This last Christmas we tried an experiment: roasting a goose. Goose is a traditional item at Christmas, or at least it used to be in some parts of the world, but neither of us had ever had it. One of our local supermarket chains does sell goose, but only around the holidays; the stores never stock a lot of geese but they seem to sell what they bring in, so there is clearly still a following.
Goose is a challenge. First of all, it’s expensive: the ten-pound frozen bird we bought was around $85. Normally, I never make something for company that I haven’t made before or at the very least eaten at a restaurant, but at that price I was not making a practice goose. Second, compared to a turkey or even a large chicken, a goose just does not have a lot of meat. (Our solution: “back-up ham,” enough to feed all the guests in case of, god forbid, a goose mishap.)
Goose is also a challenge to find recipes for. The problem is not that there are no recipes—even if there aren’t as many as one would hope. Moreover, they differ from one another in sometimes drastic ways. Some recommend a brief bath in boiling water (for the goose, not the cook) to help the fat render and the skin tighten; devotees of this method hold to it religiously, and tend to warn that your house will explode if you do not do it. Others tell you to prick the skin all over, so that the fat can easily escape.
The recipe we followed is more or less a conflation of one in Fannie Farmer with this one from Epicurious. The hardest part is that, every half hour or so, you have to take the goose out of the roasting pan and pour off the rendered fat into a bowl. (Helpful tip: get someone else to do it. And don’t use a plastic bowl!) After the goose has finished cooking, let the fat cool, cover the bowl, and refrigerate.
About the fat (this is important!): when you clean the bird and clear the cavity of neck and giblets, you’ll notice copious amounts of fat hanging off the bird, tucked under the skin near the openings. Pull this off, since you don’t want too much fat melting into the bottom of the roasting pan (and turning the stuffing into a greasy mess along the way). DO NOT DISCARD—seal it up in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge. When you have a chance (within a day or two), put these large lumps of fat into a saucepan over low heat. Most of the fat will melt away into a liquid; the bits that don’t melt can be thrown away. In another pan, reheat the fat you saved from the roasting. Strain the liquid from both pans into an airtight container (you want the strained fat to be as pure as possible), let it cool, cover, and freeze. (Our ten-pound goose gave us three cups of fat.) Whenever you need some fat for frying, just take a spoonful of that frozen fat and melt it in a frying pan—it has many of the same great flavor qualities as duck fat. (How long will it keep? Opinions vary, but how long can it take to use up three cups of fat? You’ll run out long before it can possibly go bad. Just keep it in the freezer.)
So how did our goose experiment turn out? The results were mixed. Some people seemed to like it quite a bit. I was not in love with it, but there were a few fattier bites that tasted good, and I definitely see potential. The apples and prunes we stuffed it with were popular—apples and prunes are a classic Scandinavian stuffing for goose.
We’ll probably try goose again at some point, especially if we can find it at a better price. After you’ve done it the first time, the process is easy, and the only real differences from cooking turkey are the size and the need to deal with the fat. Plus, you get goose fat!
Christmas Goose Recipe
- 1 young goose 10-12 pounds (fresh or frozen)
- 2 pounds Granny Smith apples
- 12 ounces prunes
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup butter 1 stick
- If the goose is frozen, thaw in refrigerator. Leave enough time so that it will be completely thawed 48 hours before roasting.
- Unwrap goose and place in roasting pan. Refrigerate for 48 hours.
- Preheat oven to 425. Place rack in lower third of oven.
- Peel, core, and quarter apples. Set aside.
- Plump prunes in warm water for about 30 minutes. Drain, cut in half, and mix with apples.
- Remove neck and giblets from large cavity in goose. (Set aside for gravy, if desired.)
- Remove excess fat and set aside. (See description above for how to render fat.)
- Check carefully for any remaining small feathers. Pluck or singe any you find.
- Rinse goose, inside and out, with cold water. Dry thoroughly with paper towels.
- Salt goose, inside and out.
- Stuff large cavity with apple and prune mixture.
- Pull tail over cavity opening and close with small skewers.
- Place goose on rack, breast facing up, and set in roasting pan.
- Roast at 425 for 30 minutes.
- While goose is roasting, melt butter in small saucepan with 1 to 2 cups hot water. Set out a baking sheet (with sides) large enough to hold roasting rack, and a medium bowl (not plastic).
- Remove roasting pan from oven and place rack and goose on baking sheet. Carefully pour excess fat from roasting pan into bowl.
- Lower heat to 350.
- Put rack and goose in roasting pan. Carefully flip goose so that its back is facing up. Baste goose with butter and water, and then sprinkle with a bit of the flour. (This will help the skin brown and also absorb some of the fat.)
- Put goose back in oven.
- After every 30 minutes, take the goose out and repeat the process (drain - flip - baste - flour). For the final 15 minutes of roasting, the goose should be breast up.
- After goose has roasted for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, check the legs to see how loose they are. The goose is done when the legs are really loose.
- Remove goose from pan and rack and set on cutting board, breast up. Let rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.
- Tip on carving: do your best, and do it in the kitchen. Be sure to show the goose off to your guests before carving!