Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cooking our goose - Part One

[The Man I Love] decided that he wanted to cook a goose for our Christmas dinner.

Goose was a popular choice for Christmas dinner in northern Europe - it was a favorite in England and in the Alsace region of France. St. Martin was the patron saint of geese, and roast goose was a traditional meal on his feast day, Martinmas, in November. St. Michael's Day is also a traditional time for feasting on roast goose.

In "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens describes the goose dinner the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Bob Cratchit's family enjoying in Scrooge's dream.

The Cratchits' kitchen is inadequate for cooking such a large bird - so like many in their neighborhood, they take it to a baker down the street to cook while they are at church, and fetch it home when it is done. Despite the fact that the poor Cratchits' goose is cheap and bony, it's a rare treat for them, making the smaller children so excited they can barely contain themselves.

Mrs. Cratchit makes the gravy, son Peter mashes the potatoes, the girls sweeten the apple sauce and set the table, and then the goose is set on the table and grace is said. As Mrs. Cratchit makes the first slice
"one murmur of delight rose all around the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!... There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the applesauce and the mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone on the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eybrows!"
The Cratchits' real Christmas dinner, which they received after Scrooge's redemption, wasn't goose, it was turkey - the prize one hanging in the butcher's window. Turkey was becoming fashionable, and it was expensive. Apparently, few in the Cratchit's neighborhood can afford turkey, since it is still hanging there on the real Christmas morning.

Dickens' tale in England and America boosted the popularity of turkey for Christmas dinner, causing bony, greasy, inexpensive roast goose to become even less fashionable than it already was.

The French have a greater appreciation of roast goose. After our visit there this summer, I had been meaning to re-read my copy of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and seeing the movie "Julie & Julia" only made it more tempting.

I pulled my old book off the shelf. We were going to have Roast Goose stuffed with prunes, and accompanied by braised red cabbage.

We started to prepare the bird the day before we roasted it. Like duck, goose is notoriously fatty, and various methods have been devised to avoid having a greasy meal. When I opened the plastic warp and started to pry the bird's still-frosty limbs away from its body, it was easy to see that there was a lot of fat in this bird. There was fat beneath the skin and big globules of fat around the body cavity. The carcass was actually greasy to the touch - a very unsettling feeling. I found myself reaching for a piece of paper towel after handling it.

I pulled as much of the globs of fat out as I could, and then pulled the packet of giblets out of the cavity. I saved out the goose liver from the rest of the giblets - the heart and gizzard. I cut off the wings at the elbow joint. The gizzard, the heart, the neck and the wing-tips went into a pot of water with onion, celery, carrot and bay leaf to make broth.

I second-guessed Julia to try a de-fatting method I'd seen online - you blanch the bird for a minute in boiling water, and then let it air-dry in the fridge overnight.

Even though ours was a relatively small bird, at about 9 pounds, it was still bigger than any pot we had, so we dunked it in head-first for a minute, and then pulled it out and flipped it upside down and let it stand feet-first for another minute.

When we pulled it out, it was astonishing how much fat was in the water. We put the bird on a platter and let it sit uncovered in the fridge overnight.

See Part Two for what happens next.


Unknown said...

I can hardly wait to find out....

Gilly said...

Always fancy trying a goose - but then I remember how we had a goose years and years ago when I was a young teenager...........

Anonymous said...
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Euzinha said...

I'm waiting...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm getting hungry!

(Of course, there's still a ton of delicious leftovers, so this isn't too much of a problem. Until the clothes stop fitting, that is.)

Anonymous said...

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat"....

cactus petunia said...

I would think that since St. Martin is the patron saint of geese, we would pardon a goose on his feast day, not eat one!

But we humans are strange like that, aren't we?