Saturday, December 26, 2009

Can't wait to start that foie gras terrine !

I just had to take this picture and regretted not to have brought with me a couple of gallon jars. Look at those price ! Chateau Margaux it ain't but what a deal for everyday drinking, 1.30 $ a liter ! You pick your color and take it home.

I will be prepared next time, you can be sure of it !

I took a different way home and found by accident a duck farm in the middle of nowhere. Stop, it is picture time…..again ! The ducks seemed happy and social as they did not scatter when I moved closer to their fence. Big ducks ! Size, only a Chef could understand and work wonders from. I stay for a few minutes just watching the ducks and this feels like real life in mother nature’s back yard ! This is fun as long as I don’t have to walk in the mud like the farmers do on their farm .
The trip back was eventless . I went to the market closer to home and bought some duck foie gras for my terrines, the price ? 18 $ a pound ! I am not making this up but when it comes to foie gras, buyer beware !

That is what we started with below.

I got to work on my terrines the next day and got help from Natalie, one of my sister’s friends who is a real fooddie. She was just thrilled to learn how to make her own foie gras terrine. What can I say ? It was fun and as we know: once a Chef, always a teacher ! That would be the new or not so new me. Wait a minute, a now American French Chef teaching his own countrymen how to make foie gras in their own backyard and they are all ears ?
And this is what we had as our appetizer along with a great Sauternes, but more on that later !

Don’t tell me the French have not changed because they really have and the influence of the younger generations is starting to show in many ways some good some different some not so good but overall change is the thing as it stirs many passions.

Look below, when we see this picture live we know we are home and we all know that there is no place like home, wherever it may be. Small yes but the peace and quiet there are sweet, why ? because that pretty much all there is and I like that.......a lot !

Thanks for listening but stay tuned.

Chef Andre

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It does not get any fresher than this !

This post might be a bit pictures heavy but those are the real thing.

I remember in my early years as a young cook ( noticed I did not say Chef ? ) the foie gras markets of that time and they have not changed much except that they are now better regulated and the sanitary conditions are excellent whereas before it was rather basic and a bit primitive. All products now are inspected and displayed in a refrigerated hall.

The doors are locked and the only people in the room are the sellers and whatever authority is in charge of the gig. Everybody else, mostly potential buyers and some tourists are standing outside the locked doors until it is the official time to open which is announced by a loud whistle blow. People start to rush in like the mad shopping crowds the day after Thanksgiving. I just follow and get in the atmosphere, I like this and know that some day I will be back and be one of the buyers.

By the way it is only cash or check here and as you can see no fancy packaging either as it is all about the foie !
I am surprised at the look and size of the foies on display. First they are mostly all duck with a few goose livers. The duck livers are of various sizes anywhere from 10 ounces to 1.25 pound and up.Their color is more of a fleshy white/pink than the light beige color we are familiar with. I do not know what it means and do not dare ask as the sellers are in no mood to play twenty questions with some tourist who sports the local accent. I would think that they might be feeding the ducks with white corn instead of the other yellow kind we see everywhere. There are however a few livers of the beige color and the ducks which produced them were for sure fed yellow corn.
I am however stunned by the freshness of the product as yesterday was the birds last day in this world. This is way above fresh if there is such a thing. We American Chefs are not used to see this level of freshness on foie gras as everything in the states is stored before it travels. I spend a lot of time there taking about a hundred pictures of different scenes and foie gras of all sizes and color. Some are moving faster than others but it is a serious business. Don’t let the convivial atmosphere fool you, this is business first, small talk when it is all gone and not before. The price ? 30 $ a pound for duck foie gras and 38 $ a pound for goose foie gras. Not cheap ! but the quality seems there and it is the holiday season when demand peaks .

In France most households will celebrate with foie gras for their holiday dinner. I do not buy here as I find the price a bit stiff. I will take my chances closer to home and hope to find a better deal. I am however thrilled to have come and the learning part of this trip is huge for me even though this is real close to home. Yes, you heard me : learning is the word and I am loving it. Just hope I am able to convey this experience to you the readers and that someday you will be able to visit this country side of France and who knows, I could be your guide/driver. I sure will come back with or without you as I see a lots of foie gras terrines and confits in my future.

