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Goose of Christmas past

The Christmas goose. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
The Christmas goose. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

The traditional Christmas goose – once prized for its dark, rich, flavorful meat – is no longer a given for the holidays – at least, not in America.

Thanksgiving is turkey. Easter is ham or lamb. Christmas is usually roast beef, sometimes crab, or ham – or another turkey.

The centerpiece of the Victorian Christmas dinner table, roast goose is still very much a custom in many places in northern Europe. And, of course, it still has its place in lore and literature, particularly “A Christmas Carol.” The 1843 novella by Charles Dickens describes in-depth the excitement over and anticipation for the Cratchit family’s Christmas goose.

“Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course – and in truth it was something very like it,” he wrote.

When Mrs. Cratchit finally cut into the bird, even Tiny Tim “beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah.”

Where did that kind of excitement over Christmas goose go?

I asked longtime Outdoors editor Rich Landers, who assured me geese remain prized – often enjoyed in homemade sausage – by hunters throughout the Inland Northwest.

I found mine on the bottom shelf of the freezer section at Rosauers. And it wasn’t cheap. It cost $64.18.

Online, a goose costs even more – $88.50 for 8-10 pounds up to $114 for 16 pounds and up. Another online outfitter I found charged $179 for an 8- to 10-pounder. (That price included shipping.)

My Christmas goose weighed 11.69 pounds and resembled an elongated duck, but much fattier – much, much fattier.

Most of the fat on a goose lies under the skin, not marbled in the meat. During cooking, it melts and bastes the bird, helping to keep it moist.

A wild goose, Landers said, would be less fatty than farm-raised fowl, but might have a gamier flavor. I was dreaming of a succulent and majestic-looking centerpiece with tender and moist meat, something that would make my dinner guests exclaim, “Hurrah!” – and not feebly.

Chef David Blaine, owner of Central Food in Spokane’s Kendall Yards, recommended oyster stuffing and a cassis demi glace sauce.

Branden Moreau, the food service director at Rockwood Retirement Communities and Travis Dickinson, the executive chef at Clover, both said the water bird could benefit from brining. Dickinson emailed a recipe.

“I love goose,” he said. “The trick is that goose is way more like a duck then it is like a turkey.”

He suggested removing the legs, salting them overnight and confiting them in goose or duck fat, then cooking the rest of the body separately.The breast, he said, requires less cooking time than the legs so it doesn’t become dry and “livery.”

Goose pairs well with sharp, fruit-based sauces such as apple, cherry or apricot. Prunes would work, too. Moreau recommended figs.

“If you can get your hands on some figs, a fig-pepper chutney-jam-type sauce would be my pick,” he said. “If no figs, gravy or jus from the roast would rock.”

I started to have Dickensian worries about my store-bought water bird.

“Suppose it should not be done enough,” Dickens wrote. “Suppose it should break in turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it … All sorts of horrors were supposed.”

Actually, I really couldn’t picture anyone stealing the thing. Geese have become ghosts of Christmases past.

Bred in ancient Egypt, China and India, domestic geese arrived in America via Europe. Today, California and South Dakota – from which my goose hailed – are the main geese-raising states.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Americans consume about 1/3 pound of duck per person yearly, down from just under 1/2 pound in 1986. Consumption of goose is even less – so much less, it seems, that an exact figure wasn’t given.

My Christmas dinner alone might help boost those numbers.

Your goose is cooked: a quick how-to

Safety first – Salmonellosis can occur if raw goose or raw goose juices contact cooked food or foods that will be consumed raw, such as salad. To prevent this foodborne illness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking whole goose to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured using a food thermometer. For more safety tips, visit fsis.usda.gov.

Defrost – A frozen goose requires about two days in the refrigerator to defrost. Allow for another day for the brine, if using. Remove the goose from the fridge or brine an hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature.

All the trimmings – Remove excess fat from the cavity. Cut off wing tips. Rub goose with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Place lemon or orange wedges inside the cavity, along with fresh herbs, garlic and onion, as desired. Tie legs together. To help fat escape, lightly prick skin all over, taking care not to pierce the meat.

Simmer and save – Simmering helps render some of the fat before roasting. Place goose on a rack in a roasting pan with a couple of inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil on the stove top. Turn down heat, and steam about an hour, adding a little more water as needed. Reserve and cool liquid for gravy, if desired. Skim off fat and save it for pie crust or for roasting chicken or vegetables, such as potatoes. Goose fat is also good for flavoring stuffing and frying cabbage. (From the trimmings and pan drippings, expect to render about a quart of goose fat.)

Low and slow – The slower goose is roasted, the crispier the skin is; 325 degrees is generally recommended. Arrange goose, breast up, on a roasting rack along with favorite root or stock vegetables – onions, garlic, turnips, parsnips, carrots, fennel, leeks or celery – and a cup of white wine and water or cooking liquid. Cover and cook. Plan for about two hours, depending on size of the bird. The USDA recommends checking the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and thickest part of the breast.

Browning and resting – The last 30 or 40 minutes, remove lid and roast goose uncovered. Rest about 15 minutes before stuffing and carving.

It’s all giblet gravy – Brown the giblets – neck, gizzard, heart, liver – in 2 tablespoons butter on medium-high heat. Add 1 cup diced onion and 1/2 cup each diced carrot and celery as well as 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. When veggies are translucent, add a bay leaf and 5 cups of water and simmer for a couple of hours while goose is cooking. When it’s nearly done, strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving – and finely mincing – giblet meat. When goose is done, move it to a cutting board or platter to rest. Pour off all but 1 or 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Set pan on stovetop over medium heat. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour or cornstarch to the pan and whisk it into the drippings with the giblets. Add the stock, bring to a boil and stir constantly until gravy thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Serve and store – Goose is bony and fatty and has a large rib cage. Compared to a turkey, it feeds fewer people weight for weight. Calculate about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per person, precooked, or 3 to 4 ounces per person, fully cooked. Brown the skin side of the breast in a hot pan to get it even more brown and crispy, if desired. Store leftovers in fridge for 3 to 4 days at under 40 degrees. Freeze the bones for broth.

Wine pairings – Rich and luxurious, goose requires robust wines with lots of structure. The boldness of the meat needs to be matched by the wine’s boldness in texture and acidity. Try dry whites from Germany, Austria or Alsace, or zinfandel, syrah, malbec, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon or Rhone reds, particularly from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Corning Brine

From Travis Dickinson, executive chef of Clover in Spokane

2 1/2 gallons of water

1 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup Italian herb seasoning

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 cups brown sugar

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 bay leaves

In a large sauce pot, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cool immediately. Brine must be below 40 degrees before use.

Note: Depending on the size of the goose and container used for brining, a double batch of brine might be needed.

Savory Fruit Stuffing

From Dorothy Dean Homemakers Service and The Spokesman-Review Archives, 1968.

This recipe appeared in the Dorothy Dean leaflets several times during the 1960s at the holidays.

1/2 cup butter

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup minced onion

1/4 cup minced parsley

2 1/2 cups chopped apple

1/2 cup cut-up dried apricots

1/2 cup cut-up prunes

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon thyme

1/4 teaspoon marjoram

1/4 teaspoon sage

2 quarts dry bread cubes

Broth or water, if needed

Melt butter in large skillet; add celery, onion and parsley. Cook over low heat until vegetables are soft but not brown. Add fruits, sugar and seasonings. Continue cooking 3 minutes stirring constantly. Stir in bread cubes; cook 2 minutes longer. Add broth or water, if needed.

Yield: Stuffing for 10-pound goose

Notes: I made this recipe with a few substitutions. I used shallots instead of onions, then added a cup of pearl onions. Instead of prunes, I used figs. Instead of raisins, I used dried cranberries. I added 2 cups of fresh cranberries, too for color as much as tartness. A quarter teaspoon of pepper didn’t seem like enough to me; I used a half teaspoon, but could’ve used more for my taste. I also added 1 cup of toasted walnut pieces for texture. Next time, I might even toss in water chestnuts for crunch and, for balance, maybe some roasted Brussels sprouts, too.

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