Foie Gras is a recipe based on the fatty liver of a goose or duck. As the liver needs to be fatter than would normally be the case, the bird is force-fed cooked maize (corn) for two or three weeks prior to it being slaughtered.
Both the foie gras recipes and the method of force feeding a bird to produce the fatty liver are commonly thought to be French. In fact, the ancient Romans produced foie gras and research indicates that they learned it from the Egyptians, who produced it thousands of years ago. The historical explanation is that Egyptians noticed the rich taste of the livers of migrating geese, which stopped in the Nile region to eat large amounts of figs before continuing their migration north. To reproduce this taste, they began force feeding domesticated geese with figs. The Egyptians also used this technique for calves.
From the Egyptians, this process spread to the Greeks and then the Romans, although how this happened is subject to discussion. The most accepted theory is that it was carried by Hebrews, who were slaves under the Egyptians and subsequently travelled widely. The Hebrews also used this method to produce cooking fat, as due to religious reasons they were unable to use pork fat.
In ancient Rome, the Latin phrase for the fatty liver produced by this force-feeding with figs was "Jecur Ficatum", which means "liver caused by figs". This was later shortened to Ficatum, which is the source of the French word for liver "foie". Nowadays, the birds are fed corn (maize) instead of figs, and few but linguists know that the French word "foie" has its origins in this ancient process.
Many people are concerned about the use of force-feeding in the production of foie gras. This has led to a strong movement to ban the production of foie gras, which has resulted in its production being made illegal in some countries.
For more information, click on the Foie Gras Recipe Home.