Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Terrine de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit

It's been said that making a good terrine de foie gras mi-cuit is actually very simple. You only need to control two things:
  1. The quality of the foie gras (livers)
  2. The cooking of it (temperature & time).
That simple, eh? Almost. It's the control of the cooking temperature & time where I ran into a few surprises. Once you understand those variables, however, it actually can be simple to do at home. What's more, it doesn't have to be scary anymore. For anyone making a terrine of foie gras, it's a small investment. To fill a terrine the size of mine, I need to buy two 2 foies gras, each weighing about 600g, and that puts me out around 50 euros, or $75. It's pretty nerve-wrecking to think of the possibility of not doing it right when so much money is at stake. So this post is for anyone who is already familiar with terrine de foie gras, has already worked with it before and might be interested to see another experience. No step-by-step recipe this time! (but let me know if there's any interest in that).

There are several different techniques for cooking a terrine of foie gras (sous-vide, poaching, oven, and en croute de sel or in salt) and each has its own little quirks, or I should say, "ways of doing it". At Ecole Ferrandi we learned how to cook terrines using the sous-vide method (under vacuum pak), and it didn't even have to be in a terrine per se. It could be wrapped in plastic wrap like a sausage & put in a sous-vide sac & then cooked to 66°C in a bain marie. At a two-Michelin star restaurant where I worked last year, the foie gras lobes were poached in goose fat to a temperature of 40°C and then stored for a long time before serving. See how variable it can be?

So what about cooking a terrine of foie gras at home? Seeing as we don't have a sous-vide machine....how do I best cook a terrine in my regular, old oven?

Let me share with you my recent experience. First the easy part: I prepared my foies de canard (duck livers) by de-nerving them & marinating them overnight in white port wine, cognac & some "foie gras spices" (typically lots of salt, pepper, some sugar, and 4-spices). Then I put it in the terrine. Now comes the tricky part: actually cooking it! A very reliable reference book of mine said to preheat the oven to 150°C & to cook the terrine in a bain marie for 20 minutes. It sounds so easy, doesn't it?! Well, it's not as straight forward as that. I came across the following variables which I believe impacted my actual cooking time.
  • Oven temperature. Differences in temp do exist and size matters! A reading of 150°C was actually 165°C inside the oven. This is easily corrected, but something to be aware of and to check. As for size, when I open the door of my small oven, the temperature drop is much more significant than when I open the door of a large commercial oven. So, when I'm messing around with my terrine & bain marie here at home, I've got to be quick! This is probably only something to consider if you keep opening & closing the oven, like I did, when my terrine wouldn't finish cooking!
  • Bain marie. Make sure your water is hot before you put your terrine in the bain marie! Using water from the tap without heating it will extend the cooking time considerably. My reference book doesn't say anything about this, but from experience I knew the water needed to be hot. Even then, I don't think it was hot enough. Next time I'll make sure it is ~ 70°C.
  • Type of terrine you're using. Ceramic, cast iron, or glass - the type of material used will impact how long you cook your terrine. A cast iron terrine will take longer to come up to temperature in the bain marie than say glass or ceramic ones. Mine is cast iron. And I had stored it in the fridge before cooking it. Imagine what it did to the water temperature of the bain marie, and therefore the cooking time. Trust me, it lengthens it!
OK, with all of these factors noted, what happened? Well, my timer went off after 20 minutes & theoretically, my terrine should have been done, like my book said. Luckily, I have a very reliable food thermometer & I measured the temperature at the center of the terrine. It read 13°C!! That means it was cold on the inside (13°C = 55°F)! I promptly put it back in the oven and re-checked the temperature every 10 minutes. Each time, I opened & closed the oven & messed around with my water bath & terrine which are not really sized to fit together perfectly! Imagine water sloshing around a bit...and a slight awkwardness with handling...(we have very small ovens here and my roasting pan just barely fits)...so the bottom line is that some oven temperature variation was inevitable...!

In the end it took me a total of 45 minutes. I removed the terrine from the oven when the temperature at center measured 30°C. At this point, my terrine looked like the one pictured in my reference book (ie, a good layer of melted yellow duck fat on top of the terrine), and as the book said, it may look undercooked, but that's the way it's supposed to be. I only wish I had a picture of it at that point. Too bad!

I removed the terrine from the bain marie, and let it sit on the counter top where it did continue to cook a bit. So, that reminds me that there's actually one last factor: the rate at which you cool down your terrine. At school, we cooked it until the center temperature was 66°C, but we immediately stopped the cooking by cold shocking it into an ice bath. Here at home, I let it sit on the counter a few hours.

I put weights on top to compress it. After a while, I removed them, wrapped the terrine in plastic and then let it rest in the fridge 3 days. (Letting it rest 3 days is critical.) Only then would I know how well it was cooked , or not. And, I'm relieved to say that it turned out delicious! Honestly, I wasn't sure if 30°C would actually be a good end temperature or not. It's just that my terrine looked like the picture of the terrine in my book. Unfortunately, my book doesn't define a target end temperature. I later read a few other blogs and found one that says to remove it at 38°C... so I leave it up to you to decide when you want to pull yours out of the oven!

