Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Goose That Laid the Golden Christmas

In the fashion of Charles Dickens, my table was laid with classic dishes - not least of which was the famed Christmas Goose.

After reading about "How to Cook Your Goose" at NPR, the idea had nestled in the back of my skull alongside the sugarplum fairies and Zuzu's petals.

I called the local meat market, picked up my frozen goose (a good sized goose is 8-12 pounds, bigger than that gets "tough") and took it home for an intense regimen of pre-dinner culinary exercises. Mr. Goose got more than he bargained for. (Or is it Ms. Goose? Isn't a male goose a gander?)

Mr. Goose was rinsed, pockets of fat removed, fat cut off, and blanched in boiling water for sixty seconds. This helped render a lot of the infamous goose grease off (hat tip to Dwight Schrute). On a side note, it's a lot easier getting a goose in to a stockpot of boiling water than out of it, if you lack a dunking rack. I lacked.

It sat in the fridge until Christmas day, when I conscientiously pricked the skin all over so that remaining fat could drain out easily during cooking; rubbed it inside and out with an orange half; and stuffed it til its figurative eyes were bulging with a concoction of apples, roasted chestnuts, and sherried dried plums (I hate the sound of "prunes").

Water fowl are so grease-laden that during the roasting, one must siphon off excess grease from the pan, lest it catch on fire. And nobody wants a Christmas dinner fire. Because I've never used a turkey baster in any cooking, it didn't occur to me to pull the oven shelf out towards me during this endeavor. This resulted in a gradual drooping of my turkey baster, due to excessive heat: it began, slowly, to melt.

Two coffee mugs full of goose grease later (on top of the fat I plucked from the bird before cooking), I removed Mr. Goose. A family inspection ensued on Whether Or Not He Was Done. The outside most definitely was; and the joints appeared to run clear; but it was all dark meat, of a beefy consistency, so gauging "doneness" without a meat thermometer was a committee activity. I finally blew the whistle and called the game over: I did not want several days of work to char.

Nestled near the goose - which was extremely difficult to carve, bones and meat being in quite unexpected places compared to chickens and turkeys - were goat cheese mashed potatoes, a la my brother; corn casserole; Pioneer Woman's whiskey-glazed carrots; the rather dubious stuffing, that no one really touched; and a spinach salad, which no one really touched. The goose was pronounced good, the whiskey-glazed carrots were a runner-up. We finished it off with a light dessert to counter the rich menu, lemon squares.

And conclusions? Well, my first reflection is that goose is a labor-intensive bird. One can, of course, brine chicken or turkey, which adds to prep time, but even so, all that fat and grease keep one hopping. If you do decide to tackle a goose, make sure the sides you prepare are easily managed, because the goose will demand more attention than a turkey or ham would.

That being said, Nigella Lawson has claimed that goose fat is the thing to make your cooking Christmas cooking. And it's true: I made fried potatoes in goose grease, that were the best thing since sliced bread. Though really, I'm not that much of a fan of sliced bread. Means too many preservatives. I am, however, a loyal fan of goose grease.

It remains true though that goose meat is rich, distinct, and probably not for everyone. It has a wonderful, intense flavor, though the texture is more beefy than poultry.I noticed leftovers didn't fly off the fridge shelves. I suspect adults enjoy it more than children, given its richness.

Am I glad I tried a Christmas goose? Absolutely. Will I try it again next year? Next year, I'll probably allow myself to relax a little and get a good ol' fashioned ham. But in a few years, I may try goose again.

After I've gotten a new baster.


Bob said...

I'm surprised that there were no comments that John gave you a Christmas goose!..or didn't.

Lynn said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I, too, tried a Christmas goose a couple years ago, and we concluded that a) it doesn't give that much meat and b) it's not worth the price (see a ;)). But I'm really glad I tried it as I'd always been curious about goose. Thanks for bringing back the memories!