Historical records show that the production of foie gras dates all the way back to the dynastic Egyptian aristocracy, over 5,000 years ago. At the necropolis of Saqqara, the Tomb of Mereruka, an important Egyptian royal officer, depicts servants force-feeding grains to geese in order to fatten them. These Saqqara reliefs are the earliest known depictions of goose fattening through the process of force-feeding or “gavage.”
The ancient Egyptians discovered that both geese and ducks overfed themselves in preparation for their long migratory journeys, often to a different continent, producing highly desirable goose meat and a naturally fattened liver. Once the delicacy of fattened geese was discovered, the ancient Egyptians took advantage of this natural process and began cultivating fattened geese through the practice of gavage.
The practice of goose fattening spread from Egypt through the eastern Mediterranean, and there are historical references documented by the Greek poets Homer and Cratinus, dating back to the eighth and fifth century BC.
Under the Roman Empire, the luxurious liver of fattened geese became the culinary focus, above and beyond the tasty goose meat. Until then, the fattened liver was simply a by-product of cultivating goose meat with high fat content. This was the beginning of modern foie gras preparation. The popularity of foie gras in Roman times reflects the growing interest in the culinary arts. Roman aristocrats enjoyed this delicacy during lavish banquets–an important part of their daily lives of conspicuous consumption.
When the Western Roman Empire fell, the Ashkenazi Jews retained the knowledge of how to make foie gras, and the practice later become a staple of Jewish aristocrats in Palestine.
The Ashkenazi Jews of Western and Central Europe carried their knowledge of goose fattening as they migrated to France and Germany, eventually settling along the Rhine. Jewish interest in foie gras makes sense because they used goose fat instead of lard, beef fat, or butter for cooking. The link between Jews and foie gras is backed by a long trail of literary evidence beginning in eleventh century medieval Europe.
The knowledge of foie gras production may have been brought to France centuries earlier; however, the delicacy was popularized in the seventeenth century by chefs associated with the French Court.
In the year 1788, the governor of Alsace traded a pate de foie gras with King Louis XVI for some real estate in Picardy. The Sun King was so enamored by the dish that he began introducing Strasbourg foie gras throughout Europe. This was the origin of how foie gras became associated with French food and culture as it still is today.
Very few ancient foie gras recipes have survived, but cookbooks with recipes for foie gras appear in Europe, and especially France in the 1500’s. The Art of Cooking, the only surviving ancient Roman cookbook dating back to the fourth or fifth century, references two recipes for foie gras. The number of foie gras recipes increased greatly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with recipes from the great chefs of France such as La Chapelle, Massaliot, Pierre Delune, La Varenne, Careme and Menon. The nineteenth century brought greater culinary sophistication and the birth of multiple foie gras enterprises in France, some which are still in business today.
La Cuisiniere Bourgeoise printed in 1746 gives a simple and rather short recipe for “Ragout de Foies gras.” The great Jules Gouffe however, in his 1867 book, Le Livre de la Grande Cuisine offers no less than fifteen ways of preparing foie gras. By that time, pâtés and terrines were in vogue among the upper classes. Le Cuisinier des Cuisiniers from 1853, offered no foie gras recipes, showing that foie gras was not for everyone. It was reserved for the elite and also limited to the areas of production because of the lack of refrigeration and slow transportation methods. In the late nineteenth century, foie gras production in France became a thriving industry making France the uncontested champion of this unique and luxurious food.
There are two types of foie gras, duck foie gras and goose foie gras. Only duck foie gras is produced in the United States. About 5% of the foie gras in France comes from geese, and none of the goose foie gras is currently imported to the US. If you are looking for goose foie gras, contact a seller in France.