Here is a tip for you foie gras lovers:
For your hot foie gras preparations the freshest foie must be used as it will melt much less. This means as close to harvest as you can get it !
Join me on my next post as I'll get to talk about the trip back home and the porto laced terrine I enjoyed with my family.
Chef Andre

Monday, December 14, 2009

Duck cutting time

I got enough duck pics but not what I was looking for and since the foie gras market does not open till 1030 am I do wonder around and find the “salle de decoupe” or cutting room where for an undefined and unsolicited tip, two butchers will process/cut up your birds the way you want them or their own ways.

We're waiting for the butcher !

The pieces flying off of the carcass are packed in plastic bags and go directly into the customers shopping bags. It is all a well defined ritual including the tips in Euros which are dumped in the hand sink you can see on the left, no formalities here, only real people in a real place and they could not care less about whatever is happening elsewhere. This is their world and that’s the way they live.

Tradition and culture is alive and well here !
I am a happy tourist even after the bust of the previous stop.

Them ducks are FAT and I like them that way !

Pork fat might have ruled for a long time but in my book duck fat is KING !!!!!!

As you can see this duck business is really serious, this is what I call being in the zone, the Samathan zone that is !

Now, we're almost ready to go !

I will continue on my next post as this foie gras story is not over.

Chef Andre

On my way to the Marché du gras

Today up at 6 am ,I am all excited about my trip to foie gras country. I have not done this in ………40+ years ! This is real special as old rules are still used today in the “marchés du gras” .

We take the road and it is still dark, I don’t care much for driving at night but I would not miss this for anything, I am just too excited. I do love to drive and explore the French country side for it is where real life is, at its most basic as well as at its richest in many ways. For sure mother nature has done a good job here. The drive will take about two hours considering that we will use small country roads. I am heading to the department of Gers which is the heart of Gascony or for you history buffs, Musqueteer country and lots of Armagnac. This part of France does not have highways but a good network of small country roads, so small in fact that there are no markings on most of them .

The locals are all farmers with a few city slickers here and there. Agriculture is big here and mostly corn which means also a lot of poultry and fowl.

Forget about free range as we know it in the USA , here birds of any kind of feathers roam free on large tracks of land . I did some research to choose two markets and settled on Mirande and Samatan du Gers.

We did get to go to Mirande only to find no “marché du gras” that day. Ok, no panic, let’s have café/croissant and we’ll go to plan B which was to talk to the locals. Check the local version of breakfast below. I was driving so I did not touch the stuff + it was way too early !

One farmer was critical of the markets and suggested that we go to his wife’s farm since she was now selling the goods direct from the farm. We declined and instead talked to the waitress who was helpful with directions to Samatan. Here we go ! When I said small roads I meant just that, small ! I had a small car so no problem for me but focus on driving was a must.

The canard gras and oies grasses market started at 930 am and of course we were late getting there, well tough luck, you snooze you loose ! Long story short,when we got to the hall where duck and goose were being sold, it was almost over.

I do mean FAT duck ! Above are ducks without the foie inside which are used for confits and magrets and below is a duck with the foie still inside.

I quickly surveyed the scene and only found three farmers with ducks for sale. Between the three of them, no more than 20 fat ducks. Good enough for me to sample the view, the smell, the tradition, the atmosphere, you name it and it was as close as duck heaven as a Chef could get to.

The price ? about 2.20 euros a kilo or 1.60 $ a pound at today’s exchange rate without the fattened liver inside. Are you kidding me ? This is good and it all goes to the farmer, no middle man here ! No wonder all the locals do their own confits and such ! From where I stand the price is very right. You can of course buy the fat duck with the liver inside fora different price of course but still affordable. Below is some fresh foie gras coming right out, does not get any fresher !

