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Griffin to Go: A Journey from Duck Fat to Pork Belly

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Saturday’s joyous weather called for a food trek through San Antonio, and the result was a trip of savory indulgences.

Scott Cohen demonstrates how to cook foie gras.

It started at Gaucho Gourmet, the exceptional food warehouse the Ciorciari family operates at 935 Isom Road. The space is only open to the public on Saturdays, and word has certainly gotten out about the place as several dozen people showed up to browse through rows of truffles, fine salami, rare cheeses and a few Asian items that have been added to the mix of European and Argentine favorites.

But the real draw this Saturday was a foie gras cooking demonstration given by Scott Cohen, who used to work with Gaucho Gourmet’s Luciano Ciorciari at Pesca on the River Walk, now Ostra, and the late Brasserie Pavil.

Foie gras

That winning combination was made even more winning when seared samples of the fatty duck liver were served up at the end of session.

Cohen, who is now an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Austin, brought along his son, Daniel, who is now attending the school as well as two local chefs, Isaac Cantu of the Westin La Cantera and Stephen Paprocki of Eurest Compass Group. Both had worked with Cohen at Las Canarias.

When getting ready to prepare foie gras, make sure it is firm, Cohen said. If you press a finger into it, it should keep the indentation, not spread out.

Heat your skillet, but don’t let it get too hot. That could cause the expensive treat to burn. Instead, it should have a pleasant sizzle when you set the slices into the heat. Cohen used a touch of grapeseed oil in the pan beforehand, which has a high smoking point and doesn’t impart a flavor to mask the delicate nature of the foie gras.

Steve White enjoys a sample of foie gras.

The meat is ready when the exterior is seared but the center is warm and will practically melt on the tongue, Cohen said.

To finish of the treat, you could use a sauce made from flavors you enjoy. It could be a balsamic reduction straight from a can, a sauce of brandy-soaked cherries or a more complex creation with a demi-glace base, perhaps with a touch of Saba, a quince glaze.

Gaucho Gourmet sells Hudson Valley Foie Gras in packages of various sizes. It isn’t cheap, but for a special occasion — such as a Saturday morning, Cohen said with a laugh — it’s worth it.

Bonnie and I left Gaucho Gourmet with plans to meet up with several friends at YaYa’s Thai at 8085 Callaghan Road at I-10 for lunch. It was a chance to sample more duck, since the crispy version with red curry was the special. And it was a winner, with a crunchy exterior and moist bits of meat at the center.

YaYa's Fish Cakes

Neither Bonnie nor I wanted much sugar with our food, but we weren’t so lucky with our orders. A shrimp and avocado salad sounded more than good, but the sticky sweet dressing on top did the fresh ingredients in the salad no favors. A beef salad was not quite as bad, but the sugar was there. An order of fish cakes was best with tender egg and fish working together beautifully.

From there, it was on to Rainbow Gardens at 8516 Bandera Road. I had started the day in the garden clearing a spot for cucumbers, but I wanted to plant more. For her garden, Bonnie was looking for a heirloom tomatoes, a couple of okra plants, herbs, African daisies and so forth. Plenty of other gardeners in town had the same ideas, apparently, for the place was bustling.

The herb area at Rainbow Gardens.

Soon our cart was so filled with the likes of purslane, Greek oregano,and Cuban oregano in addition to soil and fertilizer that we had to get a second cart. That prompted even more buying, with zucchini plants, plumbago and more added to the mix. After stopping to pet the nursery’s silky black cat, we headed out and stuffed the trunk and back seat of a small Mazda 3 with purchases.

For me, a trip to that area of Bandera Road is not complete with a stop at Tim’s Oriental & Seafood Market, 7015 Bandera Road. Though most every sweet and starchy snack in the store seemed to call our names, from pastel-colored Piroline-style cookies that would be perfect for Easter to garlicky crackers, we managed to be good and avoid the call of the carbohydrates.

That pork hanging next to the ducks -- that's mine!

But Bonnie saw a thing of beauty at the butcher counter that was beyond resisting. It was roasted pork, actually pork belly, for $6.95 a pound. Hanging next to the marinated roast ducks, which are also a happy bet but perhaps a little too much after all the duck we had had, it sent out Circe’s seductive call. I couldn’t resist. I bought the entire piece, which was chopped up and boxed to go.

The car didn’t make it out of the parking lot before the first pieces of that fat find made it out of the box. The crackling on the outside could not have had more crunch, while the meat and fat, boasting a heady mix of garlic and salt, was practically intoxicating. It was the perfect bookend to the foie gras, and a great way to end the trip before resuming the gardening.

(Photos by Bonnie Walker and John Griffin)


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