Family DEB doesn't really do Christmas. Lunch on Christmas Day, if we're not abroad, is traditionally egg and chips. Still, laying on a seasonal feast for friends is something that is becoming a fixture in my calendar; a celebration to cheer us through the darkness. Last year, we sat down to a duck; this year, there were more of us. We had a goose.
In the English-speaking world, most people think of turkey as being the traditional Christmas bird. But in the British Isles that wasn't always the case. Turkey was only introduced to Europe following the discovery of the Americas, and even then, the turkey's star only really began to rise in Victorian Britain and didn't eclipse its rival until the 1960s. Until then, it was all about the goose.
Geese come into season at Michaelmas and fade from the culinary calendar in late December or early January, making them the ideal bird for a midwinter feast. They partner apples, pears, and chestnuts—all traditional autumn and winter fruit—perfectly. Being waterbirds, they have a thick layer of insulating fat, which not only ensures moist and luscious flesh that is full of flavour, but also enables you to make the best roast potatoes. Ever. It's all about the smoke-point of the fat. The hotter that you can get the fat, the better the potatoes will be. And goose fat has a seriously high smoke-point.
As far as I'm concerned, geese are approaching perfect, but of course, they're not. For a start, they are far from cheap; second, a 5kg (12lb) bird will feed only between six and eight people; and third, they are a nightmare to carve.
But oh they are worth it.
I opted to stuff Gertie (that was the goose's name) with mashed potato and chestnut, and to roast her with apples. It ensured that it was a very seasonal affair. If you'd prefer to replace the roasted apples with roasted pears, that works a dream, too.
But what about the vegetarians? It's all very well waxing lyrical about the goose, but it doesn't make a very good meal for people who don't eat meat. Enter a celeriac and apple gratin: a seasonal twist on a traditional pommes dauphinoise. The celeriac reflects the goose's chestnut stuffing and the apple binds together the overall flavour of the meal. Oh, and the gratin is best made a day in advance to allow it to settle. We like a bit of make in advance.
What to serve with the goose and the gratin? Both are very rich, so you won't want anything too heavy and the size of the goose does inhibit exactly how much you can cook in your oven. Not only that, but you'll want to make your life as easy as possible so that when you sit down to eat you don't resemble a frazzled crisp.
Obviously you'll want to make use of the prodigious quantity of fat that comes off of the goose to roast some potatoes. (Olive oil-roasted ones for the vegetarians.) You can parboil the potatoes the evening before the feast, too. Braise some red cabbage (best done the day before you want to eat it); puree some carrots and swede (can be made in advance); and serve some peas (they'll take five minutes on the day). The main course of your feast will be complete. (And hopefully you'll still have some degree of sanity.)
Red wine drinkers enjoyed a truly awesome Pinot Noir with this. White wine drinkers had a Sauvignon Blanc. However, a Chenin Blanc or a Chablis would not have gone amiss, either.
Yes, you are cooking a feast here. It is an undertaking. But with careful planning, a few people to help you along the way, and several deep breaths, you'll be fine.
Ready to go?
A 4.5-5kg (10-12lb) goose will serve about six people.
- 1 x 4.5-5kg (10-12lb) goose
- Salt and pepper
- 6 apples or pears, scored around the middle
- 500g (1lb) potatoes, boiled and then mashed or riced
- 1 large onion, minced
- 1 x 430g (15oz) can pureed chestnuts
- 250g (8oz) minced chicken
- sprig of fresh sage, chopped
- salt and pepper
You don't have to, but I recommend starting with the stuffing the day before you're due to eat your goose. It takes off some of the pressure on the day and means that you'll be able to enjoy yourself more.
Making the stuffing is supremely easy. Whilst the potatoes are boiling, mix together in a large bowl the minced onion, pureed chestnuts, minced chicken, and seasonings. As soon as the potatoes are tender, drain them, leave them for five minutes to allow any excess moisture to evaporate, and then rice into the bowl with the other ingredients. If you don't have a potato ricer, just mash using a masher, and put a ricer on your wish-list. Ensure everything is combined smoothly and has a fairly stiff consistency, marvel at the colour, and refrigerate overnight.
