In preparation for New Year's Eve, I'm often asked for an easy but impressive recipe to wow guests. I usually recommend the blow-torch rib roast, but we just covered that last week.
So here's another one- one I actually like even more than the roast.
Foie is intimidating to many amateur cooks (and many professionals for that matter). It's expensive and can be hard to source, so you want to make sure you don't screw it up. Luckily, this presentation is pretty forgiving. And because it's forgiving, it's a great technique for getting more comfortable around foie gras in general. Once you know how to clean the lobes, all sorts of foie opportunities present themselves —like searing a few ounces and serving it over your blow-torched prime rib roast.
But back to the torchon preparation. First, a quick vocabulary lesson: 'torchon' is French for 'dishcloth' (technically towel, but the word is used to imply dishcloth). In fact when I announced to my Parisian brother-in-law on Christmas that I was finishing up a foie gras torchon he looked puzzled and said "you're making a goose liver dishcloth ?" But it's not far from the truth; we just form the torchon by wrapping the liver in cheesecloth instead of a dishcloth.
To start, soak the foie gras in milk overnight. This helps remove some of the blood from the liver. Of course, it doesn't get everything out, but it does help. After it's soaked for 12-24 hours in the cooler, take it out and discard the milk. It helps to let the liver sit out for about 45 minutes; it becomes more malleable and easier to pull the veins out. If it's ice cold the veins don't pull out as easily.
Now for the intimidating part-getting those veins out. Start by pulling the two lobes apart —you'll see a big central vein going into each lobe. This will be your guide to find all of the smaller veins that branch out through the liver. Begin by pulling along the large vein, and work your way down through the lobe. Use a paring knife to break apart the larger parts of the liver that don't break apart with your fingers. And don't worry too much if you break big parts off-the foie behaves like butter, and you're going to fuse all the pieces back together later in this process. If your foie gras has warmed up enough, you can lightly pull and tug the veins out as though you were pulling the root system of a small tree out of the ground. The more veins you remove the better, though the very smallest ones typically aren't noticed if you can't get them out.
Once you've removed the veins, it's time to season the foie. The classic French ratio is 9 grams of salt, 1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram of white pepper for every 500 grams of foie gras (a typical foie liver will weigh around 500 grams). I like to add about 1 to 2 grams of pink salt
too-this help keep the foie from turning gray while it's being stored. Lay some parchment paper down in a quarter sheet tray and arrange your cleaned foie into an even layer, about 3/4" to 1" thick. Evenly sprinkle about half of your cure mixture on the top side, then flip the foie over and season the other side with the remaining salt mixture. Fold the parchment over to cover the entire surface area of the liver and refrigerate for about 24 hours.
Once the liver has cured, take it out of the fridge and place it on a fresh piece of parchment paper. Before rolling out the torchon, you'll want to put poaching liquid on the heat and get an ice bath ready. Chicken stock is recommended for poaching, but even water can be used in pinch. Form the foie into a rectangle roughly 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, then carefully roll it into a uniform log with same technique often used for forming compound butters into a log. Once a nice, uniform log is formed, lay out a few layers of cheesecloth and transfer the liver onto it. Carefully roll the foie log up in the cheesecloth, then twist the roll until it's just tight enough for some of the liver to begin squeezing through the holes in the cheesecloth. Tie the ends off and prepare to poach.
Make sure there is enough liquid to poach the entire torchon- and make sure your pot is wide enough for the whole torchon to lie sideways because it'll float. If your torchon is only about an inch or inch and half in diameter, you'll only poach for about 90 seconds. If you poach too long, excess fat renders out and your expensive foie yield starts to go down substantially. If your torchon is larger, you can poach for more time. The torchon pictured here was about 2" thick and poached for 2:30 — it barely cooked through and had minimal melt off in the poaching liquid. As soon as it's done poaching, submerge it in the ice bath to stop the cooking process.
Because the torchon can lose some volume while poaching, it usually needs to be reformed. You can use a clean dishcloth at this step if you want, or you can rewrap the torchon with the original cheesecloth. Once reformed into a tight cylinder, it should hang in the cooler and refrigerate overnight. Once set all the way through, it can be served with any number of accoutrements. Cranberry sauce, poached pears, and pickled fruits all pair beautifully with the torchon (most foie preparations actually), but you can get as creative as you like. No matter what you do, if you're willing to put in the time with the torchon recipe it will always impress any of your guests — whether they're at the restaurant or in your home dining room.