As has become our custom, we gathered a small band of friends together to ring in the new year in culinary style. This year, we were at our place in Santa Barbara, where the weather was surprisingly chilly and the fireplaces were appreciated for more than just ‘mood lighting’.
Our New Year’s Eve dinners usually begin at about 8 pm and we try to time it so that we’ve just finished the dessert course in time to raise a glass of bubbly at midnight and gather ’round the piano for a rousing chorus of Auld Lang Syne. This year the timing worked out just about perfectly.
Here’s the menu…
Seared Foie Gras with Sherry Reduction
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Artichoke Tapenade
Smoked Salmon, Caviar, and Creme Fraiche Blinis*
Roasted Cornish Hen with Forbidden Rice, Dried Cherry, and Pecan stuffing
Roasted Butternut Squash Puree
Broccolini and Red Pepper Bundles
Fresh Mixed Greens with Rosemary Balsamic Vinaigrette
Epoisses with Currant Walnut Bread
Laurent Perrier Demi-Sec to toast
* denotes a low carb adapted version
We began the evening as the guests assembled with champagne cocktails, Kir Royale, courtesy of a lovely Veuve Cliquot brought by one of our guest couples, and nibbled on a selection of olives–some oil cured blacks, those giant Spanish garlicky ones that I love, and some small Kalamatas–along with nuts and Cornichons. And then the business of eating got serious.
I’d planned seared foie gras with a sherry reduction as the first course. It is my hands down favorite decadent, savory taste treat, but I recognize and respect that others either can’t or won’t enjoy it. For the three among the eight of us who felt they couldn’t enjoy the dish, we sauteed some big beautiful portabello caps in butter and olive oil and dressed them with the same sherry reduction. Everyone seemed pleased.
Though some people–Ornish or Pritikin disciples, for instance–would avoid foie gras on the grounds that it is too high in fat, most objections to it derive from the belief that the birds (geese or ducks) from which it comes suffer as they are brutally force fed the grain that fattens their livers and renders them such a delectable treat for us carnivorous types. I have to say that the notion did bother me, although never quite enough to put me off having some from time to time. Fortunately (for me, at any rate) my worst fears about the process were laid to rest by a piece of investigative journalismby Lawrence Downes that Mike stumbled upon (and blogged about) a couple of years ago.
Mr. Downes, himself unwilling to believe anything but his own eye-witness account, visited the Hudson Valley Foie Gras Farm (where my foie originated) and found to his surprise no sign of brutality in the quick (and seemingly well-accepted by the ducks) feedings of corn. Bird by bird, they waddled up and happily opened their bills for their corn supplement. Quite a departure, I thought, from the brutal horror show that the animal rights activists promulgate. Had Mr. Downes found brutality were the fact, not an exception, then I might feel differently, but at least at Hudson Valley, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
But is making ducks obese humane, even if they enjoy it?
Certainly developing a fatty liver isn’t any better for the ducks in the long run than it is for people, but with one clear difference. For ducks, there isn’t a long run. Unlike ducks, people live long lives, potentially get sicker, may become less productive, and surely end up leading more costly lives in terms of the medical burden to themselves, their insurer, or society as the metabolic consequences of fatty liver, insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity take their toll. For domestic fowl, raised for food, their end is going to be pretty much the same, regardless of the condition of their livers when the ax falls. If they enjoy a bit of corn-gluttony along the way, don’t seem to object to it, aren’t discomfited overmuch by it, then where’s the harm? For me, it’s a treasure and I can say without hesitation that no duck ever guzzled corn in vain whose liver wound up, seared, on my plate.
But enough of the pros and cons of foie gras. We had it, Mike posted a blog and photos on it, and, I must say, it was utterly delicious.
If you find yourself in the ‘love foie gras’ camp, you’re in luck; the preparation is a breeze, really; it’s the saving up to buy it that’s the hard part. One pound-and-a-half grade A liver can set you back about a C-note, but for a special occasion…priceless.
Here’s all there is to it: When the liver arrives, via ice packed overnight container, you simply soak it overnight in iced salt water in a covered bowl or (as I did) big zip closure bag. Then before searing, you flip it over, spread the lobes just enough to work the central cluster of veins free if you can, slice it into medallions, sprinkle them with just a hint of salt and pepper and lovingly slip them into a hot heavy skillet. No need to worry about oiling the pan; in just a minute they begin to render their fat and by two minutes or so, they’ll have developed a mouth-watering carmelization on the first side and be ready to flip. You’ll want to have your serving plates warm and at the ready, so that you can remove the seared medallions for a quick blot on a paper towel and transfer them, hot and luscious, to the warm plates, drizzle on the sherry reduction, and send them to the hungry dinner guests immediately.
The sherry reduction I adapted came from Nancy Oakes’ gorgeous Boulevard cookbook (from the restaurant of the same name in San Francisco). It’s quite simple, as reductions usually are, involving just three ingredients and a little time. I used 1/2 cup of really good reserve sherry vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of Oloroso sherry, plus 2 tablespoons of the 50/50 mixture of Brown Sugar/Splenda. Bring to just under a boil, then simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup total (so from 2 cups to 1/4 cup) at which point it’s lightly syrupy. Just a slosh of that over the hot foie gras and you’re good to go.
And thus, for carnivore and herbivore alike, it was on to the soup course, about which I’ll blog next, complete with recipe. The meal, what with all its music, laughter, and good conversation, lasted more than 5 hours, but lest this blog post do likewise, I think I’ll break it up and over the next week or so, I will go course by course, through what we had, how I prepared it, and where photos exist, I’ll include them.