Foie Gras and pâté are two dishes associated with true luxury dining. Both fixtures of classical French cuisine, they are sliceable yet yielding and complex in flavor, in fact, they boast many similarities. It’s precisely these similarities that blur the lines between them and the reason why they are sometimes confused with one another. In truth, however, pâté and foie gras are very different things.
While foie gras can be made into pâté, not all pâté is foie gras. Recognizing and appreciating these variances will help you decide what best compliments each of these delicacies and when to serve them to enhance and highlight their best characteristics.
What Is Foie Gras?
Prized for its rich flavor and fatty texture, foie gras is considered a delicacy on par with other highly coveted gastronomic delights like truffles, Dom Perignon, and Beluga caviar. Part of the protected cultural and gastronomic heritage of France, foie gras refers to the liver of a duck or a goose fattened by the gavage technique. The name itself translates to “fatty liver” in French. Its flavor is highly regarded and described as buttery in taste with a silky texture, unlike that of an ordinary duck or goose liver.
Generally sold in one of four ways: fresh, micuit (partially cooked), fully cooked, or made into a pâté, mousse, or terrine. As mentioned, there are two species of foie gras: goose and duck. They are easily distinguishable thanks to their difference in color. Goose is characterized by a pinkish cast and a subtle taste, while duck has a yellow-tan hue and a more distinct flavor profile.
What is Pâté?
Pâté, on the other hand, runs the gamut from ludicrously expensive to extremely cheap, depending on what it’s made from. While most commonly made of liver, it is not technically a necessary element, meaning anything from ground seafood, pork, beef, and even vegetables like mushrooms can serve as its base. All things can technically make their way into the catch-all that is pâté.
Pâté can also range in flavor from mild to heady. It can be served hot or cold, smooth or chunky, fancy or casual. In short, pâté is a blank canvas for the creative chef and is a method of preparation more than a set recipe.
Pâté de Foie Gras is a delightful concoction consisting of goose or duck liver along with an aromatic assortment of herbs and generally alcohol, classically brandy or Armagnac. This is the form pâté takes that is most similar to foie gras as we know it and is the cause of the confusion. Considered the king of pâtés it is required by French law that it be made of at least eighty percent foie gras. This widely celebrated pâté is what many think of when they hear the word, and so the two are often mistaken one for the other, intertwined perhaps forever in the collective mind of the public.
Similarities and Differences
- Ingredients: Both pâté and foie gras often share common ingredients, including liver (though not always foie gras), fats, seasonings, and sometimes additional flavorings like herbs, spices, or alcohol.
- Texture: Many pâtés and some forms of foie gras have a smooth and spreadable texture, which makes them suitable for spreading on bread or crackers.
- Main Ingredient: Pâté is a broad term for various spreads or mixtures, and it can be made from meats, seafood, or vegetables. While liver is a common ingredient, it's not always the liver of ducks or geese.
- Foie gras specifically refers to the liver of ducks or geese that are fattened using the gavage method.
- Texture and Flavor Profile: Pâté can have a wide range of textures, from coarse to smooth, depending on the specific type. The flavor profile varies based on the main ingredient used.
- Foie gras is known for its rich, buttery texture and a distinctive, luxurious flavor that is often more pronounced than other liver-based pâtés.
- Price: Pâté is generally more accessible and comes in various price ranges, depending on the ingredients used and the preparation process.
- Foie gras is considered a premium product and tends to be more expensive due to the specialized and sometimes controversial methods involved in its production.
While pâté and foie gras share certain characteristics, their differences stem from the specific ingredients used, the production methods, and the culinary traditions associated with each. Both, however, contribute to the world of gourmet cuisine in their own unique ways.
How to Serve Foie Gras and Pâté
When eating foie gras, or even pâté de foie gras for that matter, there is one rule you must follow “do not kill the flavor”. A delicate and subtle dish to get the true taste of foie gras, you must avoid pairing it with other foods that are overly assertive. A sharp wine or an intense cheese is enough to detract from the delicate aroma and characteristic of foie gras. Even the bread it's served upon should be muted in flavor; this is not a time for pumpernickel or rye. Instead, stick to a good baguette, sliced thin and lightly toasted.
The enjoyment of pâté can vary widely. If you are indulging in pâté de foie gras, apply the rules above. If, instead, you’re partaking in another liver or meat pâté, you have a little more flexibility on what you can serve alongside it. Rich meat pâtés pair beautifully with the tart taste and crunch of cornichons. Berry jams and onion conserves (with their inherent sweetness) also pair nicely with liver pâtés. Where foie gras should be enjoyed simply, indulge in pâtés with abandon.
Add them to your sandwiches for a rich and creamy addition, serve them en croute for a warm and classic presentation, or fill choux buns with a luxurious pâté for a savory appetizer.
Both delicious yet decidedly different, you’re now armed with the information to knowledgeably talk about the distinctions, the similarities, and the overall nuance of foie gras and pâté. The perfect fodder for dinner conversation, try bringing these facts up at your next dinner party or family meal night!