On Christmas Eve last year, as we were picking up a prime rib at Huber’s for the lunch we were hosting the following day, I espied a goose in the poultry section. For some inexplicable reason, I decided that I had to have it and that at some point between Christmas and New Year’s, I would prepare a menu with goose as its centerpiece. Mind you, up to that point, I’d never cooked goose. I didn’t even have a recipe in mind. CH looked at me as if I was insane and must have put it down to jetlag. Nonetheless, accommodating as he usually is when it comes to matters of the belly, he made no objection as I hauled the just-under-5kilogram bird into our shopping basket.
Cooking the goose turned out to be an enterprise of epic proportions, but it was a delightful indulgence spread over a number of days which was well worth the effort. It is by no means a dish to be prepared on a whim (despite the fact that I acquired said bird on a whim). You need to have the luxury of time–especially if you plan on serving other dishes with it. I’d liken the process to reading War and Peace. Fortunately, I actually take great pleasure in wading through epic novels.
After first carefully studying Julia Child’s elaborate recipe for roast goose with prune and foie gras stuffing in her seminal first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a single sentence tucked into the recipe following it convinced me that my precious bird should be braised. “There are many who prefer braised goose to roast goose,” she observes, “because the meat is more tender and more flavorful, and the closed, moist cooking of a braise renders more fat than open-pan roasting.” The choice, she seemed to imply, was obvious. And I agreed. It cleaved perfectly to my intended first course of homemade chestnut tagliatelle with mushrooms, and promised to be both hearty and hedonistic.
Preparing each component of the dish was an adventure (please refer to the book for the complete recipe which spans multiple sections). Thankfully, Julia’s detailed instructions left nothing to chance. All I needed was time and patience. I was thrilled to be able to put my larding needle to work (it made stitching up the cavity effortless). And once the goose was stuffed, browned and slipped into the oven to braise for 2½ hours, I was free to do other things, making it perfect for a dinner party.
But long before I actually started work on preparing the chestnuts or constructing the stuffing (that required me to return to Hubers for lean veal and pork, and some pork belly which the butcher obligingly ground for me), I first had to render the goose fat. Every component of the finished dish (including the braised red cabbage with red wine we served on the side) called for a healthy helping of goose fat. The process was yet another first for me, but I must confess that it now rates high on my list of favourite ways to spend a little time in the kitchen.
Think of it as culinary foreplay. I was surprised that the raw goose was redolent of the same mouthwatering aroma that heated goose fat boasts. Better yet, rendering the fat fills the kitchen with, and envelopes you in, the same irresistible scent. I loved it. So did our dogs.
The work is simple. Pull off all the loose fat from inside the goose, chop it into ½ inch pieces and place it in a small saucepan with 1 cup of water. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bring the water to a slow boil. As the water evaporates, the fat will splutter. Once it stops spluttering, you’re done. Strain the gorgeous, pale yellow goose fat into a jar, let it cool then store it in the refrigerator.
Goose fat may not be a dish unto itself, but adding just a little of it to the right dish can elevate something from simple to spectacular (sauteed potatoes come to mind). It’s a sybaritic gift that keeps on giving. While I often berate CH for using it too liberally, I have to admit that I can’t resist dishes that have been prepared with goose fat. Like fries for instance. Or braised carrots. Or pastry dough.
Amazingly, I was actually able to pull off a successful goose on my first attempt. CH and our guests were thrilled. And I got the chance to feel like a genuine hostess in that old fashioned–by way of Kate Spade and Mad Men–sense of the word as I carved our juicy, tender bird. The fresh chestnuts which were painstakingly peeled and simmered for over an hour before they were layered into the sausage stuffing were an absolute hit. Leftover scraps of goose proved equally tasty in risotto and congee. And extra gravy became the secret ingredient we tossed into pastas to give them an added notch of velvety, meaty richness.
This was, of course, all thanks to Julia. I learnt to trust her the moment I realised that almost all the stuffing she called for actually fit into my goose (anyone who has been left with double the carrot cake icing she needs because she followed the prescribed recipe knows exactly what I mean). But more than simply sharing a recipe, Julia’s charming near-anthropological tome gave me a glimpse of another time and place, and a taste of another culture–much in the same way reading a great novel does. So I hope that you, too, will be inspired to attempt to braise a goose over a languorous weekend someday soon.