Looking back, I was too excited to ask not wanting to cut into the negociating I was looking at from a few feet. I am digging this very much, how can I possibly express what it means to me ? It is a passion kind of a thing, the passion for food that some of us carry and live everyday as it is what we know and what we do best. For those of you who are not sure what it is, all you have to do is hang around some of us. Chefs are really nice people and they don’t bite, so there. Just bring the wine ! I will take you inside of this room on my next post, come on back !

Chef Andre

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Snow capped Pyrenees

Today is
my second day home and I did not sleep a wink

all night ! Might have been the coffee in the afternoon since here it always has a higher octane. No funny coffee here !

After lunch my sister drove me to buy my essentials to take home such as moutarde, chocolat, sel etc, this much is off my list . We went to the Lindt chocolate plant thinking it would be cheaper, yeah right, not a chance! The drive was only 20 minutes but the view was gorgeous as the first snow of the year fell overnight down to 1200 feet which is not far from where we live.

Not bad for a first snow but not far either !

Clear day, sun out, the Pyrenees laid out, snow capped and looking like a Smorgasborg, compliments of mother nature . I like that. Every day around five o”clock we light up the fireplace for heat and ambiance like in the old days .

I do not write everyday as you can see but the last few days have been really crummy weather wise. Rain rain and more rain. The area is dotted with many streams and rivers and they all are swollen, brown, rolling and raging. Water here is not a problem and it is cheap too. In fact it is so cheap that we get one bill a year and it is the equivalent of one Dallas water bill of two months !

I am thinking of hitting a foie gras market tomorrow morning early with my sister as I will do a terrine for her birthday. I also need some pics for my classes and the terroir culture here is the best. It will also bring me back to the mid sixties when I was doing those markets with my boss of that time.

Rain or not tomorrow I will go look for my foie gras among the best of the freshest and I do mean fresh like in fresh killed, a day or two max. Get ready for some good story and pics to boot.

Chef Andre

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Today is a special day and I’ve always known that , it is just that I did not know how special this one Thanksgiving would be for me. A few days ago I got a call from one of my fellow World Master Chefs Society member asking for help to support the USO and help set up a holiday buffet at DFW Airport for the troops going back to Iraq, Afganistan and Koweit after their two weeks leave was over. Yeah, I know, two weeks is not much when you are fighting a war on the other side of the world but I guess it is something anyway.

I never could have imagined how special these few hours would be and got to talk to and spend a few moments with our men and women in uniform. What an honor to mingle with our heroes ! Yeah, you heard it right as that is the best and only term we should use when we refer to them in our conversations.

We set up a traditional turkey day buffet with all the trimmings, sweets, beverages and all the good will we could provide.
I really enjoyed this time with the troops and hope to do it again whenever possible. How can we not do this ? It is a little effort that goes a long way and as Chefs, it is what we do best and I could not think of a more deserving bunch of people . They were all very appreciative and enjoyed it very much. On this traditional and all American holiday it the very least we can do.
I was there for a few hours and when I left to celebrate with my American family, my car was not touching the ground as it felt so good to just be part of such a great occasion.
So here is the deal, next time you find yourself within 10 feet of a soldier, a fireman, a police officer or a paramedic go thank them for their service and shake their hand !
I promise you , it won’t hurt at all, will only take a few seconds and it will make you feel great and engaged in the life of your country. You don’t have to wait for new year’s eve to make that resolution, you can do this anytime and know that you will make a big difference in the life of people that you might need someday.

I don't have to tell you about their destination but here it is:

As you see, saying good bye is a hard thing to do, very hard and by the way, real men DO cry and this was no different, especially when going back into harm's way. It was difficult for this young man to leave his family behind...........again !

I hope your Thanksgiving was as great as mine and I know that I will treasure these memories for a long, long time. Would that I do that again ? You bet ! And for as long that it takes to bring them all home. I hope you join us next year.
Finally a big thank you to Patrick Mitchell and all the USO volunteers for making it happen.

Chef Andre

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chili and beignets, are you kidding me ?

