Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Christmas Goose

After what - for us - was a culinary adventure for Thanksgiving with our heritage turkey, Will determined that I would cook a goose for Christmas. I think this came up around day 4 of eating leftover turkey. So together we started researching goose, where to buy and how to cook. There were a lot of horror stories out there, such as oven's catching on fire due to all the fat in the goose, and dry, tough meat. But there were a lot of enraptured raves about a succulent meal and the myriad uses for the rendered goose fat, namely - heavenly potatoes.

So, rather than write a suspense novel here, I'm going to lead with my punch line: the goose was a big hit. Will and I served it just to us and my parents, but we are our most serious critics, so I feel our collective opinions are a reasonable assessment of succes. We found the meat to be tender, moist, and flavorful, not at all gamey, nor fatty. I read (source long-ago lost to the cybersphere, so legitimacy is questionable, but my experience in this case makes me think its worthy of spreading as a rumor even if only half-truth) that goose meat is actually leaner than turkey, the fat which is subcuteaneous all cooks out during roasting, and the meat itself is left juicy but lean. The meat is all dark, and we really only had 6 reasonable-sized servings from a 9.5 pound goose, so it was expensive, and certainly a lot of work for the quantity, but well-worth it for a special and unique holiday celebration.

The traditional French preparation is to roast with a chestnut and prune stuffing. I used three main sources as my recipe references in the couple weeks leading up to the actual preparation of this meal, but I read each so many times, and used elements from all three, including dabbles from other sources, that I can't recommend any of these as is, but if you want to try a similar process, these are certainly good places to gather background. 1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but Julia Child (the chapter on Poultry has a whole section on l'oie goose) 2. Bon Appetit's Roast Goose with Chestnuts, Prunes, and Armagnac 3. Fine Cooking magazine's Roasted Goose with Brandied Prune Stuffing and Red Wine Gravy.

I ultimately did end up making a gravy, but not to serve with the meal; it was just as way not to waste all the tasty-looking pan drippings. Gravy to me is the biggest buzz-kill of taking a delicious meal out of the oven and being ready to set down at the table with guests. So I planned my menu gravy-free, and the richness of the meat plus the abundent flavors of the sides, made me quite confident in my decision.

Many cooking methods were suggested; because I wasn't going to have the extra moist mouth-feel contribution from gravy, I wanted to make sure my goose stayed juicy. So I decided to roast the bird in a covered roasting pan. I created a dressing that was savory and tangy, with the tender toothsome nuttiness of chestnuts and the tangy chewiness of port-soaked prunes. My mom chose a Tom Douglas recipe for sauteed kale with crispy-fried garbanzo beans, and a crunchy romaine salad with green apples and glazed pecans.

Below are the steps and the timeline I followed to prepare the goose and the dressing, starting two days ahead to serve on Friday evening.

Wednesday evening: Roast chestnuts, peel, and refrigerate. (Or just buy a jar.)

The scored and roasted chestnuts.
The peeled, roasted chestnuts.
Thursday morning: trim fat, rinse, and blanch for one minute. Pat dry, and refrigerate uncovered.

This shows the large pouches of fat just inside the cavity.
On the right side, I have already removed it, on the left
side, you can see how there is still the huge section of flesh-
colored mass inside the cavity. This pulls out very easily, then I
cut it into chunks and simmered in a saucepan.
  Make stock, with neck, heart, and kidney chopped up, plus some onion wedges, celery (except I didn't have any so I used a hunk of the core of purple cabbage), a few whole cloves and peppercorns, and a bay leaf, plus enough water to cover. Simmer 2 hours.

Render fat by boiling, covered, with 1 cup of water for 20 minutes, then simmering until all water has evaporated. (I had it on the stove for about 90 minutes, and then I had to go to work, and it still seemed to be sputtering - a sign that there was still water evaporating - so I put it in the fridge. When I got home, the liquid and fat had separated, so it was easy to pour off the water. Then I just heated the fat until it was liquid again so I could strain it.
The fat before rendering.

Cut up bread loaves (1 1/2 pounds) into bite-sized squares and leave out to dry. I used a rosemary olive oil loaf, which has a sourdough-type of base.

Thursday evening: Toast bread cubes in the oven to dry, and then store covered. Prepare remaining dressing by sauteeing 1 large onion, diced, 3 ribs celery, diced, and 5-6 medium mushrooms, diced, in 1 stick of butter until softened. Part way through cooking, stir in some herbs of choice; thyme is the classic, but by this point in the season, it is becoming ubiquitous, so I went with tarragon; it works well with rosemary (in the bread), but moreover, it reminds me of France, and the whole goose with chestnuts and prunes is also very French. Stir in reserved chestnuts.
Soak prunes in wine, port, prune juice, or your liquid of choice.

Friday afternoon: Mix about 2 cups of the stock with 2 beaten eggs, and toss with dressing vegetables, drained prunes, then toss in bread cubes to lightly coat. Cover and keep chilled until ready to bake (at 350 for 20-25 minutes, then uncover for 10-15 minutes).
Remove goose from fridge, and baste with goose stock and prune soaking liquid. Bring to room temperature, then roast at 325, basteing periodically.

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