Foie Gras, Explained: Everything You Need to Know About the Iconic French Delicacy 

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From how to serve it, to why it’s hotly debated.
 

Foie gras has been considered the crème de la crème of traditional French cuisine for a long time. At its core, foie gras is the liver of a duck or a goose served in slices, terrine-style, or as a mousse. But the speciality food, while delicious and often featured on five-star menus, is not without controversy. In fact, many animal rights organizations argue that the dish itself is unethical, and some stores refuse to carry foie gras. In recent years, some chefs around the U.S. have even come up with alternative ways to create a dish with similar texture and flavor, minus the inhumane technique. Below, everything to know about foie gras: including the answer to “what is foie gras?” and an explanation on how foie gras is made, what it tastes like, why it’s debated in the culinary community, and where to buy it online.

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Sliced Foie gras with bread
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What Is Foie Gras?

Foie gras, which is French for “fat liver” comes exclusively from duck or goose. The process of creating the dish, which is quite controversial, involves force-feeding corn to the birds, which dramatically increases the size of the liver and thus yields a rich, fattened texture and a buttery flavor. Sometimes, foie gras is sold whole, but more often it will be sold in a mousse or pâté form. The style of serving foie gras as a terrine involves layering the liver in a dish, then weighing it down to compact the product. Once baked, the foie gras is then chilled and sliced. Some chefs choose to sear foie gras in a pan, but since it melts easily, this method often requires culinary expertise.

Is Foie Gras Legal in the U.S.?

The answer to this question is a little nuanced. Foie gras is legal in some parts of the U.S., and illegal in other parts—and the legality changes by state every so often, and also varies among major corporations. For example, Whole Foods Market, Costco, Safeway, and Target do not sell foie gras. This is because the foie gras production process requires that young duck and geese be force-fed (gavage in French) in order to attain the dish’s rich texture.

California first banned the sale of the delicacy in 2004, but since has had various updates to the ruling, like a stipulation in July of 2020 that allows residents to purchase foie gras, “provided the product and transaction are made out of state, but they still can’t get the delicacy in restaurants,” according to the Associated Press. In 2019, the New York City Council banned the sale of foie gras, a law that will take effect in the city in 2022.

Fresh homemade chicken liver pate on bread with thyme on a wooden cutting board.
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What Does Foie Gras Taste Like?

In short, foie gras tastes intensely rich. Because it is very high in fat, it's recommended that this gourmet food be consumed in moderation—but that steep fat content also yields a unique richness in flavor and velvety texture of unparalleled proportions. Many people describe the taste as buttery or nutty, with duck foie gras tending to be a little more gamey and earthy than goose, which is typically smoother and more mild.

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Pâté Versus Foie Gras: What's the Difference?

Pâté, which is the French word for paste, can be very fancy but it can also be quite simple. The primary difference between pâté and foie gras is that the former can take many forms (it’s just a seasoned, blended mixture of meat, poultry, or seafood)  whereas the latter must be made from duck or goose liver to qualify as foie gras (though it does not have to come from France the way Champagne does).

Jars of "foie gras" (fatty liver)  in Paris
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Where to Buy Foie Gras Online

If you’re looking for a high-quality selection of this delicacy, there are several gourmet food stores online that can deliver a variety of foie gras right to your doorstep (while you’re there, check out the caviar selections, too). Whether you’re in search of raw foie gras, prepared foie gras, or a small amount (you can even find medallions or individual slices), these purveyors are a good place to start.

Petrossian
Known for its fine caviar selection, Petrossian also sells a variety of foie gras products.
To buy: From $64, petrossian.com

Dartagnan
Dartagnan has provided high-end restaurants and chefs with foie gras since the ‘80s. You can get the product raw or ready to serve.
To buy: From $18, dartagnan.com

Marky’s
Marky’s has one of the widest foie gras selections on the Internet, including many other duck products like duck fat and duck leg confit.
To buy: From $25, markys.com

Gourmet Foodstore
While you’re perusing the brand’s foie gras selection, check out the accessories Gourmet Foodstore offers, like this chic foie gras wire slicer.
To buy: From $21, gourmetfoodstore.com

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Known for their high-quality duck products, Hudson Valley Foie Gras puts an emphasis on setting high standards for their animals, who are raised on a lush 200-acre farm in the Catskills.
To buy: From $25, hudsonvalleyfoiegras.com