C. Young, a food historian, got rather angry when I explained this theory, but the evidence is clear.

See - Marx Rumpolt, Ein New Kochbuch, c. 1581: who describes livers of one to even two kilos in the Jewish households of Bohemia.

As is clear in this Egyptian relief from a Giza tomb (Boston MFA, late Dynasty 6 or later, 2323–2150 BC), feeding geese has been the norm for as long as we have records of agriculture. We have a scene, of the mass-feeding of geese, from the tomb of Mereruka, Vizier of Teti.

Classical references to feeding geese Cratinus (5th century BC Athens), and Agesilaus' 360 BC visit to Egypt (Plutarch).

The Romans, notably Pliny, write of "iecur ficatum" which means liver+fig - the figs were used to fatten the liver whilst still in the bird, rather than used as a sauce. Though that might work too. Liver in Italian is fegato, which might derive from this.
Apicius made the discovery, that we may employ the same artificial method of increasing the size of the liver of the sow, as of that of the goose. It consists in cramming them with dried figs and when they are fat enough they are drenched in wine mixed with honey and immediately killed.
Pliny NH 8.77
The ancient Gauls were particularly fond of it, both before and after Caesar's invasion. Elagabalus "fed his dogs on goose-livers" - although it is unclear whether this is because he loved his dogs or disliked foie gras himself [Historia Augusta, Elagabalus 21].

Foie gras is not attested between the fall of the Roman Empire and the modern period - except in Jewish culture. As well as the [gentile] Rumpolt book, there are many rabbinical discussions about whether or not feeding geese and ducks made them treif.

The first recipe for cooking foie gras, and the first mention of it in non-Jewish accounts since antiquity, is in the 1570 cook book by Bartolomeo Scappi, the chef to Pius V. He got his fat livers from the Jewish in Rome's ghetto, as he wrote in his book, and reintroduced the dish to Italy. It returned to France in the time of Catherine de' Medici.

We made foie gras this year. Poaching is much easier than making a terrine. After lengthy, highly animated discussions and experimentation, this is the version of the recipe that works best for me:

Poached Foie Gras
.

Take a lobe of uncooked duck or goose liver.

Fill a saucepan with enough red wine to cover the foie gras. Add a tsp of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cloves or two whole cloves.

Bring the wine to the boil, then turn down and simmer for a minute or so.

Take the pan off the heat, and pop in the whole foie gras.
Cover with a lid, and leave to stand (off the heat) for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes take the liver out of the wine, drain, and put it into a dish.

Place the dish in the refrigerator for an hour or two, to 'set' the liver.

Slice and serve. I like it on fresh bread with a sprinkle of good sea salt and a drizzle of creme de marrons. Others prefer some cranberry sauce.


Copyright © 2008 Dorothy King including photos 3 & 4; photos 1 & 2 courtesy of the MFA, Boston.

13 comments:

Amanda said...

......anti-Semitic?

This is a really interesting point on your part, but I have to say that I am Jewish, and I frankly had no concept of foie gras having anything to do with Jewish culture. Ever.

In regards to the idea that ducks don't have a gag reflex, or have resilent throats, etc, I suggest you look at:

http://liberationbc.org/campaigns/foie_gras/fuel_facts

Amanda said...

Oh, and Israel banned foie gras last year. Are they anti-Semitic too?

Anonymous said...

This is the dumbest tripe I've ever heard of. I'm sorry, but just because something is being banned that is part of Jewish heritage doesn't make it Anti-Semitic.

Jana said...

Get a proper definition of anti-semitism before ranting about. What has stopping supposed cruelty against animals to do with hating Jews, even if it WAS a jewish dish?
This sort of hysteria is actually harming the struggle against real anti-semitism and ignorance.

Jake said...

You can defend foie gras, and explain Jewish culture and culinary tradition, without making the spurious and offensive allegation that people who believe it is cruel to geese are racists! You undermine your own credibility with such disgusting mud-slinging.

E said...

Anti-Semitic? You are absolutely ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I'm anti-semetic, and anti-avian. This confuses me to no end. I'd like to see the cruelty on birds continue for shits and giggles, but not if it helps the jews. Damn moral dilemnas...

Abe said...

Dorothy, you're right! Every European Jew knows of the "Geshtopteh Genz" tradition. Some Chasidim didn't eat it, for they questioned it's Kashrut, being that the duck was overfed to the point where it could theoretically "Platz" (bust)! But generally speaking, Schmaltz was cheaper and more readily available than other kinds of oil, and therefore used in every other dish.
This is a known fact. Just ask any old Jewish Bubby.
Also, I understand that you didn't really mean it literally when you said that the anti foie gras movement is anti-semitic. As to all the commentators here attacking your innocent yet thoughtful post, I say: let 'em all Platz!

BTW, the movement in the US to ban foie gras is not merely nonsense, it's totalitarian and probably the idea of an (anti-)liberal group who think of themselves as "progressives." As is typical of these types, they attempt to ban anything and everything they don't like.

Abe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abe said...

Just in case you were wondering why I commented today on your 3.5-year-old article, I found your post while reading another article on "Cracked:"
http://www.cracked.com/article_17246_when-lobster-was-spam-5-gourmet-foods-that-used-to-be-cheap.html

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dorothy King said...

If people write rude comments it really doesn't bother me, as long as they have the guts to put their names to it - I do admit that I sometimes like winding up liberals who have not thought their ideas through (oh, and conservatives too) ... and this is a good case in point. Anti-foie gras Guardian readers are horrified if you argue the case this way ... There might also be a miss-connect going on between English humour and ... well ... it does rather amuse me how many animal rights people think I should die, and there I was thinking humans were animals ...

And thank you for letting me know about the Cracked article

kelly chen said...

Unless you are a newborn infant, if you have no choice to your food, that IS cruelty.

It is not true that free-range geese are free-range forever. The foei gras geese are not free-range after the first 5 weeks of their lives!

Force-feeding causes punctures in their esophagus which leads to the poor animals choking to death on their own blood.

Historically, figs were fed to the geese by the Egyptians. Now, what are foie gras geese fed? Mostly corn. To assume that it's the same as before historically is pretty naive.

Ok, so they gorge on everything just before the winter. And they choose to kill foei gras during winter. This means 'natural Foie Gras' would be seasonal, and cannot be available all year round. Wouldn't this increase the price for Foie Gras? And how is Foie Gras going to be available all year round if it's going to be seasonal. Something just does not fit into the jigsaw for "natural Foie Gras".

Additionally, if the geese or ducks are on free-range diet, hey cannot be eating to the stage where their livers are very swollen, painful and unhealthy! That totally defeats the reason why foie gras exist in the first place - cos their livers need to be fatty and swollen for foie gras to "taste good". Wouldn't natural Foie Gras be less than Grade-A Foie Gras?

Foie Gras lovers argue that Foie Gras is Jewish Kosher. Why do I read "Jewish Religious Objections to Foie Gras Farming"? Perhaps this was why the Jews suddenly stopped producing and eat it?

Also, everything that ever makes meat and foie gras delicious comes from plant-based herbs and seasoning.

If something wrong has been done for centuries or decades, should it be continued?

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