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I was reading Fleming's Casino Royale and ran into the following curious detail, when describing James Bond's meal:

Later, as Bond was finishing his first straight whisky ‘on the rocks’ and was contemplating the paté de foie gras and cold langouste which the waiter had just laid out for him, the telephone rang.
...
Bond shook himself, then he picked up his knife and selected the thickest of the pieces of hot toast.
He dipped the knife into the glass of very hot water which stood beside the pot of Strasbourg porcelain and reminded himself to tip the waiter doubly for this particular meal.

Now, from the text, it seems he's about to put foie gras on a toast. As far as I'm aware it's quite soft and not hard to cut with the knife and spread.

What exactly is the point of dipping the knife into hot water then?

  • 3
    Keep in mind the high amount of fat in paté de foie gras, around 43%. Fat melts with heat. Thus the saying, “like a hot knife through butter”. – Basil Bourque Aug 13 '16 at 23:17
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    "Bond was finishing his first straight whisky ‘on the rocks’" is the odd thing in that quote. :-) It's either straight (aka "neat"), or it's on the rocks; it can't be both. If it were his third straight whisky 'on the rocks' we'd know it was the third one he'd had in a row without drinking something else in-between. But with "first," it just doesn't make sense. Must be why he switched to martinis. – T.J. Crowder Aug 14 '16 at 15:06
  • "spread"? You don't spread foie gras, you cut a slice and deposit it on your bread. – njzk2 Aug 14 '16 at 15:12
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    @T.J.Crowder "Straight" doesn't even mean that, although it is sometimes ambiguously confused with "neat". However, since what it does mean apparently isn't what Fleming describes either, in this particular case I would hardly be surprised if typical meanings of these colloquial terms had changed since the book were written. A good one for ELU, perhaps? – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 14 '16 at 16:03
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Perhaps. I've never heard straight used for the chilled meaning described there, nor apparently have Merriam-Webster (who do list the "neat" meaning of it). – T.J. Crowder Aug 14 '16 at 16:07
56

From this link

The key to slicing and portioning foie is to treat it like a rich mousse-cake: Make sure to heat up your knife under running water in between every slice. A cold knife will catch and stick in the foie, causing it to tear or crumble. A hot knife will melt the fat as it goes through, leaving you with clean, smooth surfaces to sear.

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    Only problem with the answer is that Bond is eating pate de foie gras not foie gras. Nothing to sear, and you're basically smearing the pate on the bread anyhow. I suspect Fleming just got that one wrong in the details. – user2397191 Aug 14 '16 at 19:26
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    I think the importance of the clean cut is still there, even if you aren't searing it, even if you smear what you cut off. I think if you have a loaf/mass of pate, it would probably be considered rude to leave a sloppy looking pate loaf behind. Of course, I've never had it, so I'm speculating. – PoloHoleSet Sep 7 '16 at 18:37
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I think it helps the knife to pass through the foie gras quickly without anything sticking to the surface of the knife blade, making for cleaner cuts.

Enjoying foie gras

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