There are many excellent, freshly prepared foie gras products available in the US, such as foie gras au torchon, terrine de foie gras, pâté de foie gras and mousse de foie gras. Buy Foie Gras >
Fresh foie gras is generally purchased as a whole lobe and is the product that is used for most recipes that call for foie gras. Frozen foie gras lobes are suitable for use for any recipe that calls for fresh foie gras. It’s best to defrost the whole lobe over one to two days in the refrigerator. Because of the high fat content in foie gras, the product is not negatively impacted by being frozen and defrosted. Buy Foie Gras >
When calculating the amount of foie gras you will need, it is important to consider that a significant amount of the product will melt during most methods of preparation. The amount of fat that renders will depend on the cooking technique.
Generally, you can expect a weight loss of 15 to 20 percent for a Grade-A moulard foie gras. Plan on using approximately 3 - 4 ounces of raw foie gras for each appetizer portion, and 5 – 6 ounces of raw foie gras for each entrèe serving.
Grade "A" foie gras is the finest available and should be almost free of green or blood spots, should have a minimal number of veins, and should weigh between one and three pounds with a light beige and possibly slightly pink color, close to a pale egg shell. Grade-A foie gras is ideal for all delicate cooking methods including poaching, curing and searing. Always use Grade-A when the foie gras will be kept whole. Buy Grade-A foie gras>
Grade "B" is almost as good but with a few blemishes; smaller; should weigh between 3/4 and 1-1/2 pounds. Great seared, or for recipes using high heat cooking. When searing, the larger veins may be removed after the slices are made. Additionally, the high heat will shrink the remaining veins somewhat. Grade B may also be used for pâtés, terrines and mousses; however, the veins should be removed. Buy Grade-B foie gras>
Grade "C" is not available on the retail market and usually reserved by foie gras businesses to make all types of foie gras products such as pâtés, mousses, sauces and other preparations where the integrity of the liver is not important.
Keep in the refrigerator at 33 degrees Fahrenheit (just above the freezing point of water); use within one week, or within two days if the vacuum pack has been opened. Frozen foie gras can last up to two years in the freezer.
Remove from its vacuum pack, rinse and pat dry with paper towels or a clean cloth. Remove any blood and green spots. For poaching, braising or roasting, leave the foie gras whole; do not separate the lobes
For searing in slices, separate the slightly chilled lobes, cut crosswise or diagonally using a sharp knife, making approximately 3/4 inch – 1 inch thick slices. Thinner slices might melt in the pan before the outside is browned and crispy. Cutting a chilled lobe of foie gras is easy when the knife blade has been dipped into hot water. Wipe the blade between each slice. Then follow the recipe.
When the recipe requires deveining, take the foie gras out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour to soften. Rinse and pat dry, remove bile and blood spots if any. Gently open the two lobes with your fingers, locate the larger vein that will eventually split into two directions reaching inside the lower part of each lobe. Carefully remove the larger vein and the smaller ones as well. For torchon or terrine preparation it is best to remove as many veins as possible.
Foie gras is surprisingly low in bad fats and high in good fats. Many studies conducted by well-known and respected authorities have proven foie gras is as healthful as any other meat, although moderation is the key. We know that France consumes the largest portion of the world's foie gras production; yet, there are fewer cardio-vascular diseases in France than in the USA, and the life expectancy is slightly higher in France. So, is it foie gras, the cheese or the wine?
Though the method of preparation, the grade, and the individual bird that produced the foie gras will impact the exact nutritional Information, these are the approximate values per 100 grams (3.53 ounces) of foie gras.
Serv. Size 2 oz (56g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories From Fat 220
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 24g 37%
Saturated Fat 7g 33%
Cholesterol 210mg 70%
Sodium 410mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber less than 1g 2%
Vitamin A 530%
Vitamin C **
** Contains less than 2 percent of the Daily Value of these nutrients.
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Calories: 2,000 2,500
Total Fat Less than 65g 80g
Saturated Fat Less than 20g 25g
Cholesterol Less than 300mg 300mg
Sodium Less than 2,400mg 2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g 375g
Dietary Fiber 25g 30g
Calories per gram:
Fat 9 · Carbohydrate 4 · Protein 4