Thursday, March 22, 2007

French Laundry Torchon -- Day 1

If you'll please turn with me to page 106 in your hymnal, also known as Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, and join with me to sing Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras au Torchon (and skip verse 4, "with pickled cherries.")

The foie arrived yesterday! I thought I'd bore you all with more details than you care to know about this strange odyssey. I'll try to limit it to one post a day (in case you, like many people I know, are sick of hearing about it!)

Day 1: Yesterday, the foie arrived, we deveined it, and put it soak in milk to remove impurities. In Keller's book, he recommends soaking the foie in milk before it is cleaned and deveined, but after going through the deveining yesterday, I think soaking it afterward is a better idea. The milk, much like brine for a bird, will draw out impurities using osmosis. However, unlike water and salt, the milk shouldn't cause the same chemical reactions or breakdown of tissue. After deveining, the lobes were separated and there were quite a few bit more exposed areas where we'd found small blood clots. So, I'm hoping the milk will help "clean" up those areas in a more effective way than if we'd just submerged the unseparated whole lobe.

And how was the deveining, you ask? Based on Meg and Adam's experiences, I was prepared for the worst, a long and tedious process. However, under the gentle tutalage of Chef Karl Benko, the process was relatively painless. What did I learn? First, we worked using rubber gloves. The meat is so fatty, it will literally melt just under the warmth of your hands. Rubber gloves helped insulate body heat for just a few minutes -- long enough to get a good start on separating the lobes. Secondly, and most importantly, I learned to the most effective way to devein was to just, well, follow the vein. Using a pair needle nose pliers -- never a knife! -- we looked for the biggest veins, then carefully pulled, following them along the meat and gently pulling the lope apart further if needed. We also removed any fat we found along the way. (But wait, you ask, fat? The whole thing is fat! Well, yes, but there was just a little pure fat which we did take out.) After we separated the main lobe from the smaller one, we gently searched each lobe for veins, pulling out the biggest ones and also removed remnants of blood and clots where we found them. As Karl kept reminding me and Keller says "Remember, it's like play-dough. You just put it back together."

Don't get me wrong, gripping and pulling the little veins is difficult. Karl made it look easy on the large lobe and when it was my turn for the smaller one, I found it difficult to perfect the grip-twist-and-turn technique he used for grabbing them. It also takes a bit of practice to figure out exactly how much pressure to apply to gently pull them along using enough force to separate the lobe, but not so much you tear the vein. We focused on the biggest veins and connective tissue, but ultimately didn't pull each lobe completely apart as I'd seen in pictures in the past. (And we put each lobe back together again, "like play-dough" as we went. The entire process took about 10 minutes, although it would have taken me considerably longer had I been on my own. Thanks again to Chef Karl for the lesson! And stay tuned for Days 2-4.

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