Nope ! I did not have a class today but I had a lot of fun. There was the annual chili cook off/Pepperama sponsored by The Texas Chef's Association but I did not do chili, I leave that to the self proclaimed experts, not that I can’t cook chili but I was not into it. I did however join my Chef colleagues for this occasion and instead I did cook some beignets. Yes , you heard it right, beignets !
Some people asked me why I was doing beignets in a chili cook off. Now that is an easy question to answer: because I can ! Please don’t take this the wrong way, it seemed like the right answer at the time. Would I change it looking back ? Absolutely not ! I had a ton of fun as I cooked about 250 beignets. I was just thrilled to see people lined up and fun, fun, fun, it was !

I know what you’re thinking, another Café du Monde version. No, no this was the real thing. For those of you who have been to New Orleans and Cajun country, the beignets they do are basically a cross between sopapillas and donuts. If you serve those in France, chances are that they will throw them back at you, literally .
The French version is basically a pate a choux that has been flavored with vanilla, citrus zest or other flavors. It is that simple and the result is a light, airy, delicious beignets after it has been rolled into a vanilla flavored granulated sugar.
Go ahead and get the vanilla beans, split them and squeeze them within that sugar. It is the best and so simple. That was my contribution and I only charged one dollar for two of them. A good deal right ? It gets better. I decided to give the proceeds to a good cause, in this case it was the Family Gateway Place which is a shelter for people who happen to find themselves homeless for one reason or another and where they can find a temporary and safe home while getting introduced to the food business should they decide to pursue a career in that field.
I did not raised a fortune but it felt good just to do it and I think next time I will think even bigger as I ran out of product and had a line for the longest time.
For those of you who might think that every act of kindness deserve recognition, please chew on this for a minute : Trophies are for bragging rights but the memories are forever and so very special !
It was not a large amount of money that I raised but the cause made sense to me as we really can make a difference one deed at the time.

So next year I might do "cafe au lait and beignets " which would be great for the late risers and also the afternoon snackers.

Next blog is from Paris CDG where I have a 3 hours layover. Can't wait for a real cafe/croissants !

Chef Andre

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What do you mean foie gras class ?

Fowl butchering and fabricating along with foie gras 101 was my class ten days ago. I know I know, I am a bit behind but isn't everybody ?
Well, this post might be a bit long but stay with me as it is rewarding for me just to have the opportunity to share some of my culinary moments. I do thank you in advance for your comments.

Why should you learn how to truss a bird ? Two reasons: better presentation and moisture retention meaning less drying out. Why do most people eat dried and overcooked chicken most of the time ? Yes it must be cooked well but juicyness still applies for chicken as well as pork. That is a debate for later and for now here are a few step by step shots:

That's what I call trussed ! See how plump it looks ?

I had about fifteen people in that class and after the butchering part it was time for "the piece de resistance", foie gras . I was lucky to connect with two of the finest people I have ever met from Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras Co. in California which they own and operate. They flew down here and were so gracious with their support and participation in the class that I was on a culinary cloud all day ! The world is better with Junny and Guillermo Gonzales in it, trust me.

Twenty five years ago they went to France, uprooted their family and spent a year in a farm which produced ducks and geese for foie gras . They learned the artisan way to care for the birds and now produce what I believe is the best quality foie gras in this country today. It was their dream to put to good use the lessons of their French stay . By the way they both speak French as well and sometimes better than I do.

This is a sliced duck leg with a fricassee of spinach and mushrooms. The duck has been cured and smoked then roasted.

A while back I did say that duck fat rules and is king ! Well this is the ultimate ruling: duck poached in its own fat and it is called confit !

Not frying, just simmering in the oven.

The confit is ready and drainning. You can confit just about any part of the duck. Deliiiiiiiiiicious ! Of course the class went past the alloted time but nobody cared as this was a unique class that you just can't find anytime you have foie gras cravings.

I prepared foie gras in many different ways , hot, cold, cured, you name it and it was on my to do list for that day .

Here is the terrine of foie gras cooking very so slowly. Yummmmmmmmmmm !

