FOIE gras, a controversial jewel in the French culinary crown, is one of a few delicacies many people love to hate.
Foie gras, or fat liver, is the greatly enlarged liver of a goose or duck fattened by force-feeding, usually with a tube two or three times a day.
Foie gras is praised for its creamy and smooth texture as well as buttery liver flavor, but its production is criticized as barbaric by many animal rights groups that seek to ban the product.
Criticism hasn't slowed producers and foie gras remains popular worldwide, including in China and Japan where there is no foie gras tradition.
The period from October to March is usually the prime foie gras season due to high European production.
Chefs integrate the foie gras into their own culinary style, creating diverse flavors and textures.
"Avoid too much preparation overpowering the natural flavor, avoid overcooking to preserve the mild texture and highlight a pleasant sweet-and-salty flavor. That's the classical French way with foie gras," says Frenchman Christophe Truchet, sous chef at Jade on 36 in Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.
Foie gras may be hot or cold. Traditional low-heat cooking results in terrines, pates and mousses that highlight the flavor. Hot-pan cooking sears the liver to highlight the texture, crispy outside and creamy inside.
It's also used to make dessert and foie gras creme brulee is classic.
Some Chinese chefs prepare foie gras with traditional Chinese techniques.
Chef Du Caiqing at Hyatt on the Bund marinates foie gras in Shaoxing wine with snow peas. Wine cuts the fattiness of the liver while crispy peas add textural contrast to the smoothy foie gras.
Japanese chefs use foie gras for diversity. "But the exotic food is mostly used in side dishes so it doesn't overpower Japanese flavors that are comparatively mild," says Honda Masami, executive chef of Nadaman Restaurant in Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai.
Though foie gras dishes are different, chefs follow some common rules. Chefs use sweet fruit or vegetable with some acidity to cut the fatty sensation and create balance, says Fernando Corona, head chef at Oceans in Banyan Tree Shanghai On The Bund.
Though this is the season for European foie gras, many Shanghai chefs do their own sourcing.
"Every season, chefs can source the best foie gras," says chef Truchet from Pudong Shangri-La.
"It's possible to get excellent quality all year because all producers have temperature control systems to maintain consistency," says chef Corona.
France produces the most and the best-quality foie gras, while China is expected to be No. 3 when it opens a vast factory in Jiangxi Province.
"Chinese foie gras will get better because they have learned French technique, however, there's still a big space for improvement," says Truchet.
Some top hotel restaurants have launched new foie gras dishes, both classical and creative, to give a bit of richness and warmth to biting winter.
A good wine complements foie gras and David Shoemaker, sommelier at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, offers some easy pairing rules:
Foie gras is savory, rich and hearty, requiring a sweet, fresh wine to balance the taste and cleanse the palate. German Reisling with nice sweetness and fresh acidity works well.
But if foie gras is served with a sweet sauce, the wine should be sweeter, such as an ice wine, referring to grapes harvested in colder weather.
Foie Gras Creme Brulee (160 yuan + 15%)(Pic A)
Buttery and salty foie gras combines with custard and caramelized sugar. The creme brulee is served with tart green apple. Pedro Ximenez wine, a dessert sherry, is added to the custard for a pleasant aftertaste.
Foie Gras with Smoked Eel (145 yuan + 15%)(Pic B)
Both liver and eel are pan-fried and topped with duck sauce. It's served with black cherry compote to add sweetness. Fragrant lime and rose petals are sprinkled on top. The dish balances sweet and salty flavors; eel and foie gras have similar textures.
Venue: Oceans, Banyan Tree Shanghai On The Bund
Address: 1/F, 19 Gongping Rd
Earth and Sea (298 yuan + 15%)(Pic C)
Foie gras is pan-seared in the French way, but with a modern touch of raw oysters and seaweed in a bit of Japanese Dashi soup. The taste is balanced and the liver cannot be overpowered.
The outside of the foie gras, sprinkled with lemon jam, is crispy, sweet-and-sour, which contrasts with the succulent inside. Savory Dashi soup adds more flavors to the buttery liver.
Venue: Jade on 36, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai
Tel: 6882-8888 ext 6888
Address: 36/F, Grand Tower, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong
Egg with Foie Gras (78 yuan + 15%)(Pic D)
Raw egg is combined with a mixture of pureed foie gras, sea crab and carrot, and then steamed and served hot.
Chef Masami achieves balanced flavor with layers, starting with the sweet and umami crab, followed by delicate egg flavor and then a rich aftertaste of fatty foie gras.
Venue: Nadaman Restaurant, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai