The Christmas Goose

Most Americans will have Turkey, Ham, or Beef this Christmas but it wasn’t that long ago that goose reigned supreme. Goose has a long history for being the traditional winter feast. Whether you were celebrating Christmas, Winter Solstice, or Chanukah goose was the meat of choice. In Europe geese have even had many points where it was cheaper than turkey! In fact the reason we eat turkey rather than goose is that when the settlers came they found turkey to be not only the large native bird but it followed the same growing cycle which meant it too was at it’s plumpest come Christmas. 

Even in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol we see the Crachit’s having goose in one of the visions because it was the affordable meat at the time. This is also why Scrooge buys them the “Prized Christmas Turkey” at the end of the story because turkey was only for the wealthy.

Recently I even discovered an article by the New York Times how goose played a long history in Ashkenazi cuisine. So much so that there are many accounts of it being the original source of schmaltz and gribenes because it renders such wonderful fat. It wasn’t until the industrialization of poultry farming that geese fell out of favor. Chickens became incredibly cheap and offered many of the same uses so more and more people made the switch to chicken. Goose now days is a special order item and because it can not be raised on mass scale it has become much more expensive. Geese can only survive if they are given space to roam and are not forced into close confines with other geese as they are very aggressive. Another reason for their much higher cost is due to the fact that they also have to be hand plucked!

The goose played a major role in most households before the 20th century. Not only was the meat nutritious and filling but the fat had many uses and the feathers could be used for everything from mattresses to pillows. It was not uncommon to find people raising their own geese in their back yards. Once chickens and other poultry were able to be raised, slaughtered, and plucked by others people stopped raising their own geese.

Although it was an investment and a commitment, taking the time and effort to both source and prepare a goose made this holiday all that much more special. The key to preparing a goose is a great recipe. As I dug through the internet for recipe the one that grabbed me was from Saveur.com titled Christmas Goose with Stuffing. Funny thing is it’s actually a full dinner in this one recipe as it has the goose, the stuffing, the gravy, and the roasted vegetable side.

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FOR THE GOOSE:

  • 1 (12-lb.) Goose (the largest I could get my hands on was about 9 ¾ pounds)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 Lemon, halved
  • 3 sprigs Thyme
  • 3 sprigs Sage
  • 8 cups Chicken Stock (for this I would really recommend homemade, essentially you will be turning this into a goose stock and don’t want other things to complete with the flavor or seasoning.)
  • 4 Celery Ribs, roughly chopped
  • 1 Yellow Onion, quartered
  • 1 Carrot, roughly chopped (for this I used my canned carrots since I didn’t have any fresh ones left. I drained the liquid from a quart jar of diced carrots and added it to the pan.)
  • 4 tbsp. Unsalted Butter

Pull your goose out of the fridge a few hours before you want to cook it to allow it to loose the bitter cold of the fridge. (Meats are always best cooked from room temperature.) Unpackaged your goose and remove the neck and the organ meats from the cavity. Place the goose on a rack in your roasting pan. With a fork pierce the skin all over both top and bottom, make sure you get the legs and wings too. Roll your lemon on the counter with just a little pressure from the palm of your hand, this will allow you to get the maximum juice from the lemon. Slice the lemon in half and juice it with your preferred method, either squeezing or pouring the juice all over the goose. Stick the lemon rinds in the cavity of the goose along with the thyme and sage. Sprinkle coarse salt and crack black pepper all over the bird.

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Place the pan on the stove. Most likely this will need to be over two burners which is fine. Heat the pan with both burners. Once hot add the stock and bring it to a simmer over medium low heat. Meanwhile prepare a piece or pieces of foil to fully cover the goose and reach all the edges of the pan. Once the stock is simmering cover the goose with the foil and “steam” the goose for 1 hour. This will render the fat out of the skin.

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Turn off the burners and VERY carefully lift a section of the foil. There is a lot of steam trapped under there. Have a rimmed cookie sheet near by and pick up the entire rack with the goose, foil, and all and move it to the cookie sheet. Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a large container so that the fat can rise and be skimmed off. I like something clear so I can see exactly where the separation is. With the size bird I was doing a 2 quart measure was large enough for the contents to fit in.

While the fat is separating preheat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the foil from the goose and take out the lemon and the herbs from the cavity. If you have a stuffing now would be when you want to stuff your goose. For an amazing stuffing check out the post on my favorite stuffing which was a part of this recipe from Savuer. After stuffing the goose tie the legs together with kitchen twine and lay the goose breast side down on the rack.

Skim the fat off into a freezer safe container for future use. (Don’t freeze it just yet. Want a shiny show stopping goose? Once it’s done cooking and you have put it on your serving platter use a basting brush and do a quick brushing of the rendered fat. It will make you goose look amazing! Plus a tiny bit of goose fat won’t hurt the flavor either.)

Place the celery, onion, and carrot in the roasting pan. Return the rack with the goose to the pan. (You might have to do some wiggling to get the rack to sit comfortably since you added the veggies.) Pour 2 cups of your “goose” stock back into the pan. Set the remaining stock aside to make the gravy.

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Cover the goose and the roasting pan again with your foil and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 1 hour. Remove the goose from the oven. Increase the temperature to 475ºF. Uncover the goose and turn breast side up. Return the whole thing to the oven and roast util you get a reading of 180ºF from a digital thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the goose. This could be up to another 60 minutes.

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Remove the goose from the oven and place on a warmed serving platter to rest. (I covered it again with the foil to keep it warm.) Pour the contents through a fine mesh sieve and use this to make your gravy.

FOR MY GRAVY:

In a 3 quart straight sided sauté pan add your strained stock and the reserved stock. Bring to a simmer. Mean while sift ½ cup of flour. Once the stock is to a simmer slowly add the flour while whisking to avoid lumps. Raise the temperature to a medium boil and whisk until nice and thick.

This is going to make a lot of gravy but with all the stuffing, goose, and roasted veggies it seems to me that you can’t have too much gravy!

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