Have you ever dreamt of cooking a Christmas goose, but were a bit intimidated by the prospect? When I wanted to learn how to roast a goose, without smoking up the kitchen, or overcooking the goose, I turned to the waterfowl master himself, guest author Hank Shaw of the James Beard award-winning food blog Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook. Hank spent the day with my family, cooking, feasting and instructing. Enjoy! ~Elise
A great many people are deathly afraid of geese – and I am not talking about those nasty birds that chased us around at the park when we were children. Romance surrounds the roasting of geese, especially on Christmas, yet nearly everyone has a horror story about dry, livery meat surrounded by flabby skin and an ocean of liquid fat.
Can an overcooked goose become livery? You bet. Are they fatty? Oh yes. But remember that a goose is not a turkey, just as a duck is not a chicken. You don’t cook them the same way. And both ducks and geese are red meat birds – meaning the breasts of both need to be served medium-rare. That’s pink, or 140-150°F for those of you with thermometers.
(I know, I know. You’re thinking about poultry and salmonella. Get over it. I did quite a lot of research for this post about eating rare duck or goose, and suffice to say that I’ve found no one who can fully explain why no one gets sick from eating rare waterfowl. But that seems to be the case. I could not find one instance of food poisoning from eating rare—or even raw!—duck or goose meat. Exactly why is a Great Mystery. I eat probably 50-60 wild ducks and geese every year—breasts always rare—and I have never gotten sick from it. I even eat raw wild duck hearts with some frequency and have not gotten so much as gas from it, nor have any of my guests. Every restaurant in America serves duck breast medium-to-rare. So all evidence says it’s OK to eat pink goose breast. Oh, and 160-degree duck or goose breast will no longer be pink, in case you may wonder. If this frightens you, fine. Cook it more. It’s your bird.)
Now. How to get medium-rare breast with properly done legs and wings? Take the bird apart midstream. The only thing you lose is that “ooh, ahh!” moment of a perfect-looking roast bird. But that bird will not taste perfect, my friends, no matter how lacquered the skin is. If the legs are done properly, the breast will be overcooked. And besides, you’ll cut into the bird in a moment anyway.
With my method, you roast the goose for a while, then slice off the whole breast and finish it in a pan once the legs are done. That way you still get a nice roasted flavor on the whole goose, and you get crispy skin and you get properly pink breast meat. It’s really a more civilized way to eat the Lord of the Marsh. Because you are cooking the goose at a relatively low temperature, you also won’t smoke up your kitchen.
Are there other ways to go about this? You bet. But this is a method of roasting a whole goose that is relatively easy and requires only a few ingredients, yet results in a bird so luscious you will wonder why you don’t eat them more often.
Oh, and as for all that extra goose fat you will get? Save it. Goose fat is God’s gift to potatoes, and is a spectacular medium for cooking winter greens such as kale, spinach or chard.
Preparation time: About 2 1/2 hours.
- 1 goose, approx. 8 lbs.
- Juice of a lemon
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 head garlic
- 1/2 cup Madeira wine
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken stock (for gravy)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Root vegetables to roast with the goose, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, and/or rutabagas, peeled and chopped into large chunks
In general, plan for:
8-10 lb goose for 5-6 people
11-12 lb goose for 6-8 people
To start, if the goose has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before cooking. Keep it in its plastic wrapping until you are ready to cook it. While in the refrigerator, and or while you are bringing it to room temp, have the bird resting in a pan, so that if the plastic covering leaks for any reason, you are confining the juices to the pan. If you get a frozen goose, which is most likely the case, you will need to defrost it in the refrigerator for two days first.
While I have never found any instances of food poisoning from raw duck or goose, it’s best to handle the goose with common sense. Use a separate cutting board and utensils to avoid contaminating other foods. Wash your hands with soap frequently – if for no other reason than because geese are fatty and you don’t want to be walking around with greasy hands. Use paper towels to clean up.
Remove the neck, giblets, wing tips
Remove the neck and giblets (heart, gizzard, liver). Use them for making the gravy. You want to remove the last two joints of the wings, too, and use them for the gravy as well.
To do this, use a thin sharp knife – a boning knife is ideal, or you could use a paring knife or fillet knife – and cut across the side of the joint, severing the tendons. Bend the joint the opposite way it is supposed to go to break it. Cut the remaining skin and tendons. You should not need to cut bone at all.
Slice off the neck skin about a half inch in front of the body.
Remove the excess fat
You also need to remove excess fat from the goose. You will want to save it – goose fat is among the most delicious of all cooking fats, and it is far healthier than butter or lard.