My conclusions: (1) You're bound to run into variables that will affect the cooking process of a terrine of foie gras in the oven, and its successfulness. But, that shouldn't throw you off, if you're aware of the variables, and if you're able to adjust yourself to them. Blindly following a recipe without taking into account variables can lead to disaster no matter what you're preparing. And when you're cooking something costing a small fortune, it's even more important to pay attention to what you're doing. An overcooked terrine is simply a waste of money. I've done that before. Let me just say that it makes me not nice to be around for a few hours! You end up with a lot of rendered duck fat since most of the foie is melted away. What's left is a minuscule terrine. Still edible, but minuscule. An undercooked terrine is equally bad - it will look unappetizing (too pink/red) & that's enough to make it a turn-off. Plus, it is probably not the safest, bacterially-speaking. (2) Make sure you have a good food thermometer so that you can measure the temperature at the heart of the terrine. For me this is key to making a good terrine of foie gras, especially for beginners. Because this way, no matter what variable is thrown your way, you'll have a way to reassure yourself that it's going to be OK. (3) Finally, think about how these variables can occur, and try to mitigate them in the first place....then you'll really be on the road to cooking like a pro! Because after all, these are the same principles used in a professional kitchen for cooking n'importe quoi (no matter what)!

So voilà! I share the lessons I learned recently about making a terrine of foie gras at home. Long-winded, but hopefully, helpful. This one's for you Robbin! And please let me know what you've experienced in doing this yourself.


Eryn said...

Is there a recipe (recette) for the Terrine de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit?

Existe-t-il une recette pour la Terrine de Foie Gras ?

Anonymous said...

Miam, Antoine va me faire la rectte pr Noel!

girlcookinparis said...

Eryn, I'll post the recipe soon, when I get a chance.

Anonymous (aka s-i-l), you are lucky! I'm sure Antoine's foie gras will be delicious. Let us know when to come over for a dégustation! And being a vrai francais (real frenchman), I think he must have been born with the ability to do a great terrine! Please leave some tips, Antoine! :)

Anonymous said...

Sweet blog, I had not come across girlcookinparis.blogspot.com earlier in my searches!
Continue the great work!

Anonymous said...

Have you considered the fact that this might work another way? I am wondering if anyone else has come across something
similar in the past? Let me know your thoughts...

Anonymous said...


This is a message for the webmaster/admin here at girlcookinparis.blogspot.com.

Can I use some of the information from this blog post right above if I provide a link back to this website?


girlcookinparis said...

Dear Harry, Yes, feel free to use the info & yes, I'd appreciate the link back! good luck, diane

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I am certainly happy to discover this. Good job!

Anonymous said...

That's an all round incredibly written blog..

Vikki said...

Thank you so much for sharing your foie gras experiences - so helpful and 'homely!'. I've cooked it before but always a bit hit or miss on the timing so the final temperature advice was great. I want to serve some sort of sweet accompaniment like caramelised apples or ??????? Any suggestions for something that can be prepared in advanced as I am doing 5 courses and need to minimise last minute cooking. Many thanks. Victoria

girlcookinparis said...

Hi Vikki, thanks for visiting and for your comment. Good luck with your foie gras and entire meal! What I like to serve with foie gras terrine is an oignon compote (kind of like a confiture) or a fig compote. As a "quenelle" or spoonful on the plate. The compote is slightly sweet and can also be sour at the same time (the onion anyway)...making it a great combination. Either is very easy to make although you can also buy great quality products at specialty food stores.

I also like to serve a simple green salad with a simple vinaigrette on the same plate to complete the course.

And of course baguette toasts or other toasted artisinal bread...

I don't think there is anything better than eating the foie gras on a toast and topped with a bit of compote. Oh, yeah, one other thing - with a nice glass of Sauterne wine!!

all the best, diane

Franci said...

Hi Diane!
Thanks so much for this posting. It was very helpful.
We have a couple things in common. I also went to cooking school, but the FCI in NYC. Now I live on the Riviera, in Monaco but we are planning to move back to the US and this prompt me to experiment with foie, now that it's more abdundant and cheap here.

Besides cooking school I only did an intership in NY and went to work breafly in London for four seasons, so a very short carrier and foie was not my task, for sure.

Going back to the topic.
I made a foie au sel and it was lovely. I made a terrine of foie gras and I was not very happy with the result. The overall flavour was good but the texture and appearance was far from desiderable. I followed to the letter the recipe in Fat (J. McLagan's book) and she suggests an oven temperature of 120 C, bainmarie at 70 and internal temperature at 48 C. At the end of cooking my liver looked a little overcooked ( I used a probe thermometer to get to 48 C). I started with a 650 g fresh foie and I poured out 350 ml of liquid (fat + juices). In Ripailles by Stephane Raynaud I read cold foie by fridge, cold bainmarie and oven at 100 C for 30 minutes for 1 kg of foie. To me this is a pretty cold internal temperature.
Then I read this

Hélène Darroze terrine is cooked at 180 C ! for 20 minutes for every kg.
Then she talks about cooking the foie in fat as you mentioned but at 80 C!
I'm a bit confused.
I'd like to try the terrine from Stephane Raynaud but I guess I'll follow your advice an stop at 30 C internal temperature and judge by the look. If you have other tips for me I'd be grateful.