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Discover the special flavor of roast Christmas goose

December 21, 2018

As we plan our menu for Christmas dinner, many of us rely on tradition, making sure this year’s meal includes all the memorable favorites from our childhoods. Some of us rotate through a set of main courses, from standing rib roast to glazed ham to roast turkey. And then there are those who use the occasion to try something else that’s long been popular.

One of the longest-standing Christmastime traditions is roast goose for dinner. Europeans have enjoyed goose as the centerpiece of special winter meals for centuries. Geese are “free-range” by definition, spending their lives grazing in open fields. In fall, you would find the so-called “green goose” in time for the Christian observance of Michaelmas on Sept. 29.

Later in the year, the “harvest goose” or “stubble goose” appears at the market. These finished their diet on grain, often sent out into the fields after the harvest to eat any of the missed bits of wheat or barley. These are fatter and meatier, and just in time for the Christmas table.

Geese were easy to raise and far less trouble than turkeys, which made their way to Europe from the New World in the 1600s. Originally, turkeys were disease-prone and more costly to raise than geese. It took a few hundred years for turkey to become affordable, which explains why the Cratchits planned on eating roast goose until a generous Mr. Scrooge paid an urchin to find a turkey.

In this country, turkey and ham have always been popular choices for Christmas, but goose is gaining renewed popularity. As turkeys have been commercially bred for size, the meat has become dry and bland. Although the meat-to-carcass ratio of a goose is smaller than turkey, the dark goose meat is naturally richer and more flavorful than its larger cousin.

One of the worries cooks often express about roasted goose is the high fat content. This is actually an advantage, because the fat makes it almost impossible to dry out the meat, and the fat that renders during roasting is a culinary gem. If you’ve ever tasted potatoes cooked in goose fat, you understand.

If you want to serve roast goose for your holiday meal, you’ll need to purchase one large enough, figuring two pounds per person in the weight of the raw bird. You’ll also need to begin preparations early enough in the day to ensure you have plenty of time to thoroughly cook the goose and make a delicious gravy.

One of the first questions is whether or not to bake stuffing in the cavity. Stuffing choices for goose usually tend toward recipes that include tart fruits like quince or cranberry; traditional recipes often feature apples and sausage. There’s an option for stuffing below, or you can assemble your own favorite stuffing ingredients.

When you unwrap the goose, its liver, neck and giblets are tucked inside. You can use the liver to make paté, while the neck and giblets should be simmered in water for hours over low heat to make a rich stock for your gravy. Between the skin and flesh of the goose is a thick layer of fat, and the cavity has a number of fat pods. Remove the latter to add to your cache of goose fat.

To help the subcutaneous fat render, gently prick the skin all over with the tines of a fork, held at a slight angle to ensure you don’t pierce the meat. If you prefer not to stuff the goose, fill it with aromatics like garlic and onion. Be sure to generously coat the outside with salt and pepper. In the recipe that follows are detailed instructions for roasting your goose and making delectable gravy. Merry Christmas!

Roasted Goose with Gravy 

1 goose* 
1 quartered onion 
1/2 t dried thyme or 3 fresh sprigs 
1/2 t dried sage or 8 leaves 
10 peppercorns 
salt & pepper 
1 quartered apple (optional) 
boiling water 
1/2 C red wine 

For gravy: Remove giblets and neck from cavity; place in a large saucepan. Trim off wing tips and add to saucepan. Cover with water and add onion, thyme, sage and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours over very low heat. Strain stock and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

For goose: Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove loose fat pods from the cavity and reserve for combining with rendered fat. Rinse goose and pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, inside and out. Fill with apples (if using) or stuffing. Secure the legs and close the vent with skewers. Prick the skin all over without piercing flesh and set the goose on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side down. During the entire time the goose is roasting, baste every 15 minutes with 3 T boiling water, and regularly remove accumulated fat from the pan with a bulb baster.

Roast at 425 F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 F and continue roasting for 30 minutes. Turn goose on its side and roast for 30 minutes; turn to other side to roast another 30 minutes. Arrange goose breast side up and roast until done, about 45 minutes. The meat is ready when the drumsticks move slightly and juices run pale yellow. Allow the goose to rest on a platter in the turned-off oven with the door ajar while you complete the gravy. *Note: approximately 2 lbs. per person; an 8-lb. goose will feed 4 people.

For gravy: Decant remaining fat in pan into glass container without losing browned bits and pan juices. Add previously removed fat pods and keep refrigerated until needed for other cooking projects. Add 2 C of strained stock and 1/2 C wine to roasting pan. Bring to a boil while whisking vigorously to dissolve browned bits. Continue to simmer until reduced and slightly thickened.

When carving the goose, note that the very tight leg and wing joints are located closer to the back, making them difficult to reach and separate. The final surprise was how little meat we carved from the breast – something to keep in mind for future meal planning.

Apple Cranberry Stuffing 

4 medium potatoes 
3 slices bacon 
1 chopped onion 
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped 
1/2 C fresh cranberries 
1/2 t thyme 
1/2 t sage 
salt and pepper 
1/2 t lemon zest 
2 T unsalted butter, melted 

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat the inside of a shallow 3-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Peel potatoes and chop into 1/2-inch cubes. Parboil in salted water for 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In a large skillet cook the bacon over low until crisp. Remove to a paper towel and crumble. Add onions to the same skillet and sauté until softened. Add potatoes and cook until lightly browned; remove from heat. Transfer potato mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add apples, cranberries, bacon, seasonings and butter. Toss gently to combine. Stuff goose with an amount that fits comfortably, then place the remaining mixture in prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes.