Goose is the bird of choice for the holiday table in many parts of Britain and Europe. In Austria, Northern Italy and Slovenia, it is as beloved as our Thanksgiving turkey. But especially in Germany, goose reigns supreme.
According to a German saying, "A good roast goose is a good gift of God." And Germans are known to complain that the trouble with a goose is that there is too much for one person and not enough for two.
Americans are not as familiar with goose, and I, for one, had never cooked one until last year. I consulted cookbooks, the Internet and magazines for the best method, and none of them seemed to agree. So I fashioned my own plan and, to confirm my conclusions, called a German friend, Chris. Yes, she said, that's how her mother did it. When she signed off, I was relieved and kitchen-ready.
The result? The goose was crisp-skinned, golden-brown and delicious. I surrounded it with classic side dishes of tart Red Cabbage With Apples, Glazed Chestnuts for Garnish, roasted vegetables and wild rice. If you want to try your hand at goose this holiday season, here are some pointers:
Goose is not as meaty as turkey. One 11-pound goose will serve six to eight people. Because goose is not in great demand, it is pricey, about $4 a pound in Pittsburgh, where I live. But the more side dishes you have, the further it will go.
Even though the 15-minutes-a-pound poultry roasting rule worked for Grandma, today's cooks should rely on a thermometer. My unstuffed 9-pound goose was done in 2 hours.
Audition your roasting pan the day before you plan to cook. Geese are long in the body. I used an All-Clad roaster, but another inch of goose and it would have fit only in my blue speckled oval roaster.
Use a V-shaped roasting rack to hold it. Because of the conformation of the backbone, geese don't lie flat but seem to tilt to one side or the other.
When it's time to turn the goose, use gripper-fingered rubber or silicone gloves. Buy a new pair if you need them. Tongs will tear the skin.
Add water to the roasting pan to a depth of 1/2 inch before you begin. This prevents dripping fat from spitting and spattering as it hits a dry pan, which will cause smoking and may even set off your smoke alarm.
Basting is unnecessary. A goose is a self-baster if ever there was one. Prick the skin front and back with the tip of a sharp knife, especially in the fatty areas. As the fat accumulates in the roasting pan, draw it off without moving the pan. Holding a medium-sized saucepan in one hand and a bulb baster in the other, siphon off the fat (top layer of liquid), squirting it into the saucepan. You don't want to move the roasting pan back and forth, sloshing grease and water over the oven and maybe even yourself.
Although the dark meat (there is no white) is lean, my 9-pound bird gave off three cups of clear fat. I'm saving every bit of it, too. I'll fry potatoes in some and freeze the rest to make duck confit for cassoulet for New Year's Day.
Goose can be difficult to find. Ask your grocer or butcher, or maybe even ask at a farmers' market. Be sure to order at least a week in advance. Sizes run 8 to 11 pounds. If you buy a frozen goose, defrost it slowly for several days in your refrigerator.
Roasting a goose is as easy as roasting a turkey. Would I do it again? Well, I'm singing the words from that old English carol, "Christmas is a-coming, the goose is getting fat. ... "
Marlene Parrish is a cookbook author and food writer based in Pittsburgh.
Red Cabbage With Apples
Serves 8 or more if there are many dishes
2- to 2 1/2 -pound head red cabbage
2/3 cup red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons goose fat or bacon drippings
2 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/8 -inch wedges
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 whole onion, peeled and pierced with 1 whole clove (optional)
1/2 bay leaf
3 tablespoons dry red wine
3 tablespoons red-currant jelly
Bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil. Wash head of cabbage under cold running water, remove the tough outer leaves and cut the cabbage into quarters. To shred the cabbage, cut out the core and slice the quarters crosswise into 1/8 -inch-wide strips.
Drop cabbage into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with vinegar, sugar and salt, then toss the shreds to coat evenly with the mixture.
In a heavy 4- or 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven, melt the goose fat or bacon drippings over moderate heat. Add the apples and chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until the apples are lightly browned.
Add cabbage, the whole onion with clove, if using, and the 1/2 bay leaf; stir thoroughly and pour in 4 cups boiling water.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat to its lowest possible point. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the cabbage is tender.