If your goose comes with giblets, now is the time to turn them into stock. Otherwise, the goose does not require any more attention until roughly four hours before you are due to eat it.
Just over four hours before you are due to eat your goose preheat your oven to 220° Celsius. Clean your goose (she or he might need to be untrussed first), dry it off, and remove the gobbets of fat from the cavity; there will be a lot of fat. Take a skewer and prick the skin, but not the flesh, of the bird all over. These holes will allow the extensive layer of subcutaneous fat to trickle out of the bird whilst it is cooking. Be generous.
Take your stuffing and, ehm, stuff your bird. Stuffing a goose is easy and should only take you a few minutes. When all the stuffing is inside the bird, there should be a flap of skin that you can secure over the cavity with a toothpick.
Put your goose on a rack in a roasting pan. If you don't have a rack, it isn't the end of the world, but it will make your life easier. Then place some of the fat removed from the cavity over the legs. The legs aren't covered so amply with fat, thus need some protection from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Put your goose in the oven and check the time.
Thirty minutes later, lower the heat to 170° Celsius and remove the goose. You'll need to drain off your first helping of goose dripping. Have a large, clean recepticle on hand. An 800g mayonnaise jar is ideal. Remove the goose from the pan and pour off the fat. Please be careful. The fat is scalding.
Return the goose to the oven and repeat the draining operation every 45 minutes or so. The bird will need between two and two-and-half hours at the lower temperature. She or he's cooked when the juices from the thickest, fleshiest part of the thigh run clear.
When the bird is cooked, remove from the oven and place on a warmed dish. Tent it with foil. It'll stay warm for about an hour (really) like that. This will let you increase the oven temperature to roast the apples or pears, as well as the potatoes, and reheat the gratin.
All you need to do with the apples or pears is drop them into an oven dish with some hot goose fat and season with salt and pepper. They'll take about 45 minutes at 200° Celsius.
Meanwhile, deglaze the pan with a glass of white wine, stir in a spoon or two of flour, and add some of the stock to make gravy.
Carving will take take a little while and you don't want to carve it as you would a chicken or turkey. Try taking a look here for the method. (Or speak to Spiregrain.)
As rich as this is, there's only enough for four here.
- ½ celeriac, peeled
- 3 large potatoes, peeled
- 4 apples, peeled and cored
- 400ml (¾ pint) double cream
- 3 tspn English mustard
- 2 tspn grain mustard
- 1 clove garlic
- Salt and pepper
If you've a mandolin or a food processor, you can use it to finely slice the celeriac and potato, and less finely slice the apple. I have both but oddly, I use neither. I prefer to do mine with a sharp knife and a decent dose of patience.
When sliced, wash and dry off the celeriac, apple, and potato.
Slice the clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side over the inside of an oven dish measuring roughly 30cm by 20cm by 5cm (12" by 8" by 2").
Arrange a layer of celeriac over the bottom of the dish. The slices should overlap and make a scalloped pattern. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Next, layer some potato slices and season, followed by some apple.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
You should finish with a layer of apple slices that are level with the top of the dish.
Cover the dish with a piece of greaseproof paper and weight with a couple of tins for 30 minutes or so.
Whilst the gratin is compressing, whisk the mustards into the cream. And when I say whisk, I mean whisk. You want the mixture evenly combined, or someone will end up with a very mustardy mouthful of apple.
When the gratin has had its ritual squashing, remove the greaseproof paper and pour over the mustrady cream. Dot the top with some butter.
Bake in a preheated oven at 190° Celsius for 90 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the cream is bubbling. (A knife should slide into the potato and celeriac easily, too.)
Remove it from the oven and allow it to settle. It's much better eaten the next day, and can be reheated for ten minutes or so in a hot oven.
You won't want a big starter before the goose. Some canapes with a glass of wine are ideal. As for dessert, well, Christmas Pudding would be traditional. We had ours with brandy ice cream this year. But I also happen to know that it is simply divine with clementine sherbet. Come the evening, you can indulge in a cheeseboard.
And after all that hard work: enjoy!
Thanks are due to: the LBM; Ma and Daddy DEB; Abel and Cole; Waitrose; Nigella Lawson; Gordon Ramsay; Nigel Slater; and The Independent.