Aszú & Fois Gras

 

Tokaj

The Tokaj wine region is situated in North East Hungary at the foothills of the Zemplén Mountains, along the rivers Bodrog and Tisza. The world’s first delimited wine region since 1737, the regulations were designed to protect local values and they prohibited the import of grapes, must or wine to the region. The soil is of volcanic origin (andesite, liparite, quartz) and this is reflected in the wines which show a certain minerality and tightness. The climate is continental with long and dry autumns. One of the defining features of the wine region is the multitude of microclimates and soils in the various vineyards resulting in wines of great variety and distinct characters. There are six permitted grape varieties: furmint, hárslevelű, sárga muskotály, kabar, zéta and kövérszőlő. The birth of the sweet wines of Tokaj, Szamorodni and Aszú can be attributed to two main factors: the effects of Botrytis cinerea or noble rot on ripe berries and the special climate of the region. Tokaj was enlisted as a World Heritage Site in 2002 by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

1_tokaj_171011 Furmint Photo Tokaj Ősz 1. Etap 165.jpg

Tokaj aszú

Thanks to the special microclimate of the wine region the onset of Botrytis cinerea or noble rot responsible for the shrivelling of berries is an almost certain occurrence each year though admittedly with varying degrees of intensity. In autumn the diurnal alternation of morning fog created by the rivers and dry sunny days is conducive to the production of aszú berries. Botrytis punctures the grape skins thereby assisting the evaporation of liquid matter and by doing so increasing the concentration of sugar, acidity and flavour compounds. However this is not a uniform process so the shrivelled berries have to be picked one by one over a prolonged period. Needless to say this is an extremely labour-intensive process; even experienced pickers can gather only 6-7 kilograms a day and the same vine might have to be revisited 4-5 times in one harvest period. Once the liquid matter has evaporated the aszú berries are macerated in the fermenting juice or base wine of the same vintage for 24-48 hours with regular stirring for proper extraction. Once the maceration is done the aszú paste is removed, pressed and the resulting must is fermented to arrive at Tokaj Aszú. The wines age for at least 18 months in barrels and 12 months in bottle before they are ready to be sold. The number of puttonys is an indication of the sweetness and concentration of an Aszú. Traditionally this number was determined by the number of puttonys (baskets) holding about 25 kilograms of aszú berries added to one Gönci barrel (136 l) of wine. The new regulations in effect since 2013 prescribe a post-fermentation residual sugar content of at least 120 gramm/liter which is equal to 5 puttonys in the traditional system. It is no longer mandatory to indicate the number of puttonys on labels. Properly stored Tokaj Aszús can be enjoyed for several decades. High sugar content and acidity guarantee long life and slow ageing. A properly stored 20 year old Aszú is still magnificent with slightly transformed flavours, added complexity; it’s easy to see why they are so higly regarded by connoisseurs. However tasting younger Aszús with their more springlike, fresher and brighter profile provides just as much pleasure.

Tokaji aszú.jpg

TOKAJ ASZÚ AND FOIE GRAS

The origins of foie gras reach back to antiquity and it was liked both by the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The production of fattened goose liver is a costly and time-consuming process making foie gras an exclusive product. Hungary is one of the leading producers in the world and foie gras is seen as a traditional dish here.

Foie gras is a classic pairing with natural sweet wines including Tokaj Aszú which besides its concentration is characterized by zesty acidity and a unique minerality which taken together result in a perfect balance. The slightly sweet flavour of foie gras is beautifully complemented by the residual sugar of the aszú, its richness is matched by the wine’s concentration and the vibrant acidity is the perfect antidote to the fattiness of foie gras.

Due to variations in vintages, vineyards and technology aszús show great diversity thus providing a vast realm to explore and discover your favourite styles and wineries and ample room for bolder experiments when matching it with foie gras dishes. This year we are offering recipes which are easy to prepare at home and coupled with a bottle of Tokaj Aszú they provide everything needed for an exclusive meal.

 

Foie Gras Pate with Thyme

(Serves 4 people)
350g foie gras
150g butter
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 bouquet of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons cognac
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper

 


In a pan melt half of the butter over medium heat, add the finely chopped onion and when it’s soft enough, add the crushed garlic. Chop the liver and add to the onion and garlic. Season it with salt, black pepper and some thyme, then add the cognac. Using a stick mixer process until it’s creamy, then divide it into four small ramekins. Melt the rest of the butter, add thyme leaves, and pour the mixture on the liver paté. Keep it in the refrigerator until served. Serve it with roasted milk loaf. 

The fresh herbs in the paté are best matched by a young aszú which itself features some herbal notes.

 

 

Foie Gras Crème Brûlée

(Serves 4 people)
250g foie gras
30cl cream
3 egg yolks
salt to taste
4 teaspoons granulated sugar

Before starting: remove the foie gras from the refrigerator 3-4 hours ahead so that it can reach room temperature by the time cooking begins. Process the raw foie gras in a blender, add the egg yolks one by one and finally add the cream in a piecemeal manner. Add salt, then divide the mixture equally into four heat resistant ramekins. Put the ramekins in a roasting tray filled with water so that the water reaches halfway up to the height of the ramekins. Cover the ramekins with alufoil and place them in a pre-heated oven at 120˚C, then steam for 40-45 minutes; don’t worry if it turns out to be slightly soft. Remove the ramekins from the oven, wait until it cools off and then put it in the refrigerator. Sprinkle on top some granulated sugar and then put it in the oven to broil for a few minutes so that the sugar is caramelized on top. A culinary torch is even better for the same purpose.

The crunchy, caramelized sugar coating makes the crème brûlée sweet so it is best accompanied by older, more mature aszús.

Foie gras baskets

250g foie gras
50g butter
3 egg yolks
10cl cream
5 sprigs fresh herbs
salt to taste
For the baskets:
150g flour
100g butter
1 egg
4-5 tablespoons white wine
salt to taste
4 pastry cases

First prepare the baskets. Mix the cold butter with the flour, then add the egg, wine and with rapid moves knead the pastry, then divide it into four equal portions. Roll them out into thin rounds and then line the pastry cases with them. Put parchment paper on the pastry, then add dry beans or baking beans, and bake it in an oven at 190˚C for 10-12 minutes. When the pastry has slightly cooled off remove the baking beans together with the parchment paper.

Melt the butter, add the chopped foie gras and the finely chopped herbs, season it with salt and then roast it all. Mix the egg yolk with cream, and add it to the cooled off foie gras then in equal portions place the mixture in the pastry baskets. Bake them in a pre-heated oven at 180˚C for 15-20 minutes until the fillings get somewhat firmer but not hard.

 A young, refreshing, fruit-forward aszú is the perfect choice to partner with the light texture and herbal aromas of this dish.

 

Pan seared foie gras

(Serves 4 people)
400g foie gras
100g butter
100g dried sour cherries
10cl Tokaj Aszú
1 baguette

Before starting: put the foie gras in milk, fully immersed, for a night to marinate. The next day remove it from the milk and wipe it dry using paper towels. Leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours and then slice it.

Boil the dried sour cherries in 10cl of aszú and let the wine reduce to half of its original volume. Melt the butter in a pan and when hot enough sear both sides of the foie gras; this shouldn’t take longer than a minute for each side. Toast the slices of baguette and serve the foie gras together with them and the sour cherry reduction.

The slightly smoky flavours of the seared foie gras and the richness of the sour cherry reduction are beautifully complemented by a more mature aszú.