Foie Gras at Kheema Kaleji, Kunal Vijayakar on the finer things in life

There are a few foods that are banned in India, and I mean beyond the belligerent beef ban, and one of those foods is fatty liver. As foie gras continues to be served in the world’s most sought-after restaurants, India has become one of the first countries to ban the import of this French delicacy.

Foie gras, for the uninitiated, translates to “foie gras”, and is the liver of a goose or a duck that has been fattened by feeding the bird. Considered horribly inhuman and cruel, many countries ban the production of foie gras but continue to import it. After all, he’s highly regarded by those who love the finer things in life, I hate to say it, myself included. But if my inclination sometimes prevents me from ordering them abroad, my heart prevents me more often than not. It’s a battle between the heart and the taste.

There are a few approved ways to cook foie gras. Foie gras terrine is actually one of those easy and faithful ways to cook liver. Slices of liver are layered in a pan with a little French sweet wine or Armagnac (French brandy). The terrine is then wrapped in a terrine mold, pressed firmly to eliminate air bubbles, ensuring that the liver is pressed into the corners of the mold and cooked at low temperature in a Bain Marie (bain-marie); once cooked, it is cooled and sliced. I love terrines of all kinds, especially meatloaf, and a smooth liver terrine is a winner.

But the simply pan-fried foie gras is what I like the most. Traditionally, foie gras is cooked by simply searing the whole liver in a hot pan, with care, as foie gras is soft and delicate and can melt easily. When simply seared, foie gras tastes slightly smoky on the outside and rich, meaty and buttery on the inside. Hélène Darroze, in her flagship Connaught restaurant in London, prepares a divine pan-fried foie gras coated with sesame seeds, sobacha (buckwheat tea) and grilled buckwheat, served with melon and a sauce of Koji rice and sake . It’s too exotic for words.

And then there is the foie gras pâté. The most praised and bourgeois form of eating foie gras. Available readily in jars, bottles and cans, and usually made from duck liver. Cooked foie gras is mashed with brandy and butter to obtain a smooth, bitter, silky paste or mousse that can be spread on crackers and devoured. At the Dinner by Heston Blumenthal restaurant in London, they present a poultry liver and foie gras parfait coated in tangerine jelly to create what looks like a tiny tangerine. It is a sparkling stroke of genius, not only in taste, but also in appearance.

But alas, foie gras is as elusive as it is unthinkable in India so we have to be content with the downgraded cousin of the goose, the chicken and its liver. Chicken liver pate or parfait is easily made in most upscale restaurants and appears on most of Mumbai’s social back deli boards. Even retro-classic home chefs and pastry chefs make jars full of silky chicken liver pate and some of them are very good.

Chicken livers are sautéed with butter, garlic and shallots, then deglazed, traditionally with cognac, port, red wine or whiskey. You then boil the alcohol until you can tone down the flavor and cool the livers. Then perhaps with a little cream, the livers are mixed into a smooth paste, transferred to a bowl and the top covered with melted butter and then refrigerated. On a slice of melba toast, it’s a hell of a good mouthful.

From my earliest memories, we have always cooked chicken liver at home. At parties, there was always liver on toast, platters full of small slices of toast or mini vol-au-vent garnished with chicken liver. Chopped and puffed pieces of liver sautéed with onions, garlic, spices and random sauces, ranging from tomato ketchup to Worcestershire, dark, tangy and spicy, making a wonderful passage.

Old clubs like Willingdon and Cricket Club still made Kidney or Liver Masala on Toast as a conservatory snack. A slice of toast dipped in a thick spicy liver masala sauce, garnished with cilantro. My grandmother made her version of risotto, spicy tomato rice with chunks of chicken liver topped with grated, baked processed cheese. Although it doesn’t look like a real Italian risotto in any way, it was just amazing.

Even in the streets of Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Mumbai, Kaleji and Kheema, Kaleji and Gurda, or just the kaleji on the tawa is a food that I still ardently pursue, a food that remains consecrated and revered in the streets of our country . And that is why, the liver from the highest to the downright street-raised is a sacred organ that I revere so much.

Kunal Vijayakar is a Mumbai-based food writer. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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