First grab the fat inside the body cavity and put it in a bowl. Now slice off the wide belly flaps covering the body cavity; if you plan on stuffing the goose you’d need these, but we’re not, so out they go. You also want to remove the Pope’s nose, which is the goose’s tail. All of this should go into a pot with a little water (about ½ cup) and put over low heat to render out.
Prick the goose's skin all over with a needle
You still need to give all that fat underneath the goose’s skin somewhere to go – if you don’t, the skin will never fully crisp up. I’ve found the best way to do this is to prick it with a clean needle. The technique is to stick the skin from an angle so you are not piercing the meat of the goose, just the skin. Do this all over the goose.
Season the goose and place in the oven
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Rub the goose all over with the cut half of a lemon. Use both sides to get it good and coated. Put the halves inside the goose. Sprinkle salt liberally all over the goose. Use more salt than you think you need; it helps crisp the skin and adds a lot to the flavor.
Slice off the top of a head of garlic and place it inside the goose.
Place the goose breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan and into the oven.
Start the gravy
Meanwhile, start the gravy. Chop and brown all the giblets, wings and neck in some goose fat in a large pan. Sprinkle salt over them. Add the chopped onion and stir to combine. When the onion gets a little browned, sprinkle the flour in the pot and stir to combine. Cook this over medium heat, stirring often, until it smells nutty – about 5-10 minutes. Turn the heat up to high and add the Madeira. Let this boil furiously for a minute or two, then add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Add the dried thyme. Turn the gravy down to a bare simmer.
Add root vegetables to the roasting pan
After the goose has cooked for 20 minutes, add any chunks of root veggies you might feel like using. I like a mix of potatoes, turnips, carrots and parsnips. Here’s a tip: Toss them in some rendered goose fat and salt them before placing in the bottom of the roasting pan.
You can also use this time as an opportunity to spoon out some of the goose fat that may be collecting in the bottom of the roasting pan. Put it in the pot with the rendering goose fat.
When you’re done, put the goose back into the oven for another 25 minutes.
Carve out the breasts
When a total of 45 minutes of cooking time has elapsed, test the temperature of the breast. You should have something between 130 and 140 degrees. If you’re there, remove the goose but keep the oven on.
Now you need to carve off the whole breasts. Using a thin knife – again, a boning knife is ideal – slice along the keel bone, which separates the two halves of the breast. Go straight down and tap the point of the blade against the breastbone as you move the knife up toward the wishbone, then back toward the open body cavity. Know that a goose has a deep keel and that the breastbone comes out wide at almost a right angle from it, so work your knife in short, gentle strokes out to free the whole side of the breast. Once you get near the wishbone, find it with the tip of your knife and carefully slice around it. Repeat on the other side.
Remove the breasts and tent with foil.
Finish cooking the rest of the goose
Put the goose (minus the breasts) back into the oven. Let this cook for another 45 minutes.
Watch the goose gravy. If it gets too thick, add a little water.
After the additional 45 minutes are up, probe the thickest part of the goose’s thigh with a thermometer. You want 165-175 degrees. If it is a little low or high, that’s fine. Remove the goose. Check the root veggies, and if they are done, great. If not, keep them in the oven for the moment.
Remove the garlic from the goose. Tent the goose with foil and set aside.
Finish the gravy
Remove the garlic cloves from the husk and put the cloves into the simmering goose gravy. Let this cook for 5 minutes. Fish out the neck and wing pieces and pick off any bits and toss them into the gravy. Pour the gravy into a blender and buzz the hell out of it – you might need to do this in batches to avoid it spurting out of your blender. You want a thick gravy, so if it is too thick add water. If it’s too thin, don’t worry, you can cook it down.
Return the gravy to the pot and put on low heat. Simmer it more if it is too thin.
Sear the breasts
Now get a large sauté pan hot. Add some goose fat, and let that get hot over medium-high heat.
Take the goose breasts, which should be a lovely pink on the meat side, and pat them dry. Place them skin side down in the pan and sear the skin hard. You might need to press down on them a little to get good contact. Check after 3-4 minutes. You want a rich brown.
When it is ready, remove the breasts – don’t cook them on the meat side! – and immediately salt the skin. Set aside, skin side up. Move the pan off the heat.
Carve off the legs and wings, and sear
Carve off the legs and wings of the goose. Get the pan hot again and sear the skin surfaces of the legs and wings. While this is searing, slice the breast (at an angle is nice) skin side up. Salt the legs and wings and serve with the root veggies.
Now remember: You have worked hard to get a good sear on your goose skin, so put your lovely gravy underneath the meat, not on top of the skin.
Save bones for stock
When you are finished with your goose, save the bones from the carcass to make goose stock, which is just like chicken stock, only with goose bones.