Holly A. Heyser
Sometimes nature presents you with something so special you have no choice but to bow down to the ingredient and present it as purely as you can. I know, Jaded Ones: You've heard this mantra aped by hundreds of chefs hundreds of times—"honor the protein," and such. It's a cliché. But in this case it's warranted.
I present to you wild foie gras. Yes, it exists. Under certain circumstances, wild ducks and geese will indeed gorge themselves far beyond their normal nutritional needs, to the point where they develop a fat layer comparable to that seen on a domestic duck, loads of fat around their gizzards and guts—and, most importantly, livers that develop into the lovely wobbly bit you see at left in the picture. Doctors call the condition steatosis, in which liver cells accumulate lipids. I call it yummy.
Not all ducks seem to do this. You will rarely see a diver duck this fat, and you will never see a snow goose this sclerotic. Mostly you see it in seed-loving ducks: mallards, gadwall, wigeon, Green-Winged Teal, and most of all in the Northern Pintail, Anas acuta.
This liver came from a pintail, a hen I shot on Opening Sunday at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, just outside of Maxwell. Even before I finished plucking this bird I knew I had something special: It was as fat as a domestic, and since I'd shot it in the head, there was no meat damage. Once I opened it up, I saw fat around the guts and a glob coating the gizzard. A good sign.
Holly A. Heyser
When I saw the liver, I actually gasped—it was exactly the color of foie gras. Understand that you just don't see livers this fatty very often; a wild foie turns up maybe once or twice a season, tops. How fatty are we talking? Look at the other liver in the picture: It came from another pintail I shot that day.