In Monday’s post I wrote about the decision to cook geese for Christmas this year and how I went about sourcing a pair. In today’s post I’m going to through the sort of sub-recipes that made up the meal.
First up was a spontaneous choice. As with farm-sourced turkeys these geese came with their neck, liver, and other giblets stuffed into the cavity. It’s easy to put together and tastes delicious so I decided to make the goose liver into a mousse pate using the recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. Especially when you use the cook-first method I liked in a comparison post liver mousse is a surprisingly quick and easy preparation. I added a unique twist to mine by substituting brandy from my rumtopf for the called-for cognac.
There are a limited number of guides for cooking goose. It’s a traditional British Christmas dish so I thought the best place to turn would be Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his series of cookbooks and tv shows. In The River Cottage Cookbook he doesn’t offer much advice and in The River Cottage Meat Book there isn’t much more than a summary and recipe variation on roast duck. Luckily, there is significantly more information for a whole beast goose menu in the Christmas episode of the original Escape to River Cottage (can be streamed here from FactualTV). I read that these recipes are also available in The River Cottage Year but this book seems to be close to unavailable from Canadian online sources at the moment.
From HFW’s Goose Three Ways I took both the idea of splitting the birds in half to confit the legs and roast the breasts and also the idea of stuffing the neck skin. Hugh has the luxury of ambling down his Dorset country lane to visit a goose farm and ask the farmer to leave his goose more or less intact after slaughter. Even with Fresh from the Farm this option isn’t available to us so the neck skin is just a flap attached to the breast skin and rectangular instead of a nice cylinder waiting to become a sausage.
All this really means is more sewing. That’s right, after soaking the skin from one of our geese in the fruit-flavoured brandy from my rumtopf (to make it more pliable) I used a darning needle and some fine butcher’s twine to fashion the skin into a shape that would make stuffing it easier. Some final stitches close the package and it’s ready to be poached in goose fat. The whole recipe follows at the bottom of the post.
There is even more difficulty than with chicken or turkey in getting a goose’s thigh meat and breast meat to be at the optimal doneness temperature at the same time. I’ve had such good luck adapting the recipe for duck confit from Earth to Table for both duck and wild boar cheeks that I decided to use it again here. It’s biggest advantage is that it uses stock and cider as a cooking medium and that means that you don’t need to be in the perpetual loop of regularly cooking ducks and geese to supply you with the cups of (otherwise quite expensive) fat for a true confit.
Another advantage to splitting the bird is that you can do as I did and cook the leg quarters a day or two before and then reheat them before serving. I was really amazed at how well the flavours from the broth and spices work their way into the dark goose meat.
Jeffrey Steingarten in his essay Supergoose has a plan for turning one (or both) of your refrigerator’s vegetable drawers into a goose-brining container. This struck me as a sanitary nightmare and I’m convinced that a moderate salting twenty-fours before cooking does the same for any bird that brining would. I did follow his advice and pricked each goose breast twenty-five times with a sharp knife–take care to not go as far as the meat–so that the sub-cutaneous fat would render more easily.
With the breasts still attached to the front half of the carcass I roasted them in a 425°F for about an hour until the probe thermometer read 140°F. The goose then rests before being carved. With geese it is even more important than with turkey to follow the technique (introduced to me by Cook’s Illustrated) of removing the breasts from the bone before slicing across the grain. Also, because the fattier leg quarters have been removed and cooked separately you will have less of a problem with your roasting tray filling with rendered fat.
It’s also helpful to prepare diners for what they’re eating. Geese look sort of like turkeys but with their high grass diet and different physiology their “white” meat remains quite pink when cooked. I described the taste (somewhat inadequately) as being like beef in the shape of a bird. Absolutely delicious.
The Queen’s Stuffed Neck
(Adapted roughly from the recipe in the Christmas episode of Escape to River Cottage.)
Queen Elizabeth I was supposedly eating goose stuffed with onions and sage when the good news was brought to her that Sir Francis Drake and foul weather had defeated the Spanish Armada. She declared that goose with sage and onions would be the traditional meal for Michaelmas (at the end of September) and it is out of this that the North American obsession with this sort of stuffing grew. The dates don’t really match up so the story is probably apocryphal.
- skin of one goose’s neck
- 1 pound of regular ground pork
- 1 small to medium onion, finely diced
- 4 – 5 sage leaves, minced
- 5 sprigs thyme, leaves pulled from the stems and minced
- 1 star anise and 5 cloves, ground
- 1 TB orange zest
- giblets other than liver
- 2 TB butter
- handful of fresh bread crumbs
- salt and black pepper
Clean the neck skin of any meat or fat and reserve. After soaking the skin in brandy to make it more pliable sew it into a sort of cylindrical shape leaving the base of the neck (not the head end) open for stuffing.
Saute the onion in butter over low to medium heat with the herbs until soft and translucent, about fifteen minutes. Cool somewhat.
In a medium bowl combine ground pork, finely chopped giblets (if you’re particularly industrious try getting some meat off the neck, finely chop it and add it to the mix), onion mixture, bread crumbs, orange zest, spices and the brandy used to soak the skin (up to about a quarter cup). Season. Stuff all of this into the neck-skin package. The skin is somewhat elastic but will not stretch nearly as much as a normal sausage casing would.
Prick liberally with a sharp knife so that it doesn’t burst and then poach over low heat in goose fat that comes about halfway up the side of your pseudo-sausage. Flip occasionally and monitor the stuffing’s temperature with an instant read thermometer. Once it reaches about 135°F increase the heat to medium until the skin is dark golden brown. Mine took about thirty minutes of total cooking.