Foie gras, itself, remains, even in the regions of its production, a luxury product, gracing the tables only on very special occasions. It enjoys, there, a quality of reverence shared, perhaps, only by the truffle. (I once listened in amazement to a Périgord farmwife describing—in what was intended to be a vehement denial that the raising of geese destined to produce foie gras involves cruelty to animals—the tenderness and gentleness with which the birds are treated and, with mounting enthusiasm and in the most extraordinarily sensuous language, the suspense and the excitement experienced as the moment arrives to delicately slit the abdomen, to lovingly—ever so gently—pry it open, exposing finally the huge, glorious, and tender blond treasure, fragile object of so many months’ solicitous care and of present adoration. One sensed vividly the goose’s plenary participation, actively sharing in the orgasmic beauty of the sublime moment for which her life had been lived.)
Duck foies gras are rarely tinned commercially and a large proportion of them remain to embellish the home tables, but the prized fattened goose livers are mostly sold, fresh or sterilized, far from home. Their by-products, however—rendered goose fat and preserved goose—remain to stamp a distinctly different personality on the cooking throughout the southwestern part of France. Perhaps the best way to understand, analytically, the flavor that goose fat can impart to a preparation is to sauté raw potatoes, cut to any form, in it—and its power to refine a texture is perfectly demonstrated in a garbure. Omelets are prepared in goose fat, macaroni is flavored with it, soup vegetables are removed from the soup, fried in goose fat, and returned to the pot (unless you prefer to spread it on toast while eating foie gras, the fat from a tin of foie gras should be scrupulously saved for some small preparation that will appreciate it)—in short, goose fat permeates this food no less than does butter the food of Normandy or olive oil the food of Provence. The indigens’ claim that it is the only altogether digestible cooked fat should be taken with a grain of salt.
Only a goose especially fattened for the production of foie gras will be fat enough to be preserved in its own fat without a compensating addition of lard. In a country where not only is this practice abhorred, but where the deep freeze has replaced most other methods of preservation, to preserve a goose may seem like a quaint anomaly. Necessity, today, plays no role, but the necessity of the past through which a unique flavor was created may tempt us to imitate its methods to recapture a glimpse of a world apart—there is no other way to an empathie comprehension of the soul of cooking throughout the entire lower lefthand corner of the map of France.
Confit d’oie is often served simply reheated, lightly browned in a bit of its fat, and garnished with potatoes or cèpes sautéed in goose fat, or sometimes with sorrel purée stewed in goose fat . . . Those who have not grown up on preserved goose will best appreciate it reheated in an undersalted liquid preparation (warmed for ½ hour in a pot of lentils or beans and added to any of a variety of thick vegetable soups); this produces an interchange normalizing both elements.
The neck (skin) is, traditionally, stuffed and preserved also, rewarmed in a pot of lentils or braised cabbage, sliced to serve—or served cold, sliced thinly like a sausage, as an hors d’oeuvre. If your goose passes through normal commercial channels, the neck will be in no condition for stuffing; order it from a Kosher butcher or ask a farmer to behead it close to the neck, keeping the neck skin intact. Remove it at the time of cutting up the goose, first cutting off the wings at the shoulder joints and separating the neck skin from the rest by cutting, front and back, between the holes left by the removed wings. Peel the skin backwards from the body toward the head end and off the neck, turning it right side out again. Sew up the small end, stuff it with the finely chopped liver, fleshy lobes of gizzard, heart, and lungs of the goose, a thick, boned, chopped pork chop, herbs, spices, and seasonings to taste, sew the large end closed, even out the stuffing in its enclosure with your hands, and refrigerate until the salted goose is ready to be cooked. Chopped truffle peelings are often added. Peeled chopped pistachios or a few green peppercorns may be added . . .
If you have a bird with feet still attached, remove them, blister the skin of the feet regularly over a flame, and remove it with the help of a towel or paper toweling. Cut the bird up, breast split in two, legs left whole, neck detached from back, back cut into 3 or 4 flat-shaped pieces; wings and feet.
Sprinkle salt and herbs into the bottom of a large stoneware jar, an earthenware marmite, or a porcelain or enameled ironware receptacle, taller than it is wide, pack in layers of the goose pieces, sprinkling each layer with salt and herbs. Leave, covered, in the coolest part of the house for 2 days and 2 nights.
Wipe the pieces dry with a clean towel (paper toweling will turn soggy, fragments will tear loose and cling to the flesh), discarding liquid and herbs in the jar.
Put the goose fat, lard, and water into a large skillet or plat à sauter, heat over medium low flame, and when the lard is melted but before the goose fat is entirely melted, arrange the cut-up goose in the pan so that, as nearly as possible, all pieces are submerged. Cook, covered, lowering the flame if necessary to keep the fat only lightly bubbling. The neck, feet, and wings may be removed after about 50 minutes to 1 hour (the stuffed goose neck, which requires about 45 minutes, replacing them). The larger pieces require from 1½ hours to 1¾ hours.
The stuffed neck, which will be eaten in the days to come, can be cooled, wrapped in plastic, and refrigerated. Arrange the other pieces in a stoneware jar or other non-metallic container (not glass, which would break in contact with the hot fat), closely, leaving a minimum of air space, and pour over the hot fat, completely covering them. Leave to cool and refrigerate, tightly covered (heavy aluminum foil held in place with a rubber band, for instance). To remove pieces of confit without damaging them, it is usually necessary to heat the jar in a bain-marie until the fat is melted, making certain each time that all remaining pieces are submerged before permitting the fat to congeal again.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.