Before and after pics .

Get that country bread on the grill, the terrine is ready !

Let me count the ways: terrine de foie gras, cured foie gras in grey salt, foie gras au torchon, foie gras roulade in Malbec wine, poached foie gras on a bed of fennel confit with black pepper caramel sauce, a duo of salmon and fresh foie gras en papillote with Muscat wine, what ? fish and foie gras ? You bet and you should try it sometime .

Above left is the cured foie gras in grey salt. The texture is unbelievable and the good news is, minimal loss as the salt will draw the moisture out while firming up the texture of the foie. Simple and easy to do but still, follow the rules. Keep it cold and keep it clean !

I also prepared foie gras flan and foie gras cookies. I am not kidding ! I know it sounds nuts but for now I am still working on that one. Trust me it is not as crasy as you might think, think about a savory cookie and replacing the butter with foie gras. Ha ha ! Do I have your attention now ? Stay tune for future results on that one as it is now on Chef Andre experimental list .

Everybody got to taste them all and did not get tired of foie gras. It was fun as well as very special.

Guillermo had brought with him a whole duck with the foie still inside and he proceeded to butcher the duck and extract the whole foie gras , very very carefully of course. What a sight and a treat at the same time ! I had not seen this done since my much younger years in Southwest France and this was like being home again. There is no doubt that Junny and Guillermo take very good care of their ducks and it was easy to notice as Guillermo was processing that bird.

There it is, above.

Now , I am not a duck pathologist but that duck was the poster boy for animal health ! Snow white fat, no bruising, no signs of mishandling, perfect skin, this must have been a happy duck ! Alas, he was called to foie gras heaven for our dinning pleasure. There is no question that Junny and Guillermo learned the right way while in my old homeland. I always loved the taste, sounds, smells of what we, French people, call " le terroir" which is hard to translate but I would call it "the soul of the land". Basically it is a blend of fresh food ingredients, wines, cuisine and culture along with some bragging rights, of course. One of them days I will get to spend more time where it all began, for me that is.

When he was done Guillermo showed us a beautiful fresh whole foie gras that was of A+ quality
with its perfect ivory color, no blemishes or blood spots, just gorgeous. It was so gorgeous that we did taste it raw ! As for the first timers, they all uttered the same words after tasting it " Oh my God, this is pure butter", a few more converted, works for me !

Now, that's a foie gras !

Of course there is more in a duck than the foie gras. He fabricated the magrets ( which are the breasts and they can only be called magrets if they come from a foie gras producing duck or goose ) the legs which are used for confit or simply roasted or cured and smoked. The bones from the carcass ? I saved them for my clear duck stock which is used to poach the foie gras au torchon. Yep, it is all about duck ! Below is the foie gras au torchon sequence:

First the duck stock.

Then the poaching.

Then the shocking. After it is cold, retied the torchon and wrap in food film as air itself is the biggest enemy of foie gras.Keep it cold !

Needless to say I did enjoy that class to the fullest and was so much into it that I plan on visiting the duck farm soon. I know I won't be disappointed now that I have met Junny and Guillermo.
Some of you will bring up the controversial subject of force feeding the ducks and to those I say, do your homework, educate yourself on the subject, it is all out there. Just don't believe everything you see as some of it is totally bogus and offensive to most of us . Who are those people who think they can tell me or anybody else what to or not to eat. Don't bother to listen to the so called animal rights defenders as most of them have their own agenda and do not give a rat's you know what for the ducks,the chickens or the animals in the zoos for that matter, as long as they can fullfill their own goals which are not as noble as they want you to believe. I had to say this as I know the question will be asked of me down the road. So, there, more arguments ?

It is ok with me as I am now armed with better knowledge to talk about it, so before you beat me up on this, do a bit of research on the subject and maybe join me for some honest discussion and a taste of foie gras and magret the way it was meant to be enjoyed, with friends to celebrate life itself. Oh, and don't forget the confit as the ducks produce succulent meat also. By the way the Sauternes is on you !

More on the next post !