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