During a trip to New York City with my friend, Dorothy, we were launched on an unexpected culinary adventure courtesy of a new friend, our hotel bartender, Max.
Max not only regaled us with stories of famous people, he opened the doors of some of the most iconic restaurants to us. We had enjoyed appetizers and cocktails at Sardi’s while hoping to be seen; took in the sights of Greenwich Village before an incredible Italian dinner at Lupa; attempted to devour every side dish presented on Keen’s Steakhouse’s menu; lunched at Tavern on the Green among the turning trees; and learned the proper method for preparing a steak at Delmonico’s.
At each dining establishment, on the menu would be a Foie Gras appetizer presented in various forms. Some were seared, some were marinated and one used rendered Foie Gras. There was even an incredible mousse version. The foundations for these included a polenta base, a bed of arugula, a charred herb and onion mix and numerous toasted breads. For two people experiencing Foie Gras for the first time, it became a savory exploration with each dish.
It was our lunch at Tavern on the Green that provided an epic Foie Gras experience. I am sure it had as much to do with the Central Park setting as it did with appetizer. The leaves were beginning to show a hint of spectacular Fall color, the sun was warm on our shoulders as we strolled towards the restaurant and the park was alive with the voices of everyone out enjoying the day; Or maybe our arrival is so etched in my memory it has influenced my preference for the Tavern on the Green Foie Gras.
We walked up to the Maître D’s podium and provided our names as usual. What happened next was anything but usual. Did I tell you that Max had a sense of humor? Upon hearing Dorothy’s name, the Maître D’ pulled himself to his whole height and bowed to her. As he stood again, he said, “Your Majesty, it is our honor to have you as a guest. We have prepared an outside table as you secretary, Max, requested. Let me personally seat you.”
Dorothy did not so much as bat an eye. She simply gave a slight head bow in return, quickly read his name tag and said, “Why thank you, Gregory. I am sure it will be delightful especially on such a spectacular day”.
We looked at each other quickly and both said, “Max”. I simply took Dorothy’s lead from there and let the afternoon flow.
The Maître D’ whispered to his side attendant and then lead us through the dining facility to the outside seating. Off to the edge was a table set in a manner I can say was fit for a Queen. Fresh flowers filled a low bowl in the center, the chairs were covered with fitted, floral spreads, and two servers stood at the ready to assist.
After being seated, the first server presented us with elegant small hand written menu cards as he explained, “The chef noted your desire to dine today on small plate dishes. He is preparing these dishes especially for you. We hope you enjoy.”
We spent the next several hours dining on a series of amazing appetizers followed by several small desserts; all of which was accompanied by white wine and then aromatic teas. I can only define the lunch as a fabulous experience. There was even a tableside visit by the chef who Dorothy engaged in a conversation centered on his method of preparing the Foie Gras. He insisted it be seared to release the duck fat but never marinated to mask the flavor.
Upon our return to the hotel later that day, we went directly to the bar to locate Max. We knew our suspicions were confirmed when, upon seeing us approach, Max broke out in a huge smile and said, “So, Your Majesty, how was lunch?”
It seemed Max contacted his bartender friend at Tavern on the Green and between them concocted a tale about visiting royalty from some obscure minor monarchy. They were fairly certain no one would have time to check on the story if the reservation was made early on the same day.
Dorothy thanked him profusely for a fabulous unexpected adventure and turned to me, “Always be the Queen, never the Princess. Princesses tend to be demanding while Queens are gracious.”
I have followed her advice through the years and it has served me well. I am the Queen of my kitchen.
This recipe for Foie Gras combines several versions experienced while dining in New York to provide a quick but flavorful appetizer.
If Foie Gras is not available locally, an excellent source is Hudson Valley Foie Gras. While what is needed is only about three quarters of a pound, most lobes are sold in one to one and a half lobes. Freeze whatever is left over to later render or use to create a Foie Gras mousse.
It is imperative to prepare the peach sauce and toast prior to searing the Foie Gras. Otherwise, the fat that is rendered during the sear with be lost to the skillet and not distributed on the toast.
The pumpernickel bread provides a deep flavor base for the richness of Foie Gras. After toasting, light butter with a smear of sage butter. It provides a hint of flavor to the final dish without requiring the marinading of the Foie Gras.
The topping of a spiced peach sauce, balances what can be an overwhelming richness and provides a bit of sweetness atop incredible savory flavors.
The skillet should be as hot as possible before adding the Foie Gras to ensure a quick sear without rendering the duck fat.
1 pound Foie Gras lobe
1 c fresh or frozen peaches, chopped
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t ginger
1 t dried sage or 2 t fresh sage, chopped (divided)
4 slices pumpernickel bread
2 T unsalted butter, at room temperature
Place peaches, nutmeg, ginger and ½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh sage in a small pan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to medium and simmer until thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Toast four slices of pumpernickel bread until lightly browned. Lightly spread with sage butter. (Mix ½ dried or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage with 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. There will be some leftover.)
Cut four large or eight medium ½ inch slices of foie gras. Place remaining fois gras in refrigerator or freeze. Lightly score both sides.
Heat a heavy bottomed skillet over high heat. When a droplet of water "dances" in the skillet, it is ready to add the foie gras. Place 4 slices of foie gras in the skillet. Do not crowd. Sear for 2-3 minutes until browned. Turn and sear and an additional 2 or 3 minutes.
Immediately place one large or two medium slices of foie gras on a slice of pumpernickel bread.
Spread 2 tablespoons peach mix on top of the foie gras. Serve immediately.