Meat-free options are all the rage these days with health benefits being touted as the main attraction of a plant-based diet.
But health purposes may not be the only motivation of seeking a foie gras alternative. This French delicacy, sought after for its richness and decadence has been the subject of animal rights and cruelty debates across the world.
In New York City a recent law to be enforced in 2022, was passed recently in a move to ban this delicacy – typically mass-produced by force-feeding ducks and geese. This method of production anger animal rights groups and animal lovers, who are continuously lobbying to ban the delicacy in restaurants. And to show the constant tussle and change of law, California’s case is an example. The foie gras prohibition was lifted in 2012 in California, only to be enforced again last year by a higher court.
In other parts of the world, the fight goes on with animal rights campaigners blaming the increased demand of foie gras as the reason for scaled-up production. However, there are some farmers who are exploring more ethical ways of feeding these birds. They do this by allowing the animals to access an ample supply of nuts, acorns, olives and figs seasonally and naturally.
With veganism becoming mainstream, the discussions have moved on to finding plant-based versions of this delicacy with more chefs and food writers toying with a vegetarian or vegan version.
One of them is French chef Alexis Gauthier. Gauthier, a vegan himself, developed plant-based foie gras as part of his work with other plant-based chefs from online channel Bosh!, along with US animal rights organisation Peta. The Michelin Star’s chef recipe for a vegan foie gras is made with walnuts, mushrooms, shallots, lentils and beetroot. All these ingredients are mixed together to form a paste and topped with vegan butter. For extra luxury, add some Cognac for a special occasion.
Copycat foie gras
Not all of us are world-class chefs, so it can prove to be challenging if we’re trying to replicate the creaminess of this French delicacy. Nevertheless, the food world always offers ideas and experiments to make this a success, so hear this out. You’ve heard of nut butter made from almonds, cashew and the like, but what about pili butter?
The pili nut is found in the Philippines and grown in volcanic soil-rich areas. What’s interesting is that the content of monounsaturated fats is nearly 50% of the entire nut. Monounsaturated fats are good for you as they help lower bad cholesterol and cut down the risk of heart disease. Pili nuts also contain magnesium, phosphorus and is a complete protein. Pronounced as “peeley”, this teardrop-shaped nut resembles a pine nut’s texture when roasted. And, what’s crucial for your vegan recipe is that the high good fat content gives the nut a creamier taste, making it a perfect ingredient to blend into your vegan foie gras.
Vogue contends that when roasted these pili nuts turn into decadent morsels that are chewy – which quickly transforms into a melting, buttery texture reminiscent of a foie gras. At the moment, finding the pili nut may be tough due to its long cultivation period of five to six years. On top of that, it can be difficult to de-shell, costing and time and money to process these nuts. The pili nuts’ shells are rock-hard, and producers tend to dry them for two to three days so the kernel can shrink away from the shell to make it a little easier to de-shell. Manual labour yields the best results as machines tend to crush the kernels and cause wastage.
Fruity foie gras
Watermelon “mock” foie gras is another version you may want to impress your guests with. To make them, try this James Martin method. Seal several watermelon slices in vacuum packs for three days, and when ready to dish up with your chosen steak, panfry the fruit in butter before serving together with your mains.
A similar technique can be found in this recipe, using the Spanish toadskin melon called Piel de Sapo for a twist on foie gras. This melon foie gras is served with a spiced duck. These recipes are not vegan but offer creative ways of making vegetarian foie gras if you’re not a fan of nuts or have an allergy to them.
Experimenting, vegan style
Here’s another recipe you can try in your home kitchen. Instead of relying on a one-ingredient type foie gras, give this blend a go to achieve the iron-like flavours and rich texture of the original pate. Using cashews as a base result in a melt in your mouth experience. To complete the recipe, use coconut oil, cocoa butter, white miso, white tahini and some yeast.
To replicate the subtle flavour reminiscent of the original delicacy, the author uses a touch of shiitake powder, cognac as well as truffle oil. If you’re into copying the entire look, you can make a vegan version of the yellow fat found in foie gras by mixing a tiny bit of turmeric with coconut oil. Add this layer of mock fat on top of your vegan delicacy. Refrigerate for at least a day to firm up the texture. Enjoy the guilt-free version with crackers or toasted bread and with your favourite glass of white wine.